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My dad has this saying: “Don’t let them live rent-free in your head.” It is by far the best advice I have ever received, and in turn, the best I could ever give, even if it has taken me a number of years to live a life worthy of it.
I came to a point in my life when I was angry. At everything, all the time. There was no sleeping it off, waking up refreshed and ready to move on. It drilled its slimy roots into every facet of my life. I couldn’t shake it because in truth I didn’t want to. I was angry at everyone. I blamed all my hurts, failures and disappointments on a handful of people who I believed had ruined me by their thoughtless words and irrational actions. How dare they.
I would replay their words in my head until I grew cold and stared into the distance like an angry statue. I would scowl at the sound of their name. It was the ugliest I have ever been. And I had no interest in letting it go. For months and months, I festered like a weeping, pussy wound.
And then something happened.
One day I woke up and I felt so tired. My heart turned sad and I heard myself think so clear that it was nearly out loud: “I’m so over living here.”
And I didn’t mean ‘here’ as in the place. I meant the stagnant place I’d bolted my feet down into. I had made no progress in any part of my life while I distorted people in my mind over the months. I was hedged in by my self-prescribed justification to be angry and hurt. Meanwhile, they probably weren’t even thinking about me, moving on with their lives and being successful and happy.
And then I made the abhorrent decision to forgive them. All of them. For everything. I was so done living there. I could hear all the reasons I shouldn’t swirl around my head like a thundering fog. I felt every reason in my bones. But I shook my head and decided, even if they never understood. Even if they never said sorry. Even if the feud never ended. I’d forgive them anyway.
And you know what? Even after all the months I spent reliving the painful memories, the moment I decided to forgive them and move on, I couldn’t have told you what it was I had been angry about all those months. I couldn’t tell you now.
The truth was that I was so enjoying my victimhood that I became angry and hurt for the sake of it. There’s no responsibility in victimhood. It’s all everyone else’s fault, so why would you change yourself? Why should you? You live your life waiting for the world to pay you back for all the wrongs it has done to you.
I made this decision to forgive again and again and again. They say every time you do something you’re training your brain by creating neural pathways. Every time you do something that neural pathway gets stronger and stronger, just like any muscle in the body. So for weeks, I retrained my brain until I wasn’t angry anymore. I held no bitterness against these people. I even thought of them fondly. I saw their wonderful attributes.
But the relationship was still broken, and we were not on speaking terms and didn’t know the journey I had been on. They didn’t know how I loved them fiercely and wanted the very best for them.
I knew we’d never be able to move on until I spoke to these people in my life. And I did.
Not only did I apologise for my wrongs, which had been very evident once I’d finally gotten up the courage to look the all those situations objectively, but the person I was apologising to did not have the slightest shred of belief they had done anything wrong.
I sat there in the conversation in a hammock with a cup of tea in my hand. That moment felt like an hour, staring into their face. I heard that indignant voice. It told me they didn’t deserve it. They didn’t deserve me cutting off the blame. They didn’t deserve my grace. Scott free? Are you kidding me? And I could have grown ugly again. But I didn’t.
I didn’t care if they were in the wrong. I didn’t care if they had hurt me. I didn’t care if they’d never know. Living there was worse than being wrong. It wasn’t worth holding onto. And so, the crossroads passed and the person never knew. And they will never know. And that’s alright.
My relationship with this person has since blossomed into one of the richest and most valuable things in my life. Being able to move past hurts allowed for something beautiful to grow, and I am stronger now than I ever have been.
Since this conversion, my life has changed dramatically. I believe I have completely left behind a life of victimhood. I take life with both hands now, and I know everything is within my grasp if I’m willing to work for it. I don’t expect it all to be given to me. I don’t think I deserve it to be either. Even more, I became against the idea of getting anything I haven’t worked for (an extreme form the other end of the spectrum that I’m not working through). I have goals, I have a vision for my life.
The reality is if you live your life being the victim of people’s remarks and actions, you will never feel satisfied, and you will never be free. I’ll never say what someone has done to you was right – so often it isn’t. But it’s not about right and wrong. It’s you that has to live with you.
Do you really want to live as a prisoner in your head? This is an optional part of someone doing you wrong. You always have the choice of choosing to move on. You don’t have to defend yourself with bitterness. True, lasting, breathtaking strength comes from love. It comes from moving past obstacles, like diamonds under pressure.
You are not the victim of the pressure – the pressure is what makes you strong. You cannot control what they do. But you can control your reaction. And you can choose the reaction that gives you a life of peace and such fulfilling joy. Bitterness has never made anyone a stronger person. You are not the exception.