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Doctor Neha: Hi everybody and welcome! I have a wonderful friend who’s joining us—Sally! What’s been on your mind?
Sally: Well, I’m the middle of three children in my family. I have a big brother and had a younger brother—who has passed away. As children, my father was very domineering and my mother was pretty quiet. My father used to put people down verbally quite frequently, and as a kid I picked up on that. I think that I treated my younger brother in ways that were not helpful, and perhaps negative. I think I perpetuated some of the family dynamics—like beliefs that he couldn’t do well—he ran away, and he took drugs. Now, I’m looking back on my past and what I did. I regret that I wasn’t a better sister and that I didn’t stand up for him. Even as adults, I would make mean comments about him and I wish I could take those back, because now he’s gone.
Doctor Neha: What would you do now that you didn’t do before? How would you have shown up as an older sister to your brother?
Sally: I think I would have protected him from my dad. I would have valued who he was—instead of telling him who he should have been. I would have been more understanding about how difficult things were for him.
Doctor Neha: First of all, I want to say I’m really sorry for your loss. I also clearly see that you’ve spent some time reflecting on this. I think that you are beating yourself up and feeling guilt and regret. You are really clear about the patterns in your family, and you recognize that those negative actions were modeled to you. You picked up on them, and now you have realized that those actions weren’t okay. Realizing that, how has that changed how you see and treat other people?
Sally: Well, I actually perpetuated those negative actions well into our adult years, and I think I cut other people more slack. I was more willing to see that other people were doing the best they could under their circumstances than I could see that in my own brother.
Doctor Neha: I like to think of human beings as different colored, bright souls. These souls allow us to explore and have fun, and they enter the experience of life school. In life school, every interaction and every person we meet is an eye-opening experience, or at least, a lesson-delivering experience. Looking at family, they teach the biggest life lessons there are to learn.
It sounds like your father interacted with you and acted from a position of authority, and you assumed that position of authority with your brother. It really sounds like you modeled both the good behaviors and those that you didn’t like. Now that you’ve realized that, I think that some self forgiveness is in order.
So, please take a moment and give me an example of your previous criticisms of your brother. Know that you were only giving those criticisms out of your own angst. As you bring up this example, what do you feel in your body? Tell me where you feel that regret and guilt. Just take a nice slow, deep breath, let your shoulders drop and relax. Scan your body (from top to bottom) and search for tightness.
Sally: I feel some tightness on the left side of my throat. I feel some sadness.
Doctor Neha: What would you say to me If I was your brother? What do you want me to know?
I would want you to know that I loved you.
I wasn’t always fair to you.
I wish I had supported you better.
I wish I had been less judgmental.
I wish I had helped you more in ways that were useful and had been less condescending.
I wish I’d celebrated with you more, because towards the end of your life, you got it together. And then you were gone.
Doctor Neha: What do you want to thank me (your brother) for, for being in your life?
Sally: Oh, he had such a sense of humor. He was much taller than me, and I would put my arm around him and say, “This is my little brother,” and he’d say, “This is my big sister.” We had some real fun.
He also gave me a nephew and a great-nephew. He was fun to be around and he was caring and helpful. He could fix anything.
Doctor Neha: As your brother, I would say to you that I hear you and that my heart lightens. I can feel your sincerity. I would take you back to the things that you wish you would have done differently. I would say that my hope is for you to take those lessons and apply them to yourself.
Criticize yourself less.
Show yourself more love and support.
Shower yourself with more celebration of your accomplishments.
I want to tell you that it’s okay, and urge you to use what you learned to be better toward yourself. The way you treat yourself is how you treat other people. I would ask you this because I want you to experience some self forgiveness.
- Are you ready to give up all hope of a better past?
Think about that question. Can you go back and redo it? No.
So, are you going to keep trying to relive it and change it, or are you ready to give up all hope of a better past?
Sally: That’s easier said than done.
Doctor Neha: If the answer’s no, then you’re not quite ready for self forgiveness. If you’re still trying to recreate the past, then you’re going to stay stuck there.
But you may say, “Okay. That wasn’t the way I wanted it to be. I wish it were different. It’s gone now. But what I can do is carry those lessons forward in life school, and I want to graduate from this class that beats me up again and again. I’m done with that and I’m ready to take those lessons and move forward in my life. I want to make those exchanges worth something meaningful.”
