Nobody is perfect – it’s a cliché we all know, and in our strongest moments, we remember this and let go of the grudges we hold against our loved ones for making mistakes. Many religions have a similar message among their basic tenets: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” – says the Bible, but we can find similar teachings in the Qur’an and the Torah as well. It seems like forgiveness is a simple concept, even if it is not always easy.
It is very different, however, when one’s parents are negligent, abusive, or unavailable. In the first few years of our lives, our parents are our entire universe. If they don’t live up to that responsibility, we might have to endure years or decades of therapy to heal any or all emotional scars. Forgiving our toxic parents is an essential part of healing from this childhood trauma.
“I chose to honor my peace instead of honoring my anger. “Sarah Doan Peace
Sarah Doan Peace went through this painful process with a father who slipped in and out of her life for 25 years. He was there for the most critical moments, such as her wedding, but he had a dark side he could never get rid of, which hurt Sarah terribly. His ultimate betrayal was that he pretended to be dying from cancer just to get her sympathy. Yet, Sarah realized that she needs to forgive him for her peace with all these despicable actions. Today she shares with us the lessons she learned in the process.
#1: Forgiveness is about you, not them. Forgiving someone isn’t about saying what they did is okay (what my father did was absolutely NOT OK). It’s about choosing to let it go enough so that it doesn’t rule your life. It is never about condoning what the other person did or didn’t do. It’s about honoring yourself and giving yourself peace. The sheer anger I had towards my father for most of my life was all-consuming and exhausting. It often ran my thoughts, it indeed ran my relationships, and it stole my peace, day after day after day. But when I joined the Lutheran Church, I realized that my Heavenly Father wanted me to have peace and that I was worthy of His honor, whether or not I had my dad’s. And in truth, my dad didn’t honor much of anyone in his life, including himself. So I knew that forgiving him would be a way of breaking the cycle of toxicity. I worked on it daily and prayed about it a lot. One day I woke up, and I just wasn’t angry anymore. And the more I wasn’t angry, the more peace I felt; the more peace I felt, the more peace I wanted. I chose to honor my peace instead of honoring my anger.
#2: Your parents are human beings, too. It doesn’t matter how awful your parents were. The reality is you are a flawed human being, too. By a certain point in life, we all wish we’d done at least one thing differently, and we all make mistakes. Yes, some mistakes are bigger than others, and some mistakes are serious enough to never speak to someone again, but no one is perfect. Choosing to see your parents as (extremely) flawed human beings helps to forgive them. That doesn’t mean you have to have a relationship with them or speak to them or speak about them. But, remember, forgiving your parents isn’t about them; it’s about you. You’re doing it for you; to honor your peace.
#3: Withholding forgiveness doesn’t change the past. When the day comes that they are no longer here, even if it feels like a relief in some ways, we don’t get a do-over. There are no second chances at that point. And death can bring a new perspective. It’s rare, if not impossible, for a dead person to personally and intentionally hurt you anymore, so there’s freedom in that. And also, because it can’t be “done over” at that point, there’s truly no point in rehashing it over and over again. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t change the past; it only keeps you stuck in it. You can be angry about it and hate them, but that doesn’t change what happened. So why do that? Why give them more power by letting them steal your peace, too?
#4: Forgiveness isn’t easy, it’s a conscious choice, and you may have to choose it repeatedly: it is only with the help of God, my closest friends, several great therapists, and an inner resolve to forgive my father that I’ve been able to do so. I didn’t do it alone. And there are days that something will remind me of him, and I’ll be okay (perhaps even smile as we did have a few good memories), while on other days, I think of him and want to smack him. But I can’t. So I give it to God and release the anger once again. I traded my anger and shame for honor and peace I now give to myself. In doing so, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
Sarah Doan Peace is 30-something and a survivor of 35 surgeries. She has VATER Syndrome and paralyzed vocal cords yet manage to get up every day with a zest and passion for life and serving others. She insists on being real and finding joy in everyday life and is living proof that miracles occur. She is an Assistant, Writer, Mental Health Advocate, Cooking Coach, and friend to many. Sarah has appeared on several podcasts, including Sick Biz Buzz and The Anxious Truth, and written for blogs and online magazines, including The Mighty. Sarah loves to cook, speak, write, hike, and spend time with her beloved family, especially her cherished fur baby, Ziggy–a miniature Schnauzer Poodle. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. She lives to share her story with others, providing perspective, gratitude, and inspiration to as many people as she can. Sarah’s goal is to help people thrive with joy and peace! You can connect with her on Instagram or on her Facebook page.