Harnessing the Healing Power of Forgiveness
Understanding the Alchemy of Forgiveness
I think it's safe to say that there are none among us who have not had the need at least once (and surely many more times) to forgive. It is human nature that we hurt one another even when we are working hard to not do so. But, it is inevitable that our actions at one time or another are going to cause a loved one pain or irritation.
In one's quest for life balance and a sense of peace it is essential that we don't hang on to grudges or anger and that we learn instead to practice forgiveness.
What does forgiveness actually mean? I know that it does not mean that we forget, or that we give people a free pass to hurt us and simply say to them "that's OK". It is not ever OK that we've been wronged or hurt. But, you do have a choice with how you handle hurts and disappointments.
We often will say verbally "I forgive you", but in truth we haven't really forgiven at all. We have just pushed our pique to the back of our mind to deal with it later. And, trust me if we don't deal with it, it will deal with us.
The thing about forgiveness is to not forgive means to suffer. Yes, it will be YOU who suffers, not the person you haven't forgiven. For the person who's caused the rift, it is forgotten and no longer of consequence. But, to the one having been wronged, if you hold on to it, even unconsciously, it will slowly chip away at your ability to be fully at peace and optimistic. You can grow resentful and angry without realizing that it's happening, until it's become entrenched.
I want to explore with you what it means to forgive and who we need to forgive. I also want to share with you methods of forgiveness and techniques for letting go of anger and resentment. Lastly we'll look at why it's important to do this at all.
I have learned that holding on to anger or hurt feelings is to suffer. Oh, it may not be overt suffering. We are pretty good at adapting to most things, even those that aren't pleasant. But, on a subtle level, anger and resentment erode your peaceful nature and prevent you from living life in it's fullness.
Perhaps you are feeling hurt by a close friend. Your friend and you often do things socially together. You have come to expect to be included by your friend whenever they are going out to dinner. But, one week your friend doesn't call to invite you to dinner and goes out without you. You wouldn't have even known about it, but a mutual friend saw them out and noted your absence and decides to inform you of this.
You decide that you don't want to overreact so you don't say anything to your friend. You just wonder to yourself why they chose not to include you? You feel hurt and confused, but don't want to risk further pain, so you just pretend that it never happened.
Over time you continue to enjoy your friend and you also accept their invitations to go out to dinner. It would seem the incident is forgotten, and consciously it does slip away from your thoughts. But, the feeling of being left out and not included has not been addressed and it's just smoldering inside, until it's triggered. Sure enough, the time comes that once again the friend goes out without asking you. Now the new hurt stirs up the old hurt that is buried. You are very hurt and very angry. You might decide to just write that friend off. Maybe you just stop answering their calls; maybe you pick a fight with them. You might even decide to break the bond of friendship.
But, what if instead you had a courageous conversation with this person first? What if you told them what you were feeling after the very first incident? And then after expressing your hurt, you could make a point of telling them "I forgive you" and your friendship could maybe even grow stronger?
It is not always easy to forgive, but it is always rewarding. I know for some, saying the words aloud to the person may feel impossible or scary. There is another way you can forgive them and spare your friendship. You can look inside your heart and make the conscious decision to forgive your friend. Maybe you can look at the situation and realize that your friend did not mean to cause you hurt. They simply forgot to include you; or maybe they had a new guest along and felt that they wanted to enjoy them on their own this once. Yes, they might have handled it better, but their intentions were reasonable. You can see that you and your friend have something too special to let an episode such as this ruin your friendship. So, you let it go and continue on.
Not only have you spared a valuable relationship from the scrap heap, but you've also spared yourself from misery of holding on to hurt and angry emotions. While we will never be able to fully avoid negative emotions, we certainly don't want to hold on to them one second longer than is necessary.
I feel that by forgiving we are making more room in the heart for more good and positive emotion to take it's place.
Who to Forgive
So, we've discussed the reasons why it's good for you to forgive. Now we look at who you need to forgive. Many adults are holding on to a ton of anger and resentment for their parents. We may have grown up and have our own homes, families and careers, but maybe we also have some long held anger and resentment against our parents that has begun to fester.
You may not identify any angst you experience or somatic complaints as having anything to do with issues needing forgiveness. But, those issues left untended tend to fester and gnaw away until they get our attention. Maybe you bite your nails, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol to excess; maybe you have insomnia or nightmares? All of these can be manifestations of anger and resentment that have been allowed to fester instead of being faced and dealt with.
Your parents may be deceased and you wonder, "well how the heck do I forgive them now?". The answer is that you go within and you offer forgiveness for the past. It is the act of forgiving that will unlock you from the bonds made by long held pain and anger.
