The Webster’s definition of forgiveness is to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; to stop being angry with; to pardon; to give up all claim to punish. My working definition of forgive for this chapter is to simply let go.
There are so many people out in the world that are holding onto so much yucky stuff—bad childhoods, terrible marriages/divorces, abuse of some sort, anger from some past wrong done to them, bad business deals, insults, injuries, etc. Every person holding onto something like this feels very strongly about it and should you try to pry it away from them they get very angry. It is their stuff and they want to keep it right where it is, what they fail to realize is that harboring those yucky feelings is sucking the life right out of them.
I have been actively working with forgiveness for several years now as I was holding onto some resentful feelings from the past. Over the last few years as I continued to move forward in my life it became apparent to me that there was something in the way of my progress. After some soul searching I discovered that I was still holding onto resentments and bad feelings toward people from my past. In my speaking I had forgiven them but in my heart I was still willing them to be different and therefore had not truly let go. I started doing some active work on forgiving these people and as a result a 25 year old impossible relationship was miraculously changed. This turn of events was something I never conceived as possible. The power of forgiveness is truly awe inspiring.
When we forgive (let go of) someone or something it doesn’t mean that we are consenting to or forgetting what has transpired, it simply means that we are willing to get rid of the dead energy that the situation or relationship has placed on our lives. Holding onto animosity over someone or something doesn’t really teach the other person anything it merely interferes with our own ability to manifest good in our lives. Harboring resentments and wishing ill on other people actually stops our own flow of good and can make us sick. People often hold grudges to “teach” the other person a lesson or to try and hurt the other person as they have been hurt. This kind of thinking only ends up hurting us, as we are the ones that actively carry around the bad energy which can cause us to be depressed, overeat, lose sleep or have anxiety.
The Choice Is Yours
In order to forgive someone we had to first decide to take offense from their words or actions. Whenever they did what they did we had a choice to take offense or to let the incident blow over. The choice in that moment was ours. Most people go along in life doing the best that they possibly can for who they are in the moment and often we get angry because their best is not our idea of what the best should be. We think that we would act very differently if we were them, however, we are not them and we don’t really know how it feels to be them. It is very easy to be offended by others when we fail to consider what aspects of their lives effect their actions. It is easier to think about forgiving someone when we begin to really think about what their lives are like and what circumstances may be influencing their actions. Perhaps they don’t even mean to hurt us, perhaps they are just going along doing the best that they can and they don’t even recognize that their actions or words are hurtful.
How we react to something is always our choice. We can choose to be contributed to, insulted or offended. We can choose to take another’s actions personally or we can choose to just let things flow over us. If your best friend doesn’t call you back you can choose to be angry and offended and make it mean something about your friendship or you can choose to decide that maybe they are just so self-involved that calling you hasn’t even crossed their mind. You decide, the choice is yours. The first choice puts a wedge in your friendship and the second allows you to let it go and go on with your life.
Watch Your Frame of Reference
You are not the same person that you were 5 years ago and neither is anyone else you know. Perhaps you are still relating to some people in your life based on how they were in the past. Your frame of reference for certain people could be based on what you knew of them 5, 10 or 15 years ago. This means that when they show up acting differently, you miss it because your frame of reference for them is ingrained in past perceptions. When we hold things against people they tend to remain forever trapped in our minds the way that they were when the hurt occurred. It may be easier to forgive them if we starting looking at whom they have become instead of who they were way back when. This happens a lot with family members, we tend to view them only as we knew them back in the day, who they are now doesn’t even show up for us. We all have things in our pasts that we would do differently, imagine how we would feel if someone only judged us from the way we acted at 20.
It is always a good policy to investigate your frame of reference for the people in your life; perhaps some of them deserve a fresh perspective.
Nobody Wins the Blame Game
Blaming other people for circumstances in your life is never helpful nor will it take you any place you want to go. Nobody can win at the blame game. The only way to win in life is to take responsibility for your own destiny. Stop blaming the past and the people in it for what doesn’t work in your life. Start having some new thoughts about the people and situations you need to forgive (let go of). Forgiveness doesn’t mean that the hurtful behavior is excused or forgotten; it simply means that you stop allowing those incidents to control your life. Forgiveness can take place after you have experienced the necessary emotions associated with the incident. Once the initial anger, sadness, outrage, disappointment, etc. has been processed there is a space for forgiveness. You may need to express your feelings in a constructive way before you can allow the process of forgiveness (letting go) to take place. It is healthy to experience your emotions; it is not healthy to continue to carry around bad feelings for months and years. Process the events and then let them go.
Look For the Lesson
I am a firm believer in the statement ‘everything happens for a reason’ and I look at every uncomfortable situation in my life and try to see what it wants to teach me. Sometimes I see the lesson right away and sometimes I just have to trust that it’s there and that I will see it eventually. I have learned some of my most valuable lessons from the people and situations that have distressed me the most. When you are open to the possibility of being contributed to by every event in your life the unpleasant events seem to go by faster.
I have also learned that one of the best ways to diffuse an attack is to apologize for something right in the middle of it. For instance, “I’m sorry that you feel I’ve insulted you”, or “I’m sorry that you think I hurt you on purpose”. People attack you because they want attention or they are unhappy with themselves. If someone attacks you in conversation and you do not respond or you apologize this will diffuse the situation. A person can only fight with you if you let them. You cannot argue with someone who refuses to be engaged by you.
I have been told that what we don’t like about other people represents something that we don’t like about ourselves. If this is true the first action would be to forgive ourselves for all the things that we find unacceptable. If we can forgive ourselves successfully then we can move ahead to start forgiving others. Truly, truly everyone is going along doing the best that they can for who they are—maybe it’s time we stopped being so hard on ourselves and others.