Not speaking to her and holding the pain meant I could protect myself and not allow her to abuse, use, or hurt me further. Letting go and forgiving meant I would have to unleash the protective cocoon I had built.
It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself when going to therapy. Traumatic and unpleasant memories are sometimes blocked and pushed deep down inside, and later tend to resurface. You can still taste the bitterness of those memories, yet, with time, you can fill the void that those experiences caused and heal.
One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I am insecure and overly sensitive to criticism. It’s not unfounded: one of the traumas I experienced as a child was being the object of ridicule by my peers. Many of the kids in my grade were cliquey and downright mean. I was the butt of many practical jokes, taunts and teases. The reason: I wasn’t from a rich family, I didn’t wear designer clothes, and I (as my mother always told me with pride) had a heart for the underdog and was a friend to the friendless.
There was one dreaded memory that resurfaced that I now have closure with. A girl who I thought was my friend, was flicking a steel combination lock around her finger. We were in the gym locker room getting dressed, and she was calling me names and making fun of me in front of some other girls she was trying to impress. Suddenly, the lock fell off her finger, flew through the air, and landed smack on my right eye. I ended up with a black eye that took almost a month to heal. I was scarred more by her betrayal and taunting than the black eye.
For years, I refused to look at that girl or speak to her. She tried asking for my forgiveness once or twice, but I couldn’t get over the pain and embarrassment. The black eye had healed, but there was a hole in my heart left from the trauma of that incident. I couldn’t seem to let it go.
Years later when we were both in college, I saw her one night when out dancing with a friend. She came up to me, smiled, and asked if we could be on speaking terms again. I don’t know what happened to me to cause me to say yes and mean it, but I’m glad I did because it brought closure to the years of pain I had been holding in my heart.
My therapist uses that example to teach me that sometimes we cause our own sorrow and pain. Letting go and forgiving is difficult, but necessary to build security and heal old wounds that weigh down your soul. A black hole is more than just deep: it is infinitely deep and it swallows you whole. Life is too short to live engulfed by holes in your heart. While you can’t always get closure physically with another person (and in some cases it is best to stay away from another who has caused you pain and hardship), you can let go and try to forgive in your heart.
I think I had difficulty forgiving this girl because I felt incredibly betrayed. I also felt used and abused. She was my friend when it was convenient, and used me as her punching bag to impress the rich girls when it was even more convenient. Not speaking to her and holding the pain meant I could protect myself and not allow her to abuse, use, or hurt me further. Letting go and forgiving meant I would have to unleash the protective cocoon I had built. And that the wound where the memory of that pain in my heart was located would be opened again. I’d have to make myself vulnerable to the possibility of being hurt again, something I was terrified of, and didn’t have the energy to cope with. I could close up or pull myself out of that black hole, but it would be an emotionally draining and frightening process.
Yet why would I purposely choose to stay fettered and enslaved to old trauma? Well, several reasons. First, research shows that forgiveness is good for your physical health. In fact, forgiveness without an apology or promise to change, called unconditional forgiveness, is correlated with lengthening your life! Just as important, forgiveness helps let go of your anger and fully heal, thus allowing you to continue to grow and thrive in your relationships and in life.
Dysfunction comes from unhealthy thinking and knee-jerk reaction patterns we may or may not be aware of. I’m slowly learning what these are and to fill the voids inside my heart that causes these patterns. I’m happy to say I am seeing myself becoming securely attached to certain people, and learning not to let others’ unhealthy behaviors impact on me in the form of “what could I have done to deserve or bring that on?” It drains my energy when I go into that old mode of thinking. I need that energy for much more important things at this stage of my life!
I will no longer allow myself to fall into a black hole. I choose to heal, to let go and forgive. Life is so much sweeter now. I love that I can separate myself and my choices, from others' choices. It’s still a work in progress, but it is a new life that I love and embrace wholeheartedly.