Forgiving the perpetrator

As may or may not be clear in the subtext of this blog, my husband (wow, that still seems strange) and I are very much in to self-development. We started off doing things together, but about a year and a half ago, I started doing programs geared more towards women and he, as you might guess, didn’t.

One of the cool things about doing things together is simply we like spending time together and since self-development weekends or sometimes even weeks, usually push at one or more of one or both of our hidden buttons. Then again, that’s why they’re called self-development. It’s a good opportunity for us to work through those things together – that is, if we’re together.

One of the cool things about doing things apart, however, is that we’re pulling a larger variety of ideas into the couple. And when we relate the information to each other after the fact, it’s a good chance to integrate the material. It’s true that the best way to learn something yourself is to teach to it someone else. Trust me on this one.

During the last session of a year long program that M attended, his coaches introduced something called family constellations (which is apparently some sort of family systems thing). We spent one evening talking this through. I must admit that I was initially turned off, because they use terms like the victim, the perpetrator, and the hero. (Other similar systems, I even more recently found out, use similarly cheesy terms: firefighter, manager, and exile.)

I’m totally oversimplifying this, but according to the model as M understood it, in order to be free (or to have freedom in your life) you, as the victim, must forgive the perpetrator. And in order to do this you must first acknowledge that the conditions that you grew up in were absolutely perfect for the life that you have now.

Caveat: that’s my understanding of his understanding. (Have you ever played Gossip? In other words, I may have totally screwed it up, but I found meaning it in nonetheless.)

Okay, I was trying to explain this to a friend of mine and her face pretty much seized. Once she was able to get her teeth unclenched, she managed: “We’re going to have to come back to that one.”

My own way to avoid dealing with this was to assume that I had nothing to forgive. I mean, my parents didn’t starve or beat me or anything like that….. I looked at my shadowy places; no grudges there.

Then I happened to read a blog post that I wrote not a few months ago, nor even a few weeks ago, but a few days ago.

I quote: “Would I have preferred to have grown up skinny? Absolutely.”

Hmm, that doesn’t sound like perfection. And if I was willing to cast my parents in the role of perpetrator and, even harder still, myself in the role of the victim…. Maybe I owe someone an apology for holding a grudge, even one that wasn’t openly acknowledged. Maybe I owe someone some forgiveness, because if I have a secret grudge, might they not be carrying around some secret guilt or at least some degree of responsibility? Responsibility, if my childhood was absolutely perfect, that is misplaced. And how much better would my relationships with 1) my parents, 2) myself, and 3) my body be if I could clear – either energetically or face-to-face all of this hidden resentment/blame and misplaced responsibility/fear.

Note: know that I hate the terms victim and perpetrator. When I think about myself being a “victim” it doesn’t seem to ring true, because I had agency. And I also don’t think of my parents as perpetrators, because when I think about them being “perpetrators” I tend to think of negative intent and I know that there was no negative intent on their part. Having said that, I am going to go ahead and work within the metaphor.

So here it goes. Why were the conditions of childhood obesity perfect?

1) Just because someone is thin when they are young, does not mean that they will be thin later in life. In fact, most of the super thin healthy people I know now are super healthy and thin because they were overweight at some point in their life. And most of the overweight unhealthy people I know were thin when they were young. Part of the reason they’re struggling (or not) now is because they never had to develop the habits or they’re not identified with their weight, which may or may not have significant consequences on their health. One could say, and it wouldn’t be far from the truth, that part of the reason that I am so healthy and weight conscious (which can be both good and bad) is because I was obese as a child. So, was it worth 16 years of fat to have 70 years of normal weight (assuming I inherited my grandparents’ longevity gene?) Absolutely. Not only do I forgive you, I thank you.

2) Whether it was the result or part of the cause (or both) of my ever expanding girth, my sister and I spent more time in libraries than on playgrounds. My mother would trundle us up an city buses and we’d go to the central library in our towns every week in the summer, where we would check out the maximum number of books, which I believe was ten…each. During those summers, sitting underneath window air conditioners or box fans, and probably eating homemade chocolate chip cookies and ice cream (or Oreos dipped in milk) I developed a love of books, not to mention words. When my sister and I finished our ten books each, usually by Friday, we’d spend the rest of the week making up stories or writing our own. These habits, just like the ones regarding health that I developed after my sixteenth birthday will last a lifetime. And, let’s be honest, they served me well. Can anyone say tenured faculty member at an Ivy League Institution? Thank you.

3) And because I was chubby (cough) at a time when most teens weren’t, I also didn’t draw unwarranted (note that I didn’t say unwanted) attention from boys until I was well into my upper teens. And I didn’t start experimenting until into my 20s. It’s true that I had a slew of crap relationships well into my mid twenties (and then another batch in my early thirties), but i retrospect, I was just learning what most of my skinny peers had learned in their teens. If I hadn’t been slow of the mark, due to my weight, I might have married early on and I wouldn’t have met my beloved at the exact moment and time when we could be together as we are now. So again, not only do I forgive you (whether the you is my parents or myself), I also thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Now, I could go on, but I think these are the big three. And, as I said, I really hate the term victim, so I want to move on to not-victim as soon as possible. I take full accountability for my actions, for every Little Debbie treat eaten in the closet of my Grandmother’s house, all of it, because if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be me. And, you know what? After years of self-development, I love me. Every part of me. Even those that I used to despise.

So, again, thank you.

P.S. Just to lighten the mood, this, more than any other piece of “art,” surmises my attitude toward the word, “Victim” – Enjoy.

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