Forgiveness: Truth or Consequences

Forgiveness is more for yourself than for others. It is about letting go and accepting “it is what it is”, rather than trying to change others, please others, or get them to love you. It’s forgoing dwelling on it and moving on with your life, rather than being weighed down with anger.

However, forgiveness should not short circuit anger, sadness, or other feelings. Here are some common forgiveness false starts:

  • Jumping right into forgiveness before fully acknowledging what we feel and how we’re affected.
  • Denying feelings because we should forgive.
  • Burying our stories because we should have compassion for the other person.

These beg the question – what about compassion for ourselves?

When we deny our emotions, they don’t go away – they get buried within our bodies. Our bodies know what happened; they aren’t fooled by any kind of cover-up. Over the long term, emotional denial can lead to consequences such as illness, depression, and anxiety. Covering up the truth also keeps us stuck in patterns that aren’t healthy for us, like destructive relationships, food addictions or alcohol/drug abuse.

The first step in healing is to allow yourself to feel what you feel and know what you know. This can take some digging sometimes, because the feelings and truth are buried beneath layers of expectations from others. When you’ve grown up with any kind of emotional or physical cruelty, your caregivers have not placed your needs as priority. In all likelihood, you have been discouraged from your feelings and have been taught to distrust your perceptions. So getting in touch with them takes time and effort. It may also be necessary to obtain a guide such as a therapist who can create a safe place to do this work.

Often our black and white thinking makes it more difficult to heal. When we allow ourselves our true feelings, this doesn’t mean we have to be angry the rest of our lives. That would be a scary prospect!

Allowing time for feeling anger and other emotions doesn’t preclude having compassion and forgiveness later on. Getting in touch with your feelings is the first necessary step in the healing process before being able to let go or forgive. We must have compassion for ourselves to really feel release from the pangs of hurt and anger that accompany being harmed by another!

It is amazing to witness how much easier it becomes to let go when you’ve fully allowed yourself to explore what happened and what you feel.  When you’ve been heard and validated for what you’ve been through, it fills a deep emptiness inside. Along the way, you confront and put to rest questions like “Why did it happen?” and “Did I deserve it?”

One of the hardest things to accept is that there usually aren’t answers to why people do what they do. Often they don’t know themselves. We try to make sense of our experiences, so it’s understandable that we ask.

The answer to “Did I deserve it?” is always “NO!” No matter what we do, we don’t cause people to act cruelly towards us. That is a choice on that person’s part. There is always another way to respond that is non-abusive, even when we regret our actions. Don’t take responsibility for something you can’t control, such as another person’s behavior. If you made a mistake, own up to it and learn from it.

Giving yourself or others “should” messages regarding forgiveness is counter-productive. It either short circuits the process or sets up resistance and anger at being silenced. Neither facilitate true healing.

When you’ve reached the point of wanting to forgive, this can be done with or without saying anything to the person you’re forgiving. Sometimes it’s impossible to do it face to face anyway, because that person has died or moved away.

I always encourage looking at the motivation for doing face to face conversations, whether it’s confrontation or forgiveness oriented. If the motivation is to get a particular response or to cause a change in that person – I discourage it. The only person we can change is ourselves, and too often people set themselves up continuing to try for something they have no power to get.

If the motivation is purely to have the satisfaction that you had your say, you stood up to the person, and you can let go of how that person responds, then it may be empowering for you. It is possible to do this in constructive, respectful ways – respecting your feelings and not falling into the same kind of disrespect and hurtfulness that you received.

I recently heard a spiritual leader say, “Enemies keep us on our toes.” We can respond to those who hurt us in such a way that the experience furthers our growth, rather than allowing it to retard it for the rest of our lives. The negative experience can be used to remind us what we want to express and create in our lives. This takes an ability to “zoom out” and get the big picture rather than taking insults or abuse personally. It’s not about you.

This is a challenge for all of us, no matter how practiced we are. In the heat of the moment, we need something that helps us to pause and get our breath, literally. Focusing on our breath or using some other meditative tool to come back to who we really are, to our values and beliefs, helps us to regain our balance.

Here is to the growth that being true to ourselves enables and the release that forgiveness offers!



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