Forgiving Your Parent for How They Treated You in the Past

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Every caregiver has a family history. Some of that history may be unpleasant, disappointing or even abusive. A caregiver's experience of abuse, neglect and addiction leave lasting scars. Moving beyond the past is never easy. But what happens when someone in your family becomes ill or incapacitated and you are called upon to care for them? What is your responsibility, based on their past treatment of you? How do you take care of your parents or spouse when they didn't take good care of you – and in fact may done have you harm?

Many caregivers struggle with the huge responsibility when it is suddenly – and usually unexpectedly – thrust upon them. They are in a quandary, because they know society thinks they should care for their parents or spouse. Some of them have religious issues about "honoring their parents," no matter what. However, many feel that they just cannot give the emotional and physical care their family member needs.

If you are caring for an elderly family member, but feeling resentment and anger about their past actions, remember, healing can happen when emotionally destroyed families find a way to forgive. If you would like to let go of anger and forgive, but are stumped with the question of how to forgive, here are tips that might help.

Focus on Today

Study after study shows that one of the keys to longevity and good health is to develop a habit of gratitude and let go of past hurts. To be a mindful and effective caregiver, focus on today. You can forgive, without forgetting. Don't waste your energy and spirit on events that cannot be changed. It is unhealthy and counter-productive. Make it a goal to stop judging family members for past behavior, and extend forgiveness for failings.

Build a New Relationship

We've all heard stories of estranged families who reunite years later, forgive the past and go on to have healthy and fulfilling relationships for the rest of their lives. Parents or spouses may not change, but future family dynamics still can. You can do your part to forge a new, different and better relationship with your family member. To break the cycle of your childhood experience, let go of whatever neglect and inattention suffered, and begin a new era in your family's history. Forging a new family dynamic can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life. It's not easy, but the end result is worth it.

Understand They Have Flawed Pasts, Too

Try to be aware that your parents or your spouse were raised by imperfect parents. They often did all they knew how to do. That doesn't make abuse or neglect right. It doesn't make any of it okay. But understanding that they are human beings with flawed pasts – they were likely abused as children, themselves – may help you care for them, and appreciate them while you still have time.

Accept the Circumstances

Don't waste precious energy wishing things were different. Dramatizing or pretending only makes the situation worse. Believe in your own strength and grace. Once you've decided to take the role of caregiver, accept it and do the best you can with the situation. Live your life knowing that you are doing the very best for your loved one and for yourself.

Stay Positive

You can't control the past, but you can control your attitude. You have a choice every day regarding the attitude you will embrace. You cannot change the fact that people have…or will…act in a certain way. But you can choose your attitude. Even though it's hard, you can choose to be a "glass half full" person. With the right attitude, you control your destiny and happiness, rather them being driven by outside factors.

Seek Counseling

If you're still having difficulty knowing how to forgive someone who's wronged you in a significant way, you may have better success working with a therapist who can help you work through your feelings on a deeper level and personally support you through the process. Talking out your past with a trained counselor can be helpful. It can teach you the coping techniques to help you understand (but not condone) your loved one's actions, get you over the hump of resentment and help you move forward.

Bring In Outside Help

If you simply cannot find it in your heart to care for a family member who has hurt you, that's OK. Make the decision, accept it and move on. Don't judge or condemn yourself. You can still ensure your family member is well-cared for, without providing the hands-on day-to-day care yourself. Home health care and assisted living facilities can ensure your family member has a good quality of life.

In the Caregiver Support Groups, we see stories every day about elders who verbally and sometimes physically, abuse their caregivers. Yet, these dedicated individuals continue to provide care. The bottom line is: You cannot change, or control your elderly's parent's behavior. But you can control your own.

Do your best to forgive, if not forget, then let go and lighten your load. A grudge can be a heavy weight to bear. All you can is your best. Try to live each day to fullest, with love, gratitude and forgiveness.

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134 Comments

Well, no one can give you the answer you are wanting to hear, but you need to look at the facts. I had a mother who had her own problems. When I look back at everything now, she probably dealt with depression and back 60 years ago, they didn't really know how to diagnose it let alone treat it, and by the time they could diagnose it, it was too late. My dad was my buffer against my mom. I appreciate that all the more, but my mom was also so narcissistic and controlling because she felt that having the control was the only thing that could make her happy and that it also led to boundaries I had to learn and enforce later in life. They were painful because it meant that I really had no mother to chat with, do girl stuff with, and all the things normal. It also gave me some incredible skills that I can now use in life and I guess now I'm actually grateful for it now that I say it. Her behavior left me with a lot of scars, but..... that was her issue. She chose never to try and get better. She chose to always try and control me. I never gave up, but I had some real emotional boundaries to set and even then my husband can tell you a 15 minute visit with her would still change my behavior for hours even though I set boundaries in place.

I think you need to forgive him. The forgiveness he will probably never get or ever know about, but its for you mostly. That will allow you to get past all the regrets you have. One thing that may help is looking up Joyce Meyer and she has a CD that tells of her story with her father of sexual abuse (I know that's not you), but it covers all the feelings you have and it also tells of an incredible ending with forgiveness. Maybe its just time for you to heal?
I haven't read this article yet. I have sooo many people who have abused me while young. I'm just not ready to read this and get so angry. This is one of the reasons I failed miserably as a Christian. I have problems Forgiving. I have bought a book on Forgiving. I'm hoping it will give me an idea on how to go about it slowly on MY terms. So far, I'm only on the intro. Yesterday during lunch, I meditated on what I read on the few paragraphs. It's so true - that in order to forgive we need to acknowledge the ANGER from within. It warns that once I start on this Forgiving Journey, other Hurts will be remembered, and Other Angers will come out. And that I will be working continously to keep forgiving all these past hurts. It's so true. If so-and-so was abusing all of us girls, why didn't mom protect us? It's all links to one another. Why didn't oldest sis say something? or try to protect us younger girls? It just goes on and on the anger I felt throughout the years. So, I'm reading that Forgiving book with trepidation. I hope I have the courage to continue to learn from it....Like Cmag said, it will help us in the long run. I just wasn't in the mood lastnight to read this article...but I put a "follow" so that I can read it when I'm ready.
I have seen forgiveness expressed as "giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me".

In my view, forgiving is mainly for the person who has been hurt, in order to, as you say, book, let go of the anger, and start to heal.

The anger we keep inside hurts us, and does not affect the abuser, unless we try to hurt them back, in which case it affects us and the abuser. To me, forgiving the abuser does not let them off the hook. There still are consequences for abusing some one - even legal ones, and I fully support anyone for following up on these. Other consequences include cutting, or limiting contact with the abuser.

What concerns me about people who do not forgive their abusers is that they carry bitterness and anger within them the rest of their lives and the abusive acts which hurt them years ago, continue to hurt them. I think I understand the difficulty some have who expect repentance before forgiveness, but some abusers seems to not capable of that. My mother who has Borderline Personality Disorder seems not to perceive that what she does, and says in harmful to others. As I do continue to have limited contact with her, I have to forgive on an ongoing basis, as the abusive behaviour does not stop.

I don't want to carry the hurt and anger inside. Hurts still happen but I try to deal with them quickly.

I find than limiting contact - taking long breaks at times - helps me to heal.

Playa I am glad that severing contact is working for you. I may have to do that myself one day.

To any who have been sexually abused, my heart goes out to you. This is the most damaging kind of abuse, and very difficult to deal with.

((((((((((((hugs))))))))) to all Joan