Caregiving is often idealized as a loving situation where the whole family works together to provide care for someone in need. In reality, conflict can rear its ugly head. When I was a caregiver in a particularly challenging situation, I reached a point where I truly felt hatred toward a family member. This particular individual was dishonest, unreliable, and self-centered. (Yes, I realize this description qualifies me as judgmental but the adjectives were factual.) For the first time in my adult life I honestly felt hatred. Knowing myself as I do, I realized even at the time that this was not my true nature to feel that emotion. I knew that one day I would certainly be able to downgrade that attitude of mine to just a strong dislike. Forgiveness was not even on my radar.
Eventually, when the family member and I had some distance and time from the situation, the hatred was indeed downgraded to strong dislike. But after a couple of years, I reached a place where I could appreciate the profound opportunity I had in knowing this person. Because they were unreliable, I was able to gain much more hands-on experience as a caregiver. I was able to enjoy a strong bond with the person needing the care, and I was able to grow in ways I could not fully appreciate until time had passed. I became grateful for this individual in my life story and decided that I actually loved them on a spiritual level. I did not reach a place where I wanted to spend time together; there was never a solid basis for a relationship in the first place.
Without fully intending to do so, I forgave.
When you are a caregiver, it’s not unusual to have someone let you down. Maybe it’s a spouse who can’t understand why you’re spending so much time helping someone outside of the house. Maybe it’s a sibling who just can’t seem to find the time to help out with mom’s or dad’s care. Maybe it’s a loved one who needs your help but whose pain or dementia prevents them from treating you kindly. When you’re in the thick of it, it can be very hard to forgive. But ultimately, that should be your goal.
Being unforgiving hurts a lot of people including you.
Dictionaries describe forgiveness as being able to let go of resentment toward another person. Resentment is defined as a feeling of ill will toward another person or the feeling that another person owes you some type of reparations. Forgiveness does not mean that you fall in love with the person who hurt you. It does not mean you are best buddies again. Sometimes there may be damage that resulted from the hurtful actions, or practical trust issues that would prevent a healthy relationship going forward. But forgiveness means letting go of resentment.
Think about that.
If you need to actually “let go” of resentment in order to forgive, it means you have been carrying resentment around in your mind and in your heart. Do you not have enough troubles in your world that you feel you must also carry around resentment? Resentment is a broken record you play over and over in your head. It keeps you from focusing on thoughts that would better serve you. Instead of trying to advance yourself spiritually you are more like a dog that loves to roll around on its back on something dead it found in the yard, “Yes, I stink now but it felt great to wallow in that spot!” In the same way you are wallowing in your anger and, frankly, it makes you less attractive, like the dog. Talking to others about how someone wronged you, ad nauseam, is annoying, and keeping it all inside isn’t healthy either.
Being unwilling to forgive is a source of stress.
We all know that studies show stress can make you unhealthy and more prone to illness and premature aging. The best thing you can do for yourself is let your resentment go. Forgive. You have the position of power on this one because you are taking the lead. Here are a five ideas to help you facilitate forgiveness but the most important step is that you must forgive in your heart. It cannot be empty words or there won’t be any healing.
- Did the person know better or were they even capable of meeting your standards? Some people are oblivious to the consequences of their actions or have limitations that make it harder for them to be kinder or more generous in spirit. On a higher, spiritual plane, you are truly equals but some people seem to wander off the path of Love. It doesn’t excuse the behavior but it might explain it.
- Can you reframe the offense? Did you grow because of their words or actions? As horrible as it may have been, did you turn a nightmare into your opportunity to soar? Try to give thanks for that person if they ultimately had a positive effect on your life. This is not the same as trying to like what they said or did.
- If the offending party actually has apologized and asked for your forgiveness, you can call them, write them a letter, or talk to them in person and let them know you forgive them. If you think they have been hurt by your unwillingness to previously accept their apology, you can apologize for the time that you took to process things. You can apologize for hurting them, too. It’s okay to explain that the relationship will take time to rebuild because of (insert issue here), or you can explain that because of said issues, you will have to go separate ways. But reassure them you forgive them and wish them happiness. You will be bestowing an enormous blessing on someone else and on yourself. You are sure to feel lighter for having taken the truly high road. Then be sure to stop playing the offenses in your head.
- If the person has never expressed remorse or apologized, you can write them a note reminding them about the offense. Tell them you were hurt but that you are ready to move on and that you forgive them. Do not expect a response but you still will have extended a blessing to both of you.
- Use mediation to help you forgive in your heart. You can do this if it isn’t possible to communicate with the offending party or you can also do this meditation in preparation for the act of forgiveness in any form. Sit quietly and picture a face to face meeting with the person who has hurt you. Try to look them in the eyes with love. See them for their true, spiritual self, not the personality that hurt you. Tell them you forgive them. Tell them you love them. If you think you have hurt this person by shutting them out, apologize to them, too, and ask for their forgiveness. Spend as much time as you need in this space until your anger subsides and you can genuinely feel love.
Forgiveness takes time. I still struggle with it myself. I find time and distance from the situation and the other party help. I’m in no way suggesting it’s an easy process. Many people have forgiven those who committed far worse offenses than my circumstances. But with all of the challenges we face year in and year out, especially as caregivers, we don’t need more pain in our hearts. Life has enough challenges. Use forgiveness to turn hurt into an opportunity for blessings and begin to enjoy the lightness that can come from that.