While forgiveness allows us the opportunity to remove the toxins of an injustice committed against us, we must also deal with those wounds that stem from neglect in our early lives. What people didn’t or couldn’t do for us can create just as much (if not more) shame as those violations that were perpetrated against us. If we don’t effectively deal with these shame-based messages, we can go through life trying to satisfy those unmet needs in unhealthy or ungodly ways. Based upon our inborn temperament combination, this pursuit will take on a multitude of forms.
Grieving takes time. And it can’t be rushed. Grief has a purpose and a season, but its goal is to move us to a point of healing and wholeness, rather than keeping us bound to things that continue to dominate and destroy our lives.
Steps to Grieving Your Childhood
- Identify the loss for what it really is. Create a written list of what you lost in your childhood, or maybe never even had to begin with. Be sure to include who it is you feel failed you in this way. Try to start with your earliest memories you can recall and work forward to the present. The perceived needs you have today may be skewed due to an undercurrent of unfinished business from your past. You may be expecting people to meet needs in your current life that actually stem from unmet needs in your childhood. To allow this healing work to be most effective, trust your perceptions. Although others may have experienced or perceived these things differently, your soul responded to them as you perceived them. And that’s what matters here.
- Legitimize the needs you have listed. We spend most of our lives trying to minimize our needs. We must do the opposite if we hope to experience healing and a life of forgiveness. Consider saying something similar to this: “I needed you to __________ (love me, nurture me, protect me), but you didn’t. I know you had your own reasons and issues, but it didn’t change the fact that I truly needed this from you.”
- Connect emotionally to the pain of not having something you needed. This may include your temperament needs not being acknowledged by someone important in your life. You may have had it at one point, and then eventually lost it. This could be the death or separation of someone close to you. It may have been the loss of the opportunity to just be a child. If you are still in denial or trapped behind anger, you may not have allowed yourself to actually feel the raw emotions connected to these experiences. Remember, “God won’t heal what you don’t feel.” Consider saying something like this: “When you __________ (their hurtful act), I felt __________ (my emotional response).”
- Acknowledge where we have blamed others. Often when our needs aren’t met, we begin to blame people and grow bitter and angry. We may blame our parents for how they raised us. We may blame a family member or spouse for not meeting our needs. We may blame God. Understanding our blame helps us see why we’ve been hindered from moving on.
- Admit our powerlessness. We must come to a place where we simply recognize that we are powerless over the person and their inability to meet our need. Or that we can do nothing to change the fact that they left us or failed us or rejected us or hurt us. From that place of powerlessness, we are now ready to surrender it to Jesus.
- Choose to forgive the person who let you down. Using the same process that we learned in forgiving a person for an act committed against us, we can also forgive the person who didn’t meet our needs.
- Accept the person (even though you may still detest their behavior) and the circumstances that led to where you are today. Often people who neglected us were physically or emotionally unavailable to us because of their own painful issues, or even because of how they were raised by their own parents. This, in no way, justifies their action or inaction. However, it does help us realize that we cannot demand something from someone that they do not possess themselves. We must understand that when we forgive and accept someone, we stop trying to change that person. We stop trying to get our needs met through them. And we stop recreating similar dysfunctional patterns to get someone else to meet those needs.
- Say goodbye. If you are grieving the loss of a person, write that person a “no-send” letter to say goodbye. Explain in detail the pain of separation, but the desire to forgive and move on without them. Don’t rush this process. Allow yourself to feel every word you write. Don’t hold back your honest feelings. Remember, this is not a letter that is ever sent unless, at some point, you feel God is leading you to do so.
- Ask God to meet your unmet needs. While we are asked to let go of painful, unmet needs of our past, we must have the perspective and mindset that we have a God who is infinitely higher and greater than any need we have at any given time. Ask God to meet your needs through His perspective, and to give you the willingness and patience to wait on Him to do so. “Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20 NLT).
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