Choosing to believe

Choosing to believe

BARBARA J. LEVIN O’RIORDAN makes use of an old emotional wound to learn how to forgive, and how to actively make choices that lead to healing instead of fostering resentment and hurt.

A few weeks ago, I remembered having been painfully shamed by somebody. This happened many, many years ago. I think that I was still in my teens, and the person who shamed me was quite a bit older. We were in a situation where they were my ‘superior’ and held power over me. This person died a few years ago.

After venting my anger by telling my story to some friends, I began my process of forgiveness. I started by remembering that I am now older than the person was when they shamed me and, therefore, can see the matter from a more adult perspective.

I saw that in shaming me the person had forfeited an opportunity to teach me. Recognizing that fact helped me to heal my own shame. I was not stupid, as the person had implied, but simply needing to learn something. The person had just made an unfortunate choice – to belittle rather than teach. I recognized that this person, as is true for anybody when they hurt another person, was coming from a place of pain and need.

I also considered that maybe the person had been having a bad time that day and that I, a young kid, might just have been getting on their nerves. That did not excuse them, but I could sympathize.

Then I made a choice.
I chose to believe that
the soul of the person
who had hurt me
was seeking forgiveness.

Finally, I wrote a letter about the matter, which I purposely did NOT mail.

Still, the forgiveness process was not complete. There was still no love in it.

I kept having an image of the person who had shamed me. I had the idea that I was doing them a disservice by holding a grudge against them. In my imagination I had the idea that they wanted to be more deeply forgiven.

Then I made a choice.

I chose to believe that the soul of the person who had hurt me was seeking forgiveness. Perhaps they had even prayed for the old memory to return to me as a way of bringing about forgiveness. Perhaps the memory had come so that I might heal myself of the old wound, and also so the person might ask for and be forgiven and healed.

When I chose to believe those things, everything changed.

Surely every soul eventually seeks forgiveness.
And perhaps the world needs a bit of benign
pretending as its wounds become increasingly critical.

I chose to believe that the person was repenting all the times in their life when they had belittled other people; that the person was planning a new life in which they did not shame others as a way of anesthetizing their own pain. I chose to believe that their soul was seeking relief in this way.

I am now choosing to believe that this person and I are joining together in the effort to right what was wrong and create something new. If our hearts can come together in a shared effort to correct what had been broken and mistaken, our story, which began so many decades ago, can still have a happy ending.

So, in the light of all that, I am asking you, readers and friends, to consider this message. I choose to believe that the person who once shamed me is now joining me in speaking it:
“Your words to people who are subordinate to you – your employees, your pupils and students, your children, your parishioners, the people whom you mentor, and those who clean your office – have power and can stay with them all their lives. Any opportunity to belittle one of those persons is also an opportunity to teach, enrich, and empower them.”

If anybody can hear and remember that, I will be a bit more healed, and I choose to believe that so will the person who hurt me.

I think I can also choose to believe that any person who hurts me in the future is already, in the very act of hurting me, also beseeching my forgiveness.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl states that it is our right to choose beliefs that enhance our humanity, particularly if the choosing is conscious. When he was incarcerated in a concentration camp, for example, he chose to respect himself, to believe that he would someday be liberated, and to believe he would write a book based upon his experiences at the camp that would help others. In fact, Frankl was liberated, and millions of people have read and been helped by his book.

Some might state that choosing to believe as I did was only an exercise in pretending. But, how far wrong could I have been? Surely every soul eventually seeks forgiveness. And perhaps the world needs a bit of benign pretending as its wounds become increasingly critical.

This exercise in choosing to believe helped me to change. It seems that my own world has expanded. I am now considering what other beliefs I might choose that will strengthen me and others, and help us to grow. Which beliefs do you choose?


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  1. Avatar Catherine Johnson : June 28, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    What a soul searching article this is…..the most liberating factor of all times is forgiveness and this factor can be generated only through love itself.

    Thanks Barbara.

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