Forgiveness? My Unforgiving, Bitter Enabling Heart

by Sherry Riter in Lessons of Life

couple enabler forgiveness redhead

This isn’t a pretty post. It also isn’t going to be easy for me to write, but I’m going to write it for several reasons which I will share with you in a minute.

The Beginning Of My Unforgiving, Bitter Enabling Heart

In Communication Brick Wall Hearing Or Blabbing Lips, I shared the story of how my dad neglected what I consider to be his fatherly responsibility to his child. That daily ritual along with many other times he ignored me definitely affected my beliefs concerning my worth as a human being, daughter, friend and eventually a woman, wife, lover and mother.

Self-worth? Ummmm, no. I believed:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I am so boring/not interesting that surely no one wants to spend time with me.
  • I’m not as good as EVERYONE else.

What was the effect of those beliefs?

  • Because I’m not good enough, I have to strive for perfection. If I’m not perfect, I won’t ever be good enough. I over compensate and “enable” other people’s bad behavior.
  • Since I’m so boring/not interesting, I should try to blend into the background and not bring attention to myself.
  • Because I’m not as good as EVERYONE else, I am therefore undesirable and unlovable.

Do you think those beliefs affected my life and choices? You can bet your last dollar that it profoundly affected everything about my life.

After my parents were divorced, Dad basically disappeared from my life and didn’t surface again until seven years before his death. By then I had already been involved in therapy for years and was excited to be reunited.

Before the therapy, however, I was hard, cold, bitter and unforgiving of the pain he had caused me by not being the kind of father every child deserves. Forgiveness is a HUGE undertaking, but to forgive someone who does not ask forgiveness is an even harder task.

When Dad came back into my life, I had sincerely forgiven him. Upon our meeting again, he not only had written me a very long letter asking for forgiveness, but he constantly asked for forgiveness over the next seven years. You see, Dad never forgave himself even though I had forgiven him. Dad was so sad because of all that he missed by not being in our life, that the guilt ate him up. His self-recrimination was that of a tortured soul.

How Forgiveness Looks When It Is Sincere

Since I had forgiven my Dad completely, I was able to have a WONDERFUL relationship with him for the entire seven years. I desperately tried to recapture the years and soaked in the feeling of having a father. The whole experience gave me perspective on both sides of the forgiveness thing and taught me a whole bunch about life:

  1. Minimize mistakes to avoid overpowering guilt, remorse and basically wrecking your life which reduces the choices that are available to you in the future.
  2. When you’ve wronged someone, sincerely ask for forgiveness which means you won’t ever repeat the mistake again. If you are really remorseful, you won’t ever want to hurt the person that way again.
  3. Ask for forgiveness quickly.
  4. Patiently allow the other person to express the feelings you caused by wronging them. It is their only way to feel that you understand the pain you caused them. No, it isn’t easy to listen to their pain or be reminded of your mistake, but once they are able to reconcile their pain, they can let it go.
  5. When someone wrongs you, forgive them even if they don’t ask for forgiveness. Believe me, THIS is the hardest thing to do.
  6. Work through the process of forgiving the person who wronged you, but do it quickly. Don’t drag it out to torture or punish them. The quicker you can forgive the person, the quicker you are free to live without pain.
  7. You may not ever “forget” what the person did, but if you truly forgive them, “not” bringing up their mistake won’t be hard. I can honestly say that after the first meeting with Dad, I never mentioned the mistakes he had made or the pain they caused other people. Instead, when he started on his self-recriminating talk, I told him to forgive himself and be happy that we were finally together to enjoy each other’s company.

“Forgiving is love’s toughest work, and love’s biggest risk. If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator. Forgiving seems almost unnatural. Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do. But forgiving is love’s power to break nature’s rule.”
~ Lewis B. Smedes ~

When And Why Forgiveness Feels Impossible

Forgiving strangers and enemies is so much easier than forgiving someone you love. Please read that sentence about one hundred times. It is not easy to forgive someone you love who has hurt you deeply. Strangers and enemies are going to be booted out of your life, so there is a sort of “justice” felt in their absence. It doesn’t work that way with people you want to stay in your life because you love them.

“The weak can never forgive.
Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi ~

The horrific event that caused my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) taught me completely different lessons than those I’ve learned because I’ve had PTSD. For example:

Truth Learned Because Of The Event: Life is short and you can lose someone you love without warning. So many of the things that seem important in everyday life, really don’t mean much at all.
Lesson Learned Because Of The Event: When parting, take the time to share your love. Never go to bed or part angry. Forgive people for being human because we all make mistakes. Enjoy life and enjoy the people in your life. Pay attention to the impression you are making each day.

