As people, we aren’t often told how to heal ourselves or resolve past suffering. Most of the time, we are told to isolate ourselves from those who have hurt us, hate those we have differences with, and run towards relationships void of conflict, which are inherently unavoidable. Forgiveness is something we don’t often speak about. When we get close to people and share our experiences of trauma and pain, friends console you with a common understanding and disdain for the person/thing that brought you pain. This unhealthy way of processing past hurt can impact the way we grow and mature, even into adulthood.
Through forgiveness, we learn compassion and understanding, but most importantly how to let go of negative emotions. Negativity in one area of our lives can fester like a sore and trickle into various facets of our daily life. Negativity can impact the way we view the world, treat our loved ones, or cultivate future relationships. Shouldering the onus of this pessimism can make you skeptical of new interactions, hesitant to new blessings, and cynical to even an inkling of positivity. I myself have struggled with these issues in the past, but I find solace in the level of growth that forgiveness has provided me in moving forward.
As a kid, I harbored a lot of anger and resentment towards my father. Growing up without a father present in my life, I was envious of other kids who had their fathers around. The opportunity to have disagreements with their dads, have someone to look up to, etc. made me feel perpetually excluded in social settings. Other children would often criticize their dads and speak ill of them; detailing to me the issues they had with their fathers and reiterating how I was better off because of my father’s absence. While I would shrug it off at the time, I believe the yearning for that relationship was emptier than anything they’ve ever felt.
Early on, my behavior issues began with misplaced aggression towards male figures in authority. The absence of a father figure and the anger as a result of that manifested itself in more poisonous ways as a teenager. At the time, my mentally constructed ideal of masculinity/manhood was skewed, which often led me down the wrong path. Hanging in the wrong crowd, drinking, and fighting seemed to be the perfect outline for manhood at the time. Rather than chasing what I wanted to be, I found myself chasing the images of a man as told to us through media, music, and the male role models I had encountered thus far in my life. Unlike normal adolescent rebellion, a part of me was acting out as a cry for help. In these situations, rather than pushing these male figures simply to antagonize them, I was looking for someone that would take the time out to understand me. Holding on to this hurt never allowed me to heal as a child and so as I grew, so did it.
University is where I noticed that my pain had been holding me back. I was allowing my past cynicism get in the way of professional/academic relationships. I would often find myself skeptical of the help or admiration of male professors and gravitated more towards other faculty. I found myself in various classes with male-led instructors, intellectually challenging them not out of differences, but out of pride. Towards the middle of my college career, I had a professor who believed in one on one engagement in an effort to better understand students. In our one on one, we discussed the differences and some similarities in our lives. He went on to tell me that he would have never imagined his professional life to end the way it did. He spoke of the mental rut he was in, how it held him back and how in order to grow a piece of him had to be left in the past, which led me to my own realization.
All my life I had felt a boundless absence in my life put there by my father that I was constantly trying to fill. I found myself seeking male role models in order to feel whole, but realized instead of looking for one, I should be focused on creating one. The male role model that we need does not have to be the one that we see on television nor does it need to be someone in our house; if we want that change, we can be that. I recognized that it was best to let the hurt my father caused go and live a life not in spite of my father, but embracing who I had become without him. It was his loss to not be a part of the man I have become, but with him I may not have been who I am today. Had he been present, I may have never been able to have the great relationship I do with my mother, I may never have met the friends I have now, but most importantly I never would’ve had this epiphany.
Since those days, I don’t think I am fully healed, but I have learned to lead with love for those who have wronged me and not hold on to resentment. I have allowed myself to be free of this burden I carried for years and have had some bountiful friendships, mentorships, and personal connections with people whom I would have been closed off to before. I have allowed the strength of forgiving to heal me where I am weak and this has been one of the best decisions I have made towards my personal growth. This anger I held on to for a majority of my life would have only held me back personally and professionally, which would not be ideal for my development as a man, a friend, and one day a father. Without proper healing and forgiveness, we cannot truly love or begin to grow until we let go of what has hurt us. Forgiveness is no easy feat, but with it, we can grow in unimaginable ways.