#OdeToYouth Lesson 5: Forgive your parents and yourself
When I was in my early 20s, I was very angry person. It didn’t take much to get me to fly off the handle and over-react with wild gesticulations and loud admonitions. A small slight would cause me to shout at a hapless person and often reduce the most stoic person to tears. I was very judgemental and critical of people and – you guessed it – I was always right. I wasn’t a patient person and I considered everything an excuse that was basically laziness. I was a very negative person. You could not pin a mistake on me because I would defend myself vehemently – often turning it back to you. It was common for me to say, ” but you also did this and that.”
“I am sorry,” was not part of my lexicon.
At some point, I don’t remember when, I realised that I was angry with myself and with my parents. My teenage years were filled with complicated angst with my mother and I fighting and disagreeing over everything. I hated how she lived her life and judged her very harshly for the the bad choices that she made that I knew off. I was royally pissed with my biological father because he wasn’t in my life – and because he broke innumerable promises to me. I was mad with my step father because he wasn’t my biological father. I was mad because I was taking care of myself, broke in an SQ, whereas my friends had their parents on hand to carry their load.
I hated my life. I was fucked up.
One day, it became clear to me that living like that was going to be untenable. I realised that I could not continue to live and prosper if I stayed that way. It became clear that if I didn’t change, I would eventually hurt myself and those around me.
I was not alone in this. Many people I know go through life inexplicably angry with someone or something. You might be reading this and you are thinking:
“I hate my dad’s life”
“I can’t understand why my mum made those choices. How could she be like that”
“Why would this be happening to me?”
“Why does God hate me?”
Upon talking to some wise people and reading about it, I embarked on the following steps, which I recommend to you today.
Lesson 5(a): Realise that the past is passed and your future is ENTIRELY in YOUR hands. Whether you are happy in the next minute is entirely a choice you can make. Whether you feel hope or despondent, is a choice that you can make. You can make a decision that the next minute you will be positive, you will see the bright side of the next situation – however bad it is. You can choose to no longer live in the shadow of the situation that brought you here – you, after all, have no control of it. Look ahead – see yourself ten years from now and ask yourself, will your negative response matter?
Lesson 5(b): Realise that your parents are human beings – every day people. You know inasmuch as they are your parents, these larger than life influential figures are still just human. They have the same desires, insecurities, hurt and more that many other people have. They too struggle with choices, like you do today, at your age. So go back over their lives – learn about how they grew up, how they lived, who and what influenced how they lived. Where did your mum learn to drink too much? Why was dad so violent and absent? On hearing stories of their lives, see what happened to them and feel for them as you would any other human.
Lesson 5(c): Confront your past and then release it. When I had gone through the above process, I had lunch with my mother and then my father. I unloaded everything on them. I told them how their life choices had impacted me and made me this negative angry person. To both their credit, they listened and said nothing. In front of my biological father I cried with anguish and spoke my heart out. At the end of it, I released them and forgave them. I felt a load had left my back. I have advised other friends who like me have lost a parent and (unlike me) had been unable to confront them. I said, “go to his graveside or a closed room and tell him everything. Just speak your mind.” Or, even better, write a letter to your parents and tell them. As a parent now, I realise that no mother or father would want to hurt their child. Most parents would receive the letter with great remorse. Here’s the thing, they do not need to apologise. This is not about them. This is about you unloading and releasing.
Lesson 5(d): Forgive yourself. There are many choices that I made that were not good for me. There were many friends who I lost because I was that way. Many opportunities I missed in the stupor of my anger. Some of my close friends in this situation, drunk too much. Others became players who used and hurt good women and men. Accept that you have done those things, apologise to yourself, and forgive and release yourself. This is not easy. It is a minute by minute thing – the angry voices always come back. You have to talk them back to where they came from every time.
Lesson 5(e): Take it minute by minute and be (do) the opposite. It is hard to change behaviour and thoughts that you have carried for years. You often want to go back to picking them up. The way I deal with it is I remind myself, every time. When I feel the boil coming, when I am truly angry I speak very softly; when I feel impatient, I hold my hands in front of me and breath. I do the opposite of every negative impulse I have. Am I always successful? No. But I am happy to report that after a decade of minute-by-minute practice, I am mostly successful.
Lesson 5(f): Surround yourself with positive people and things. I am very deliberate to surround myself with things and people that leave me feeling positive and happy. I don’t watch horror movies, or movies that make me have negative emotion. I walk away fast from critical, negative people. I work hard to see the positive side of every situation – however hopeless it makes me feel. And I recognise that causality is real. Because that thing happened, I ended up here.
Most of all, give yourself a break. Life is already really hard and short.