Truth Learned Because Of PTSD: I’m really strong, determined, persistent, vulnerable, simply complicated and I love with my WHOLE heart. I also am more frightened and insecure about losing people. I have to understand and know why something happened. I love myself and will not allow anyone to treat me badly for very long. I’m not as tactful – actually I’m brutally honest most of the time. I try to hold people responsible for their actions. I’m an enabler.
Lesson Learned Because Of PTSD: My need to understand and know why aggravates people especially if they consciously or subconsciously hurt my feelings. Sugar-coating the truth doesn’t help anyone in the long run. Being a strong, determined, persistent woman is not appealing to many people. Being open and loving with my WHOLE heart are wonderful traits because I’m very in tune with my emotions and thoughts. Being an enabler has held me back in life and it is exhausting.

“Never does the human soul appear so strong
as when it forgoes revenge,
and dares forgive an injury.”
~ E.H. Chapin ~

Why Don’t You Want To Forgive?

There are many reasons that you don’t want to forgive someone:

  • You don’t want to look like a fool again.
  • You don’t want to open yourself up to being hurt again.
  • They don’t deserve to be forgiven because they are not sincerely repentant.
  • You want to make the person who wronged you suffer and hurt the way they made you suffer and hurt.

The last one is by far the most common reason to not forgive someone for doing you wrong. Think about it for a minute…can you REALLY make the other person suffer and hurt in the same way that you are now suffering and hurting?

To be honest, I highly doubt you can do it.

I told you about my experience with forgiving my dad. I wish he didn’t have to ever suffer any pain at all even though his actions hurt many. Because I can say that with all sincerity, I know that I have totally forgiven him.

What about other people who have hurt me in one way or another?

It has taken a WHOLE LOT OF EFFORT for me to forgive a few people in my life. Actually, I didn’t think I would ever be able to forgive them, but I did and have been released from the pain of having an unforgiving heart. I remember that there was an instant reduction in stress and unhappiness when I finally forgave them. I also finally felt a freedom that I didn’t expect. These people no longer had the power to manipulate and hurt me.

Once those emotions settled in and the reality of it all hit me, I started to feel hope again. Over the past year I have finally been able to enjoy having peace in my life and soul. Occasionally I still feel angry at these people, but it isn’t because of their past actions. The anger is more because of their obvious lack of concern and love for anyone other than themselves.

I haven’t forgotten…I can only control myself, my attitude and my actions.

“Without forgiveness life is governed by…
an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.”
~ Roberto Assagioli ~

Where Can You Find A Whole Bunch Of Enablers?

I think I should give you a definition before I say anything about this topic.

Definition of ENABLER: one that enables another to achieve an end; especially one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.

I am an enabler.

My therapist told me I was an enabler, but I ignored her because I had bigger problems to solve and correct. I kept telling myself that I would work on that enabling thing later.

Later has arrived.

Obviously, I’ve taken the first step necessary to change – I recognized that I have a problem. I allow other people to treat me poorly and/or make it easier for them to wreck their own life which in turn affects me. I set myself up for pain and a broken heart.

I’ve been an enabling daughter, sister, aunt, mother, co-worker, friend, girlfriend and wife.

The realization has been quite mind-boggling. Having to go “be with” other enablers and continue therapy hasn’t been a very fun experience either. Actually all of it is very hard and painful. I don’t enjoy ripping open my chest to let everything fall out and try to put all the healthy pieces back together.


Why am I telling you that I’m an enabler? Because although you may not admit it to everyone on the Internet or even to yourself, there is a large percentage of enablers running around everyday. I come from a long line of enablers. Many of these enablers in your life are hurting inside just like me. They are afraid of not being loved and/or being accepted. Often the older we get, the more panic we feel about being loved. So the enablers allow other people to use, hurt, take for granted, ignore and abuse them in hopes of having a life full of love and happiness.

It is such a vicious cycle.

Yes, we all enable in the name of service and caring for the people we love. The pressure to enable can be intense because we want to help solve problems, so that everyone can have a happy life.

Love is such a life-soul-mind altering emotion.

Now that has brought me back full circle to my unforgiving, bitter enabling heart. Because I still have unresolved anger from my PTSD, forgiving people is more of a challenge. Will I completely forgive everyone?


Forgiving will take the stress and unhappiness completely out of my life. I will be hopeful, happy and whole. With some extra commitment and persistence, I will also quit being an enabler because the short-term pain of changing this characteristic is far less than the long-term misery I’ve been living for at least the last forty-eight years.

“Forgiveness does not change the past,
but it does enlarge the future.”
~ Paul Boese ~

This post was written by...

Sherry Riter is also known as The Redhead Riter. Sherry is witty, intelligent and addictive as she writes about cooking, family, marriage, failures, blogging tips, art, humor, inspiration, travel, PTSD and aging. Her goal is to inspire, motivate, educate and to make her audience laugh. Sherry embraces being a redhead and helps others to see the redhead point of view…"In some eras redheads were worshipped while others thought us witches. Personally, I like the former and think every day is 'Love a redhead day!'" She can also be found on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Linkedin, tweeting as @TheRedheadRiter and you can subscribe to her free blog feed.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Joan October 16, 2013 at 5:57 am

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
– Mark Twain


2 Sherry Riter October 16, 2013 at 7:25 am

Lovely quote, Joan, and so true. Forgiveness is a positive experience for all involved.