I’m asking you one more time. Are you ready to give up all hope of a better past?
Doctor Neha: Notice where in your body you feel that. As you take a nice deep breath in, thank your body for letting you know that there was something that didn’t feel quite right in your relationship as a big sister. I want you to answer this question honestly.
- Did you do the best you could with what you were given at the time, with the knowledge and awareness you had?
Doctor Neha: Yeah, you’re being a little hard on yourself because I’m pretty sure you did the best job you could with what you knew and the tools you had at the time.
Sally: I can look back and totally say that about growing up. What’s tougher is things that were just 10 or 15 years ago when I was an adult. Those are tougher to say that I did the best I could, because I wasn’t a child.
Doctor Neha: While you’re healing and while you’re willing to forgive yourself as a child, you’re not willing to forgive the adult version of you. But I want to ask you, what’s the difference between being a kid and adult?
Sally: I have more insight and awareness as an adult.
Doctor Neha: So, what’s the cutoff age? When is it okay to make mistakes? You’ve got a tricky critic inside yourself. What might it feel like to allow yourself to know that just by forgiving yourself, it doesn’t mean you’re forgetting your brother? In fact, you’re honoring him. He would want you to be happy.
Sally: Yeah, he would want me to let go. I actually apologized once for something that happened when we were kids and he said, “Oh Sal, that was a long time ago. It’s no big deal.” I think he would want me to let this go.
Doctor Neha: I think the person you have hurt the most is yourself. Can you partner with the younger version of you—that version of you that felt hurt, didn’t feel seen, felt criticized, and didn’t feel as much love as you wish you had? Partner with that version of yourself, and promise her that you are now the adult that’s going to take care of her.
If you do that, not only will you not forget your brother, but you will also be so grateful for the life lessons that both of you learned together. The worst thing would be to have all this happen, feel all this guilt, and never feel the joy that comes from learning and letting yourself off the hook.
Sally: Well, also the joy that comes from remembering the good times with him.
Doctor Neha: You have to decide how you want to be in memory of your brother. Do you want to be in the contentious criticism or do you want to be in the playful love and joy that you had together? I’m going to ask you again. Do you think that you did the best you could with the awareness and the knowledge you had at the time?
Doctor Neha: Take a deep breath, and just notice that you can live your life in regret, or you can see this as a life lesson. There’s an opportunity for you to honor your relationship with him by treating yourself the way that he did.
Sally: That makes sense.
Doctor Neha: How are you feeling?
Sally: A little better.
Doctor Neha: Good. When you feel tension or tightness in your body, it’s a great thing to lean into it and just say, “Oh, where am I out of alignment? What is it that I need to say that I’m not saying? Where’s the critic? How can we replace the critic with love and support?” Next, shower yourself with that same love and support.
What were your takeaways from this?
Sally: The biggest takeaway is just remembering the really good memories I have of him. I’m remembering the fun and the joy and the closeness we shared. I’m remembering the things that we have in common and that we enjoyed doing.
That’s probably the biggest takeaway—by letting go of the guilt and regret I can remember him in a different, better way.
Doctor Neha: You’re going to stay connected; you’re not letting go of him. You’re simply reconstructing your relationship with him.
Sally: He would definitely want me to not be so hard on myself.
Doctor Neha: Fantastic. From what you said earlier, I can tell that he just wanted your connection and for you to know that he loved you.
Well thank you, Sally. Thank you for sharing so openly and so lovingly. I think you’re a great big sis.
Sally: Thank you. I think he would want me to shower the same positive feelings on his son and his grandson. Sometimes I feel critical of his son, and he would want me to treat his son in that positive way.
Doctor Neha: Well, it sounds like you’ve got a second and a third chance.
Thank you so much. For all of you out there, if you have regrets, my hope is for you to find the courage and the compassion for yourself and to be able to mend your relationship with others. And if by chance the person is no longer there, I want you to know that you can still mend your relationship with them even though they are gone.
Thank you again, Sally. I appreciate you so much. Thank you.
The Key to Repairing Damaged Relationships
What does this person mean to me? Why do I value them?
What role have they played in my life?
How was what I said or did hurtful to the other person or our relationship?
What do I need to acknowledge or take personal accountability for?
Have I forgiven myself?
If not and you’re ready to do so, go to TalkRx: Ch 14 p. 179 and follow the (5) steps to Self-Forgiveness!