How to Be at Peace Even If Someone Won't Forgive You
The previous installments of our multipart series: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3
The Backstory: Noreen Sumpter, 53, hasn't spoken to three of her brothers since 2010, when they had an ugly dispute about where their mother should spend her final years. The fallout from the falling-out has been brutal: an epic silent treatment, with Noreen effectively cut off from half her siblings. Several months ago, eager to finally bridge the divide, she reached out to Iyanla for help. As part of their work together, Iyanla instructed her not to contact her brothers for 40 days and gave her a three-week series of "governing thoughts" to reflect on each day, plus statements to respond to in a journal. Here, Iyanla reviews some of Noreen's answers to help her develop the awareness she'll need if she's going to keep working toward reconciliation with her family.
Iyanla Vanzant: Welcome back! I can't wait to hear how you're feeling and how the assignments went. But before we dive in, I want to return to something we spoke about last time, when you said you were completely responsible for the family's breakdown. Are you still feeling that way?
Noreen Sumpter: The way I'm feeling now is that I'm responsible for my reactions, for not getting the full facts about how everyone felt about where my mom should live. There was such a lack of communication that I couldn't even discuss my fears about not being heard.
IV: Mmm-hmm.... We also talked about your fear of being attacked by your siblings and your quest for control. Have you begun to see that they are connected?
NS: Oh, absolutely.
IV: Tell me about that.
NS: Well, if I'm fearful, and fear is running the show, then I have no control. So my tendency is to fight for control as a way to try to manage the fear.
IV: When you didn't get control in the fight with your brothers, what did you do?
NS: I killed them off!
IV: Let's look at the governing thought for day 5: I see only the past. If we see only the past, then we're going to respond to situations based on what we made up about the past. Which takes me back to the governing thought for day 1: I have given everything I see all the meaning it has for me. What you perceived your siblings doing and what they perceived you doing was really about who you were and what you needed in the moment. The relationship today is going to reflect all the stuff each of you made up about the past. You get that?
IV: I often say that people have a very limited emotional library. And so when they go through a vulnerable experience, they can pull only certain things from their shelves: good/bad, right/wrong, happy/sad. But what about disappointment, frustration, grief, and sorrow? What about betrayal? When we're growing up, most of us don't have that broader emotional library at our disposal. You told me before that your siblings made jokes about your appearance, and you felt outraged and diminished, but you didn't have those words. Many of us come into adulthood with that same limited emotional vocabulary, and since we see only the past, we respond today how we felt back then. What do you see differently today?
NS: I'm not that 5-year-old girl who cried when her siblings teased her. I am a woman who has power, and I can give words and light to my emotions.
IV: But how have you healed? How have you healed the 5-year-old Noreen? Because feelings buried alive do not die. Even though you are 53 today, you have 48 years of not expressing yourself, or expressing yourself in inappropriate ways. So when those feelings come up, you need to call your 5-year-old self and say to her, "I got this." It will take the edge off and will prevent you from living in the past. Remember: Your brothers' supposed thoughts about you, and your thoughts about them, are all images you created in your mind, which may have nothing to do with who you are now.
NS: It doesn't have anything to do with who I am. And I'm not relating to them as who they are now—I'm relating to them as the past has dictated.
IV: I want to jump ahead to the thought for day 13, which says My holiness envelops everything I see. If your holiness—the divine you, the highest part of you—were to reach out and envelop your brothers, what would that look like?
NS: Forgiveness. I'm hopeful that one day they will be able to see me as one of them.
IV: What if that doesn't happen?
NS: If it doesn't happen, it doesn't mean anything.
IV: I want to move to day 16, which was Let me not forget my function. What is your function?
NS: I'm their sister. And I'll always be their sister and...
IV: And your function is...
NS: To love them.
IV: That's right. That's your only function. Because day 17 says Love holds no grievances.
IV: Love holds no grievances. And it is very clear to me that despite the sadness and the disappointment and the filters of the past that cloud your vision, the love is there.
NS: Oh my God, it's so there! It's always been there.
IV: I want to encourage you to hold on to day 18:
IV: If you focus on the miracle of healing within your family, you will get that. And when you see them, they'll look different to you, and you'll look different to them. I think you finally understand that going in like a bulldozer to try to make peace happen won't work. If you can continue with your journaling and your awareness, you're going to see some pretty phenomenal changes in every area of your life, including with your siblings. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but one day soon, I think you'll be able to make some calls with absolutely no expectations. Just be sure that no matter what happens, you do not give it meaning.
NS: I hear you.
IV: Well, my darling, I want to thank you for trusting me with your heart and your spirit. Thank you for your willingness to stand in the world as a demonstration of what is possible. I can only imagine the good that is going to come out of this.
NS: Thank you so much. Thank you for transforming my life.
Iyanla Vanzant is the host of OWN's Iyanla: Fix My Life and the author of Trust: Mastering the Four Essential Trusts.
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