The Mistake You're Making When Seeking Forgiveness
The Backstory: Last month Noreen and Iyanla unpacked the disagreement that led to Noreen's having virtually no contact with three of their brothers in the past five years. The issue: whether her ailing mother should spend her remaining years in Jamaica, where she'd been living, or in England, where most of her children live. When her mom returned to England with assistance from a granddaughter, Noreen was outraged—she questioned whether her mother, who suffers from dementia, had been able to make the decision on her own. Now, as she and Iyanla chat, she says she isn't as mad at her brothers as she is at herself—for letting her emotions get the best of her and saying things hurtful enough to sever ties with the people she loves most. Iyanla urges her to dig a little deeper into those feelings....
Iyanla Vanzant: When we spoke last time, you said you weren't aware of any breakdown of trust among your siblings before this fight and that you would take 100 percent responsibility for everything that's transpired, right?
Noreen Sumpter: That's right.
IV: So even though you didn't know there was a breakdown in trust, you feel 100 percent responsible?
NS: I do. I really do.
IV: You've mentioned that growing up, you considered yourself the peacemaker in the family. Is that part of why you're disappointed that you haven't been able to resolve things with your brothers?
NS: That's exactly right. Because I was the one who created a nonamicable situation when I got so angry.
IV: But where is your compassion for yourself—for the fact that you're human?
NS: Where's my compassion?
IV: All I hear is "I created..." "I caused..." "My responsibility..." Where's the basic human compassion for yourself in those statements?
NS: I do have compassion that I messed up, and I can forgive myself for that.
IV: Can you?
IV: Have you?
NS: I actually have forgiven myself.
IV: Even though you haven't accepted the situation as it is now—with the silence between you and your brothers—you've forgiven yourself?
IV: The thing that's coming back to you, beloved, is how you treat yourself. Your brothers' behavior is a reflection of how you treat yourself. Which takes me back to my question: In your bold self-indictment for creating this rift in the family, tell me where you demonstrate compassion for yourself.
NS: I see what you're getting at. If I don't have compassion for myself, how can I have it for anyone else?
IV: I would take it a step further and say that you aren't demonstrating compassion for yourself, and as a result, they can't demonstrate compassion for you. But the way you're going about everything—all your self-indictment—is very controlling. There was a breakdown in communication long before your mother went into the nursing home. Either people didn't feel heard or they didn't believe they would be heard. There was a breakdown in trust. I suspect that some of your siblings didn't trust that their voice would be respected. You said it yourself—in order to move forward, you want everyone to have a chance to say what they want to say. But because you're operating from a controlling perspective by saying "I'm responsible," you're negating their experience. Here's the truth: You're responsible for what you do and what you say, and nothing more. You're never responsible for how other people respond. By saying "I'm responsible for everything," you covertly seize control of their experience.
NS: Wow, I can relate to that.
IV: I'm very much aware of the impact of birth order. You're not the eldest and you're not the baby, which means you had to fight to be heard growing up. That's why I don't think this situation has anything to do with your brothers; it has to do with an inner experience—known or unknown to you—of losing your place in this cosmic environment of your family.
NS: I see what you're saying. I don't have to take responsibility for all of it; I can just take responsibility for my role. There was a communication breakdown long before this happened. I never fully listened to my siblings. I never really considered myself passive-aggressive, but I can actually see that I'm passive-aggressive with my brothers.
IV: I think you're passive-aggressive, period.
IV: If you do it anywhere, you do it everywhere. What you're experiencing with your siblings, you are experiencing in other places in your life even if you're not aware of it. Here are the emotions that keep coming up: hurt, sadness, disappointment, and powerlessness. We need to look at where those feelings exist in your overall life. I'm going to put you on a 40-day fast from calling your brothers. I'm going to give you a healing journal and send you prompts to answer each day for the next 40 days.
NS: Feels like I'm in the desert.
IV: Not the desert, but the wilderness. There's a distinction. In the wilderness you're surrounded by so much information that you have no idea what it's good for or how to put it to use. That's where you are. But you're on the verge of a breakthrough.
Next month: It's been 40 days. How did Noreen do? We'll find out what she's learned and whether she's any closer to restoring bonds with her brothers.
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Iyanla Vanzant is the host of OWN's Iyanla, Fix My Life and author of Peace from Broken Pieces.