I wrote this in a recent newsletter to The Overwhelmed Brain subscribers and received so much good feedback, I decided to turn it into an article. Enjoy! (other subjects in this episode: how we self-sabotage and anxiety all the time).
I received a letter from someone who really wanted to forgive a person in their life for one reason or another. Now, there a several schools of thought on forgiveness, how to go about it, and why.
My take on forgiveness is that it’s all about healing inside from the hurt that was caused at the time. Sure, you could harbor resentment, anger and other feelings toward someone else, but the hurt and pain are carried within you.
So how do you forgive and move on?
You start inside your own mind and explore what there is to heal inside you first and foremost.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of forgiving other people. Some people have done things to others that cannot be undone, making the results of their behavior impossible to reverse.
I’ve talked about my stepfather’s unwelcome behavior in many episodes (and you still haven’t heard all of it!). Some of his behavior is not forgivable in my book.
However… that doesn’t mean I hold any ill feelings toward him. And that is the key to real forgiveness. When you can get to a place of genuine apathy or even sympathy for someone who’s wronged you in some way, that is true forgiveness because you are no longer affected by them.
Your level of hurt, anger, resentment or whatever has been boiling inside of you determines the level at which you’ve forgiven.
But remember, forgiving is not about for-giving the other person leniency, it’s about for-giving yourself a break for whatever you did or didn’t do at the time.
That one day 10 years ago when I broke down in tears proclaiming how much I hated my stepfather, I released a lot of repressed pain and anger. After that breakdown, I came into a new place of love for him.
Now, this feeling of love wasn’t for him specifically, nor was it an acceptance of his behavior. It was really a feeling of love in myself, for myself – or what he represented in my mind.
In other words, I was angry at the picture I painted of him.
In the canvas of my mind, I painted this evil, stupid, selfish person. However, this was my mind, my picture, my hurt and my refusal to change it.
Therefore, I was really angry at a part of myself! After all, I put the canvas there and I painted the picture.
Sure, he may have done the behavior, but since he’s no longer doing it I can either stop being angry or keep staring at that picture I created, and seethe!
I thought, “Wait, am I still mad at him or the picture I made of him?”
People can wrong you and you can be angry for sure. But when they stop “wronging” you, do you stop being angry or do you hold onto your anger?
I can understand wanting to hold onto it, because letting it go feels like we’re letting them get away with what they did. But what really happens when we stay angry about what someone did to us, it holds us back from our own happiness.
You forfeit happiness when you hold on to anger towards someone else.
If you really want to “stick it to them” or get them back in some way, seek peace in yourself.
Well, imagine if all you had to do was forgive a part of yourself so you could move beyond the anger. In my belief, that’s all you need to do.
This could be a very powerful realization if you are harboring anger or resentment towards anyone right now, because they don’t even have to be alive to have forgiveness take place inside of you.
You might think, “Yeah, but they hurt me! They betrayed me!! They are the ones to blame! The only way I can get to peace is if I forgive them. And I don’t want to!”
The only way you’re going to let go of the anger is by doing these four steps:
- Accept who they were and what they did.
- Forgive yourself for being victim to it.
- Learn the lesson and bring that knowledge with you.
- Accept who they are now and what they do today.
By accepting who they were and what they did, there’s no denying or resisting it. There’s no wanting it to be different and wishing they never did it.It just “is”, and you just have to accept that it happened.
By forgiving yourself for becoming a victim to their behavior, you give yourself a break so that you can stop wondering what you could have done differently.
Learning the lesson and taking it with you is something so powerful, you might even thank them for being your teacher (even though they could have been your worse nightmare).
And finally, accepting and knowing who they are today gives you guidance on how you will let them show up in your life or not.
It’s true that past behavior can often dictate future behavior, but sometimes people do change. If you judged me by my past behaviors, you’d never listen to what I have to say. But because I’ve done a lot of healing in my life, I’ve changed my behavior and am fortunately no longer the same person I used to be.
Not all people go through healing like this, but some do. So you have an opportunity to forgive on a whole new level when the person who wronged you is no longer the same person. They can’t escape their past, but they can be given a chance to prove themselves in the present – if you want to let them do that.
It doesn’t mean you give everyone a second chance. Some people lose that opportunity and don’t have to be invited back into your life. If that’s what is most healthy for you, then follow that path.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to reach out to the person you want to forgive necessarily (although, you can if that’s how you want to do it). It’s more about checking in with yourself and figuring out what you’re most upset about in you. Then forgive that part of you for ever getting into that situation in the first place.
What happened in the past may not be your fault, but it is your choice to continue being upset by it or not.
Sometimes people make mistakes and we take them back. And sometimes we realize that they truly are a**holes and that they can take a flying leap for all we care.
But letting them move on without our anger gives them the chance to finally be free of their ability to control us (you like how I worded that?).
And when they no longer have control over us (because we are not angry with them any longer), they can choose to heal, grow and learn from their dastardly deed… or not.
Either way, we want to grow. You want to grow – not be held back by some anger or resentment towards what is really just a part of yourself.
Forgive that part of you and you’ll clear a path for peace and happiness to enter into your life once again.
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