We all make mistakes and do things that can feel hurtful to others as well as to ourselves. When mistakes are used as lessons for learning, changing, and transforming, they can be powerful turning points.
When mistakes are used to criticize, shame us, cast blame, and build a wall of regret, they become thorns in our mind; they just keep flaring up and blocking our ability to forgive ourselves and others as well as blocking our capacity to love.
When I felt the inspiration to write this chapter, I was very resistant to the topic I was shown to use as an example. I am going to tread softly and tenderly, but at the same time I know the topic is going to trigger some people. If that happens to be you, I encourage you to use the trigger as an opportunity to heal.
We are seeing a lot of women stepping out of hiding and shame and starting to publicly name and accuse men who have sexually abused or harassed them in the past. A courage is rising in all women to stand up, to be strong, and to be vulnerable as they tell their stories and expose the individuals involved. Some women are coming forward with secrets they have carried in shame for decades.
The #MeToo campaign that went viral in October 2017 with millions of tweets and Facebook posts within hours is a great example of women rising to tell their stories and send a message to men that sexual abuse is not okay. The number of responses is a testimony to just how many women have been affected and continue to be affected by unwelcome advances, sexual harassment, and/or acts of sexual abuse and violence by men.
First, I must say I am so sorry if it happened to you and I am sorry if you didn’t feel like you could share what happened before now. I am sorry you had to keep the shameful event a secret for as long as you did. It happened to me too, more than once.
In fact when the campaign went viral and my Facebook news feed filled up with women sharing their stories, it reminded me of other incidences in my life that I had buried in a dark hidden closet of my mind. The campaign has not only brought sexual abuse into the light of awareness to expose it and hopefully affect change, it has also provided us with an opportunity to heal our leftover shame, guilt, fear, and resentment around our own experiences.
Now here is where it gets a little sticky. It is true and I totally agree, it is not okay and it must be stopped. The question is how do we stop it? Is adding “shame on them” going to stop those men? For some it will. It will stop those who are just trying to fit in and go along with all the other guys. It may stop those who were only doing it because that is how they were taught to treat women based on the examples they witnessed. They probably already felt an underlying guilt about their actions. The campaign may cause tender compassionate men to stand up and stop another man from committing an act of sexual harassment or harm to a woman. I believe the campaign and women standing in solidarity are making a difference in many ways and I do encourage all of us to continue to rise up in courage and speak our truth.
My question is how do we stop it altogether? Like a weed that is pulled out without the root, this abuse will always grow back. How can we pull it out at the root so that the next generation of boys and men grow up with love, empathy, and compassion for women?
The difference between pulling the weed without the root and getting underneath it to the true issue lies in our own judgment and our choice to forgive. Before we can forgive, we need to feel all our unfelt feelings, cry our uncried tears, scream out our unexpressed words, and find loving supportive individuals who can hold space for us to process it all until we come to a place of softness and relief.
Next, the challenge is in letting go of our judgments of the accused men. Judging them will not help change them. There is a reason they commit these actions. It is a projection outward of their own underlying unresolved pain. There is an underlying fear that is driving their behaviour. Whether that be the fear of love, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of not having power, fear of feeling their own past pain and trauma, fear of their own memories of sexual abuse, fear of loneliness, fear of not being good enough, fear of looking like a fool …. I can go on and on and list all the possible fears that are the root that drives their behaviour, but it would take up most of this book. These men weren’t born with these behaviours: they learned them and started using them as a way to cope with their underlying insecurities and fears.
Instead of facing their own internal demons, abusers project their unexpressed feelings out onto women and men through behaviours that help them feel better about themselves. The challenge is that they only feel better temporarily and an underlying guilt sinks in (with or without their conscious awareness) and they need to project again to feel better about themselves.
They don’t need us to judge and shame them. That only adds to their underlying unfelt, unexpressed, unresolved root that drives their behaviour. Yes, the behaviour needs to be exposed and brought out into the light so they can’t pretend and deny how they really feel underneath. But at that point, what they really need is compassion and support to help them heal their own internal demons and unresolved past trauma and fears. Once they own their part and take responsibility for their actions what they will need most is forgiveness. When they can genuinely and honestly say sorry for what they have done, we must forgive them. We must meet their fear with forgiveness and love and let love expand. If we do not, this cycle and unwelcomed behaviour will never end.
Now the more challenging scenario involves forgiving those who are not willing to apologize or own the harmful nature of their behaviour.
When I was in a counselling program learning how to provide support to clients who had been raped, someone asked the teacher if she had ever heard of someone being able to stop a rape as it was happening. She said in her experience, she had heard of two such examples. During the violent act, one woman looked deeply into the eyes of her rapist and genuinely and wholeheartedly said, “I forgive you.” His eyes locked on hers and he felt her loving compassion and he immediately stopped and left her alone. Another woman had a similar experience and her words were “I love you.” It wasn’t about the words they used, but about the love and genuine forgiveness they felt as they spoke them.
Everyone makes mistakes. Some people make little ones while others make some big ones that impact many people. Forgiveness doesn’t mean what they did was okay or right or acceptable. Forgiveness is always for ourselves first and foremost. Forgiveness frees us from all our resentment, fears, and trauma, and at the same time it just may have the potential to free another.
We all make mistakes. We don’t need to be judged and shamed; we need to be forgiven and we need to forgive ourselves. Then and only then can we make a conscious choice for love and affect real long-lasting change on our planet. Forgiveness has the potential to heal humanity more than we realize.
Let’s begin within our own hearts and minds. Who or what do you need to forgive?
NOTE: this is an excerpt from Sue Dumais’ book Stand UP Stand OUT Stand STRONG ~ A 30 Day Guide to Navigate Life When the SHIFT Hits the Fan