I was about 15 years old when I remember the first time my dad told me he loved me. 15. Maybe that memory is skewed, but I certainly don’t recall a loving, compassionate father caring for me in a way that I felt loved. I begged for his approval. Perfectionism became a coping strategy.
I then married a man who belittled me. Not only did I feel unloved, but I had to endure the fact that he refused to give his own children the affection and attention they so desperately needed. To him, showing love was weakness. He was incapable, just like my father; riddled with the wounds of his own abuse and neglect that shaped him into bitterness. I somehow muddled up the strength to take the steps to end the cycle of hurt, in order to best protect my children.
Only by the grace of God, my tides turned. I am married to the most wonderful specimen of a human who generously showers me and our family with unconditional love. Sometimes I feel like it’s a huge burden for him to bear, to fill all those holes within me which were dug deeply by others who left me scarred and empty. It has taken years to re-learn how to accept and trust in love, and it’s not always an easy path, because I’m broken.
Yes, I’m broken. And you’re broken, too.
The people who have hurt me are broken.
Those who have hurt and disappointed you are broken.
Mother Teresa was broken. So was everyone you’ve ever put on a pedestal and believed was better than you.
It’s no one’s fault, because we’re all broken.
Finding respect for ourselves and others, even those who have hurt us, begins with this understanding. Did I spend years agonizing, oscillating between anger and hurt, looking for a place to rest my blame? Absolutely, and it did nothing for me. Finding fault didn’t fill the void.
It will take you a millisecond to visualize someone who has hurt you. Where in your heart are you carrying the bitterness towards this person? Is it helping you? What if we tried something radical?
Imagine that person as broken, deeply flawed, but worthy of the same grace and dignity as ourselves. What if we looked at that person and convinced ourselves that they were doing their best, even if their best was detrimental to us. Their best hurt others, and most likely hurt themselves as well. And that hurt is not their fault, because they are broken, just like you and I in our own ways.
Forgiveness is radical. Compassion is radical. Letting go is radical. It is tough work, done in the trenches of your own heart, but holds the key to emotional freedom.
Forgiveness is all about you. It actually might be considered a little selfish if you consider that it has very little to do with those who offended you. Forgiveness means releasing these burdens within so you can get on with the business of growing, maturing and enjoying your life.
I’m not advocating you forgo your boundaries and let a toxic person back into your life. On the contrary. Maintain your healthy boundaries, but let forgiveness unleash itself in your heart. You can forgive and move on. It doesn’t even need to be a confrontation, or grand moment. Decide in your own heart, when you are ready. Acknowledge the brokenness in others, and in ourselves, and forgive. It will transform your life, even if you have to make the choice to do it over and over… and over again.
In the same token, please ask for forgiveness if you have hurt someone, or been your least respectful self. There is great power in humility. I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’ve hurt you. No expectation. Just humility. Want to create respect? Acknowledge your shortcoming and place your mea culpa in the hands of those who deserve it, and find yourself awash in the goodness that comes from doing the right thing.
Several years ago, I met my personal challenges head on. I needed to confront those who caused me so much pain – not face to face, but within my own heart. My dad was broken in his own ways, and it’s ok. It wasn’t his fault. He did the best he could, even though his best was woefully inadequate for his wife and daughters. As he neared the end of his life, we enjoyed a close relationship, and I am so grateful for that. He never asked for forgiveness, now I know I didn’t need him to. It took a long time for me to get there, in my own heart, but I did. It was a choice I had to make, and in the process, I found pieces of me I didn’t know I possessed.
I’m broken, and it’s ok. Because every day I strive to be whole, and give myself the grace needed in order to be my best self to others. Everyone deserves that.
Darcy Castro is the 2019 Elite National American Woman of Service, representing a national pageant focused on community service and empowering women. Cultivating Respect with Darcy Castro is an initiative focused on practical ways to create respectful environments in our own little pockets of the world. Each month’s article and podcast feature honest, thought-provoking ideas that aim to inspire and foster positive, respectful communities. Follow Cultivating Respect with Darcy Castro at DarcyCastro.com.