Throughout our lives, we may well have experienced hurt, bullying or bad treatment from some of the people in our sphere.
It may have started years ago, with the original negative experiences being reinforced over the years.
We may have even needed therapy to enable us to move on from the impact those events subsequently had on our lives and our mental health.
Today much emphasis is placed on forgiveness and letting go of the hurts and damage caused by past traumas. Forgiveness is increasingly regarded as a key component in letting go of old negative experiences. But, what happens if, when you do decide to forgive, you’re unsure as to whether or not ‘they’ve’ forgiven you and understood your struggles to deal with the consequences of those distressing experiences?
What happens if they don’t forgive you?
– Deep inside do you suspect that you don’t deserve to be forgiven, can’t reconcile yourself to accept that they would think enough of you and the relationship to let past grievances go? Longterm low self-esteem can result in feelings of unworthiness and deserving of being punished, even though the bullying or neglect originally started with them and stopped long ago.
– When we feel bad about ourselves we become more sensitive to other people’s responses, perhaps misinterpreting comments, laughter or their reactions as being judgemental and dismissive. Do you feel guilty, unworthy, unlikeable or second-guess how others perceive you? Sometimes low self-esteem reinforces feelings of negativity and vulnerability.
– This can affect how we communicate with others and, in fact, over 80% of communication is done non-verbally. So if we’re apprehensive or uneasy about being in someone’s company it’s likely to show in our body language and the way we communicate with others, maybe appearing unfriendly or even hostile.
– This attitude can result in others seeing us as childish, sullen, badly behaved and becoming genuinely incredulous if they discover the impact their years-old words or actions have had on us, even perhaps viewing us as dramatic, manipulative or a game-player.
– Over time, long-held hurt and tension due to someone’s attitude, behaviour or actions may have resulted in difficulties or even estrangement from our family or group. If you decide it’s time to try to remedy that it may be that reconciliation could begin with a sensitively worded letter or by meeting for a coffee.
– Offering a ‘hand of friendship’ may initiate the ironing out of ongoing tensions, but if the rift has gone on for too long it might be that a more low-key approach is to gradually rejoin social events. Making the effort to be polite or friendly could slowly help in easing relations, by being civil and demonstrating that you’re determined to be around.
– If there are occasions when you’ve no choice but to come into contact with your perpetrator remind yourself of how far you’ve come. The work you’ve done on yourself will make it easier to go where they go and feel good about yourself, being able to be relaxed and friendly enough in their company.
– Are there occasions when you expect your change of attitude and forgiveness to be regarded as a major step, something for which they should be extremely grateful? For you, it’s been a big deal, letting go of perhaps years of negative self-esteem, low confidence, which regularly impacted on our lives and choices.
– But for them, it may be very different. A personal reflection may be to ask yourself if others are as affected by the past as you are. Sometimes we hold onto words or actions, a serious wrong that’s been done to us, and the wound never heals. It may remain as raw and as painful as the day it happened, especially if we’re regularly triggered by situations that echo the earliest event.
– However, others may have moved on in a different direction, and now have little interest or motivation in repairing or reinstating a relationship with us. They may even have little memory of what happened. If we want to forgive them we may have to focus on our own mental health, heal, find ways to let go of the pain, resume our lives and not be unduly concerned about them forgiving us.
If there is no positive response when we’ve made such an effort, it can feel like another insult, ‘after all I’ve done for them, they couldn’t even acknowledge me’! But for them, it may be long forgotten and insignificant. Focus on your peace of mind and remember that this is about improving your life and your mental health.
Susan Leigh, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.
She’s author of 3 books, ‘Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact’, ‘101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday’ and ‘Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain’, all on Amazon & with easy to read sections, tips and ideas to help you feel more positive about your life.
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