Forgiving others and ourselves just might be the hardest – and most necessary – gifts to give.
Why is forgiveness important?
When we hold grudges and judgments, it acts like a cancer in our body. It gnaws away at our happiness and holds us back from feeling completely fulfilled. When memories are triggered about someone we resent, it can often send our minds into a tizzy of rehashing the same painful moment over and over again.
If we push it off or shove it down, it inevitably resurfaces. In the wise words of Carl Jung, “What we resist, persists.”
The unhappiest people I know are those that harbor a lot of anger and resentment of others. They’re also the most prone to illness and chronic health conditions. Science today recognizes our mental and emotional states directly affect our physical health.
Who wants to live like that? (Surprisingly, a lot of us. Just look at the news. It’s filled with angry, judgmental people pointing fingers.)
I know from my own personal experience, bitterness and joy do not coexist easily together.
My mother and I had a challenging relationship. She was clinically depressed and when she put pressure on me to play the role of mother in our relationship, I resentfully obliged as the “good daughter.” Later, when she committed suicide, I didn’t want to forgive her for it. I also blamed myself for her death. (Double whammy.)
In my mind, I needed to pay a penance. I felt I deserved to suffer. And suffer I did.
I became involved in unhealthy relationships with men I knew weren’t good for me. Even going so far as to sabotage the beginnings of relationships with good men that would have allowed me to feel the love I was denying myself. At a subconscious level, I think I invited in suffering and pushed away anything that resembled joy.
Of course this all self-perpetuated because the more pain that I endured, the more resentment and anger I grasped onto. The angrier I was at myself for creating and allowing it, the more I invited it in.
It wasn’t until I could accept both her actions and mine, find compassion for each of us, was I then able to forgive. And friends, that is such a precious gift. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure that out. Therefore, I’m passing my process along to you:
Four (not-so-simple) Steps for Forgiveness:
- Acceptance. The first step is to accept that shitty things happen. (Until they don’t.) We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to approve of it, and we don’t have to condone it. We merely have to accept that reality is as it is. We cannot change anyone or anything that’s already happened. Nor do we have to know why it did.
A wonderful tool for finding acceptance is The Work™ by Byron Katie.
- Compassion. Once we accept reality, then we can look for compassion. We try to see from their perspective and try to understand their circumstances. Sometimes shit rolls down hill and folks do the best they can with the manure they’re given. We can’t possibly know all the information that led to the action in question. It’s most likely rooted in their own pain and suffering.
If you’re looking for compassion toward yourself, it’s helpful to realize and accept that we all make mistakes. It’s part of the human experience. “Do your best until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~ Maya Angelou
- Is there a reason to keep it? Ask yourself if there’s a stress-free or pain-free reason to keep your grudge. If you can come up with one, ask yourself if that truly is stress or pain-free.
- Forgiveness. Offering forgiveness doesn’t mean we are agreeing to more of what happened. It’s simply allowing ourselves to release the anger and resentment that doesn’t serve us, nor change what’s happened. It’s saying to yourself that you’re willing to let the past stay in the past, so that you can move forward into a happier and lighter future. It’s no longer looking for payback or penance.
Write out, “I forgive (name) for (cause of pain).” Another helpful tool is to add, “I forgive (name) for not being who I wanted them to be.”
If you’ve done the first three steps and the last isn’t coming easily, my hunch is there’s more work to be done in the first two steps. That’s ok. Some pain takes longer to let go, especially if we’ve been holding it for a long time. It might feel foreign without it and that is sometimes uncomfortable territory.
Keep trying. Keep going back through the steps. Eventually you’ll be ready to release it. When you are, the joy that fills in the cracks feels oh-so-delicious!
If you’re ready to find forgiveness around a huge loss in your life, I invite you to join me and four other Master Coaches at our Bali Healing Retreat from November 26 to December 1, 2019. We’ll be focusing on healing our grief around loss, and forgiveness is a big component of that.