An excerpt from “The Power Of Forgiveness”
BY JOAN GATTUSO
When I was young and naïve and lacking wisdom, I thought a certain male friend held all my good. I couldn’t be happy unless he loved me. I wasn’t valuable unless he thought I was valuable. My sense of self-worth was all entwined with his ego. Thirty-five years ago I attended the workshop of a very popular newspaper columnist of the time, Sydney J. Harris. I don’t remember much of the contents of this workshop, but I have never forgotten one profound thing he said: “Theirs was a marriage made in heaven. The rocks in his head fit perfectly with the holes in her head.”
Yep. That was me. It took a mountain of work to forgive myself. I needed to forgive myself even more than my ex-husband, because I had so willingly walked into that relationship and stayed.
When I look back and reflect on that time, it’s as though I’m talking about someone else. That girl of so long ago is so much not who I became or who I am today. But I needed the fodder for my soul, and I surely created the drama so I would get my fair share of grist for my mill. I was an ignorant girl who married an ignorant boy. Neither one of us was mature enough to go steady, let alone be married.
He came from a family that was more dysfunctional than most. His father was a business executive who was highly educated and sophisticated. His mother was not. She was from the South, and as my college roommate would say at the time, “In her mind she lived at Tara from Gone with the Wind.”
Today I can see that this poor soul was severely mentally ill. At the time I thought she was stark, raving mad. She was paranoid and thought various people were spying on her. Once when my then boyfriend and I were walking out of the living room I dropped a hanky on the floor. His mother went ballistic, claiming that the motion was part of a secret code. When he and I were married a couple of years later, his mother attempted to French kiss all of the groomsmen. It was not only embarrassing to me, it was icky.
This elephant in the living room was enormous, and although she was a frequent “visitor” to several psych wards, no one would face what was going on right under their noses.
Fast-forward several years to when I was filing for divorce. My dear mother said to me, “I hope you aren’t getting a divorce because of his family and especially his mother.”
“No, I’m not,” I responded. “But it sure will be a nice benefit to no longer have to deal with her.” And it was. However, at the time I had no idea how much forgiveness work I needed to do with regard to my ex-husband and his family, especially his mother. As I began to awaken spiritually I began the necessary forgiveness work.
Through forgiveness I could see him as the innocent child who was raised in a household that never looked at or acknowledged any problem. When I saw him as the victim of his circumstances and upbringing, that alone made it so much easier to forgive him. Then I could begin to forgive his mother. When I was so young it was very difficult for me to have much understanding; that didn’t come about until much maturity and spiritual insight had settled in.
After a long, long time I began to see his mother through the eyes of compassion and understanding. She was not exhibiting such bizarre behaviors to torture her son’s bride, but rather because she was mentally ill.
Back then I did not have much knowledge of boundaries—what they are and how necessary they are. In dealing with a difficult individual like this, a spiritually mature person would:
- Limit contact.
- Always have at least one other person present during any less-than-pleasant interaction.
- Agree with the adversary quickly, as Jesus taught.
- Not take anything that happens personally.
- Turn the other cheek.
- Not gossip about the person or situation.
- Practice loving-kindness.
- Practice having a generous spirit.
- Practice forgiving until you can succeed with all of the above.
Excerpted from The Power of Forgiveness by Joan Gattuso with the permission of Tarcher Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2015 by Joan Gattuso.
Joan Gattuso has studied with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and has authored three popular books that have been translated into several languages: A Course in Love, A Course in Life, and The Lotus Still Blooms. Gattuso is a well-known Unity minister, who lives in Hawaii with her husband, David Alexander.