I have been thinking about two ideas lately–forgiveness and default options. What does one have to do with the other? Perhaps more than you might think. A “default option” is defined as “an option that is selected automatically unless an alternative is specified”. When we use a computer, an MP3 player, a printer, a digital camera, a cell phone, we deal with default settings. Our technological devices come with “factory settings”. The factory from which any of these devices come have been given specific instructions on how to work via software, hardware, firmware, etc. Once they are in our possession, we get to tweak, change, or add to the settings embedded in the aforementioned in hopes that they will function in a way that we choose rather than allowing the Factory to choose for us. In fact, you can repartition your hard drive and start over completely! For many people, this is part of the fun of using technology.
Humans have default options, too, and many of our default options were not chosen by us. Our happiness and well-being are dependent on the choices of those who raised us for almost the first two decades of our lives. Our brains have not even finished growing and pruning when we reach 20 years. What goes into the completion of a human being? All our life experiences, our relationships, our interactions…I can’t even begin to estimate what one human brain can store. But, I am fairly certain that many of our responses to the life we have today is an option that we select automatically because we cannot discern an alternative.
I will be writing on this subject for a while, I think, but I want to introduce this idea–default settings can be changed. I’ll give one example. When I was a small child, my stepmother told me that I had caused my father so much pain, so many tears, that it would have been better had I never been born. She told me that quite frequently. Had there been an advocate in that setting to contradict her words, I may have been able to choose an alternative idea to believe. For every lie we’ve been told, wouldn’t it have been a relief to hear the truth? We could have chosen perhaps something better to believe, but it seems that the “bad stuff” is always easier to believe. From that moment on, I truly believed her, and whenever I hurt another person even if only by accident particularly if they cried–if there were tears–I believed that I needed to die. The idea that my causing another person pain became connected to a deep feeling of self-rejection and loathing. I began to hate myself because I should never have been born according to my stepmother. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone is capable of hurting another person in thought, word, or deed. Be perfect or die. What an option.
I believed this terrible lie until I was 30 years-old! One evening a feeling of deep self-loathing came over me so I prayed. Actually, I wept. I cried out to God for an answer. “Why do I feel this way?” Suddenly, I heard her words echo in my mind–“You have caused your father so much pain, so many tears, that it would have been better had you never been born.” There it was. A default setting. My causing someone else to suffer=my death. I had to change the default setting in my mind, my soul, and my heart. How did I do this? It started with forgiveness.
I will elaborate on this in my next post, but I want to introduce this idea because it is intimately connected to our ability to recognize the truth about ourselves, our experiences, and our past, present, and future. If you have abuse of any kind in your life experience, then you will most certainly have some toxic default settings. I’m fairly convinced that every person on the planet does, but trauma has a way of embedding these ideas so deeply into our physiology that it takes a great deal of time and intention not only to dislodge them but also to replace them. What I want to emphasize is that we can change them. You can change them.