3 Sandy Rawlinson October 16, 2013 at 10:42 am

I think I needed to read this today Sherry. Forgiving others has been the number one challenge of my entire life. I am also the classic “enabler”. I thought as a little girl and into my teens that as long as I was as nice as I could be to others, and say whatever they wanted to hear, people would like me. Wrong! I was a fortunate child with two parents who I now know loved me, but there was absolutely no outward showing of emotion or love. My mother mentioned many times over the years how I needed so much more attention than my brothers. I was the only girl and middle child. She never knew how much that hurt my feelings. As a now almost 50 year old woman with grown children and a grandchild I know what I was craving, to hear that they loved me just the way I was. Because I was shy with little to no self esteem, I was bullied throughout my high school years and had no one to go to. My fear and pain leaked out in other ways, the most profound was not being able to eat. I dropped to a dangerously low 89 pounds. My parents were angry with me when I missed maybe 2 days of after school work due to sheer exhaustion and lack of energy. They were angry I wasn’t eating. I met and married the first guy that showed interest. It was 27 years of verbal abuse. I was an enabler in every sense of the word. When PTSD kicked in after I almost lost my daughter is when real change began. I found an inner strength I didn’t know I had. I realized I was intelligent and capable. I was keenly aware of how deeply I loved.. It was after years of therapy and a difficult divorce that I rose from the ashes. I had to face pain and anger I held onto for years. I was essentially killing myself with emotional pain that also affected me physically.

Just as you mentioned Sherry, it “is” a vicious cycle. I have been able to forgiven my parents. I have forgiven the high school bullies, the friends who turned their backs on me when my child was hurt, and even the person who hurt my daughter. Now, finally I have been able to forgive my ex husband. “Forgiveness is freedom”.

You helped me clarify a few feelings that have been haunting me today. When my feelings of anger crop back up I question whether I ever actually forgave the person. Thank you for reminding me that when we forgive doesn’t mean we forget, and that feelings of anger about something I thought I had let go may still happen.

Once again, thank you for your honesty and willingness to share. xoxo

**Love the Mark Twain quote Joan** 🙂


4 Sherry Riter October 16, 2013 at 7:02 pm


It is nice to meet another enabler, however, I’m sorry we both have this characteristic. 🙁

“I had to face pain and anger I held onto for years. I was essentially killing myself with emotional pain that also affected me physically.” Yes! Facing the pain and anger can kill us. It is so strong that it takes over EVERYTHING!

I’m glad you have found freedom in forgiveness. 🙂 It requires a constant effort to keep everything in perspective, but I’m glad I feel in control of “it” instead of it in control of me. {{{hugssss}}}

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. It helps me to hear that other people have experienced the same roller coaster that I’ve been on for so long.


5 kathyj333 October 16, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I, too, had a bad childhood thanks to a father who was never there. He was an alcoholic who would leave for long periods of time and when he returned, he was drunk. I still have a problem with men. I still enable their poor behavior and decisions. I’m 55. It’s a long tough road. My husband, who was an alcoholic, died eight years ago. I’m still alone and intend on staying that way. I would just make another poor decision.


6 Sherry Riter October 16, 2013 at 7:04 pm

I’m so sorry, Kathy, for all your heartbreak. I will keep writing about what I’m doing to overcome this enabling thing. Maybe it will help you too. {{{hugssss}}}


7 Jenn October 16, 2013 at 5:14 pm

fabulous blog


8 Sherry Riter October 16, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Thank you Jenn. {{{hugsss}}}


9 Pat Alexander October 16, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Anger and resentment are heavy loads to carry. The minute we can forgive those who have hurt us and drop all that painful luggage behind, we can move forward with light hearts and steps.


10 Sherry Riter October 16, 2013 at 7:06 pm

It sounds corny that forgiving would give us uplifted hearts, but IT DOES make light hearts and steps!!! There is actually a heart-body connection when we practice true forgiveness. 😀

Thank you Pat!


11 Stéfan October 16, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Very, very good blog post Sherry. It is so much more powerful because of your intimate sharing with us. And in the end, forgiveness is more about ourselves and not “the other.”

Oh, one last thing. Forgiveness takes great strength. I hope you realize how strong of a person you are Sherry. You REALLY are!

Thanks for sharing.


12 Sherry Riter October 16, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Thank you very much Stéfan. I think sharing those private parts of myself lets everyone know that I am “real,” so they can relate the message to their own life. It’s worth it to me to help other people and most especially to help my sweet daughter even though she doesn’t realize how much yet.

I think I finally DO realize that I am a whole lot stronger than I’ve ever given myself credit for being. Yay for Sherry! LOL 😉



13 Dawn Rutt October 16, 2013 at 11:36 pm

You really are quite extraordinary.


14 Sherry Riter October 17, 2013 at 6:43 am

Thank you Dawn! I hope you have a wonderful day! 🙂


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