People often hold on to ugly feelings with their spouses or life partners. It becomes easier in the moment to just take the hurt and push it down so that you can keep on with your daily life. We can find ourselves needing to forgive our children, teachers and leaders in our community.
One of the hardest people to forgive is ourselves. Yes, it is the long held junky feelings about our own failings that can cause us some of the deepest pain. I want to spend a bit of time on this as I think that the road to peace and happiness is paved with self forgiveness.
All of us, at one time or another have caused hurt or pain to somebody we've loved. We have maybe rejected a parent, criticized our children, yelled at our spouse unfairly. We are human and as humans, we often hurt the very one's we love. But, it is not enough to apologize and ask them to forgive you. It is important for you to forgive yourself! Have you ever caught yourself saying "I would never forgive myself if.........." to a friend or loved one? I have said those very words many times over in my lifetime. But, it's no simple thing to hold on to blame and recrimination maybe for years or even decades! It is more corrosive to blame yourself and to have anger and disgust than even to hold those feelings for another.
For instance, I remember refusing my Mother's invitation to see a movie with her when I was ten years old. I remember her disappointment and hurt at my refusal to spend time with her. If I think long enough on this memory the shame is active again in my mind and this occurred over 4 decades ago! But, I have long since forgiven myself for hurting my Mother's feelings. It wasn't easy to do. I cried when I went back to this memory as I felt tremendous shame at the pain I caused my Mom who only wanted to do something fun with me. But, once I worked through the forgiveness the memory lost it's charge. I still have a memory of the episode, but it doesn't have the power to shame me as it once did.
Let's look further at ways in which you can work on your own self forgiveness.
How to Forgive yourself
I'd like to give you a simple formula. Add one part this to two parts that and voila`, you have a magic potion for self forgiveness.
Unfortunately, it's not quite that simple. But, it's not terribly difficult either.
Think about somebody who hurt your feelings in the past, but whom you have since forgiven. Can you remember how it felt to forgive them? Did you find that in making the conscious choice to forgive them, and saying the words that you felt a bit lighter inside? Maybe you felt a renewed sense of connection to the other person?
Well, it's much the same to forgive yourself. I suggest that you find a time and a place that is quiet and you won't be rushed. You may meditate if that is your practice, or you can simply close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to center yourself. Think about the episode that is plaguing you in your memory of a hurt you caused. Think of how you were forgiven by the person you hurt, but how that shame is still causing you pain. Does holding on to this in any way reverse the situation with the other person? No, of course not! You can't take it away by punishing yourself! So, the question is, why do you persist in feeling this guilt and shame? You can't undo the past, so maybe you need to learn to live with it? Or, maybe instead of living with it, you can let it go.
I like analogies and metaphor's. I also like Creative visualization. All of these are tools in which you might find your way to forgiving yourself. I was recently given the example of a person holding on to a Palm tree during a tsunami. She was being directed to let go of the Palm tree for her survival. But this felt like the stupidest advice ever, as to let go during a storm meant she would perish! But, in reality, to let go meant to not be torn about by the wind and to be able to fall to the water and float to safety.
Maybe by refusing to forgive yourself, you are metaphorically holding on to the tree?
Why not practice letting go of the Palm tree and trusting that it will all be OK? To forgive yourself is to let go; of shame and recrimination. You can't find true peace and harmony in your life if deep inside you are filled with anger and resentments that you refuse to forgive.
Just as forgiving a friend or loved one repaired your connection and filled you with a feeling of largesse and joy, so will forgiving yourself! You will also be rid of a ton of negative energy that is blocking you from fully living life in its fullness.
Make self forgiveness a regular part of your self care routine. You won't be sorry you did!
Forgiveness equals Freedom
Forgiveness will bring you true freedom. Freedom from resentment and anger and other toxic emotions that rob you from enjoying the fullness of life.
It is not a one time and done type of thing either. I think one could make a habit of taking a "Forgiveness Inventory" on a regular basis. Look within and ask yourself if you might be carrying some bad energy about another person, or yourself.
Then, take the steps to work it out with the other person or with yourself. You can do this daily, weekly, monthly or perhaps only annually. I think over a period of time you likely will grow more adept at keeping the issues from smoldering so long.
I suggest keeping communication lines open with all of your friends and loved ones. Good communication fosters trust and makes it easier to discuss hurts in the moment, rather than waiting and letting things fester.
And, look at how you are feeling and how you are behaving. If you are sleeping well, eating normally and feeling positive you probably aren't too burdened by old junk. But, whenever you find yourself with anxiety, sleeplessness, worry, angry outbursts and the like, perhaps it's time to take that inventory and clean house so to speak.
With regular practice you can make the art of Forgiveness something that becomes second nature. And this practice will go a long way in helping you live a life that is content, full and productive.