I have been reading Christina Baldwin’s book called Life’s Companion; Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest. In the chapter on Forgiveness she describes what happens to people who refuse to forgive, and what happens to people who are not forgiven. I was surprised and then validated by the descriptions.
from Life’s Companion, p197
When you will not forgive someone, you fill your life with resentment, paranoia, isolation, righteous indignation, vindictiveness, and false assurance that your perceptions and actions are justified because of the wrong that has been done you.You withhold yourself from human community because you perceive, or at least hope, you are not as imperfect as the rest of us and you don’t want to associate too closely with our unforgivable flaws.
When you are unforgiven, your life is filled with recrimination, self-abuse, isolation, fear of further accusation, shame that you have done something considered unforgivable.You withhold yourself from human community because you perceive, or are afraid, that you are more imperfect than the rest of us and that you can never make enough amends to be a fully acceptable member of the human family again.
The first paragraph is a good description of my mother. I remember once reading the words “resentment and self-pity” and realizing they were an exact description of her.
My mother did not know how to forgive, and so I learned that I was unforgivable. If I did something “wrong” there was no way I could make amends. This resulted in some odd behavior that I see as shameful now — an example: I lost my cousin’s bike and never apologized or offered to buy her a new one. I went into denial about the whole thing, disappeared it, made it not happen. It was only much later that I remembered several such incidents, and I fear there are more that I’ve completely forgotten. I was so ashamed that I could barely look at them, much less try to make amends. Then I saw the movie “Mommie, Dearest” where Joan Crawford’s daughter apologizes for waking her during her afternoon nap. Crawford doesn’t say “That’s all right, I still love you, you’re forgiven,” she says harshly “Well just don’t do it again.” Lights went on for me. I realized that when apology was unacceptable, there was no “right” action but not to have done it in the first place.
I also wrote a description of how I didn’t want to be if I was ever a mother. I had noticed that Mother seemed to hold a grudge forever, and decided firmly that I didn’t want to do that.
The description of the person who is never forgiven exactly describes what I have been up against all these years. I think of my need to “prove I deserve to live.” I think of my feeling of being defective all my life until I learned about Children of Alcoholics, and realized I had learned dysfunctional behavior from a pair of alcoholics. But the feeling of being defective is a kind of default that I can easily fall back into.