“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that prisoner was you.” ~Lewis B. Smedes
For a long time, I had a stressful relationship with my dad. We fell apart after I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, and from me trying to push him out and him not understanding what I was going through in regards to eating and body image, we stopped talking. Somewhere inside of me, I had built up anger that was directed at him and I just couldn’t bring myself to forgive him or let him go. And he was just clueless, not knowing what was wrong with me and why I didn’t like him, so he stopped trying too.
Before I knew it, it had been almost a year without saying anything to each other, and I was heading off to college. I was still angry inside until my mom gave me a book called Loving What Is, by Byron Katie, and everything changed. Not overnight, but slowly things began to improve between my dad and me.
The book has to do with four simple questions that you ask yourself about a thought or emotion you are experiencing. Because I felt like my dad had distanced himself from my problems, and believed that he loved my brother more than me, I had thoughts like, “He doesn’t love me,” and “I’m never enough for him,” so I worked on these thoughts with what Byron Katie calls “The Work.” I took the thought, “I am never good enough for him,” and put it up against the four questions.
1. Is it true? Is it true that I am never good enough for my dad? Yes.
2. Can you absolutely know that it is true? Can I absolutely know that I am never good enough for my dad?
3. How do you feel when you think this thought? When I think that I’m not good enough for my dad, I feel angry and sad. I become defensive and hot.
4. Who would you be without this thought? Without the thought that I am never good enough for him I would be calm, relaxed, and not so upset. My relationship with my dad would improve and I wouldn’t worry so much about his approval. The next step is to turn the thought around. Here are my turnarounds with examples as to why these are true for me. My dad is never good enough for me because I am constantly judging him. I am good enough for my dad because he does show he is proud of me. I am not good enough for myself because I do not approve of who I am. After doing this work on my thoughts about my dad, I began to see things differently. My eyes started to open to things I haven’t seen before. If I wanted my dad to approve of me and accept me for who I was, I first had to approve and accept him as he was. When I turned around my thought, even though it was hard to realize, I saw that my behavior toward my dad was the problem, not him. I failed to remember that he was just doing what he knew how to do, he was trying his best. It was me who needed to approve of myself, not my Dad.
Forgiveness had never come easy to me. I always felt as though I was the one who deserved the forgiving, but something changed the day I read this book. I forgave my dad. I forgave him and accepted him, and in turn, I accepted myself. I gave my dad what I wanted from him and our relationship turned around. I gave myself what I wanted from him and I turned myself around. The Work can be helpful for every thought you have or problem you are facing, as it allows you to look at your life and yourself in a new light. I understand that sometimes it can be painful questioning your thoughts, especially ones that have been with you for a long time, and it’s not an overnight process.
Sometimes I would cry myself to sleep over my responses or want to tear the page apart because there was no way I could forgive my dad. But if you give it time and patience, a change will start happening inside of you. You will learn to see the person in a different way. You will see that everyone is just trying their best with what they have in this moment, and even if you believe they don’t deserve forgiveness, you deserve to be at peace.