How to Forgive

Forgiveness is a powerful drug. 

It’s a complicated feeling, but once you get a  little taste, I almost guarantee that you’re going to keep coming back for more.  Even if the thought of forgiving someone right now makes you want to throw up – actually, especially if the thought of forgiving someone right now makes you want to throw up – then this post is for you.  It’s one of those things that is hard and icky until it isn’t, and once you learn to forgive, I promise you you’ll find peace.  So buckle up, buttercup: we’re about to put the “issues” in “tissues.”

Somewhere along the line in the story of our lives, we learned that we’re either supposed to forgive or forget.  That it’s black or white, either / or, binary.

Sorry kittens, but it ain’t that simple.  Forgiveness is, more than anything, a release process.  It’s the process of releasing old s*** you’ve been hanging on to for a long time.  To forgive is to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for a mistake they made, or a flaw they have.  And that, at first blush, is a big ask.

Why?  Because often those flaws, of others’, the mistakes they’ve made, have had an adverse affect on us: relationships end badly, employers scam, parents are absent (or abusive), friends disappoint, lovers mislead; we are left in the lurch somehow, feeling we’ve been wronged by others.   

When we feel that we’ve been wronged or hurt by someone, sometimes the tendency is to hang on to that hurt and stay in a victim state: this happened to me.  When you feel that something has happened to you, it becomes a part of your narrative, and starts to define the story of who you are.  Even when we consciously want to move on from that past, there is often a thread we cling to that reminds us where we came from, what we’ve been through, and how it shaped us.

When we find forgiveness a challenge, it means we are still holding onto a past hurt, nursing an old wound, and holding it close.  For us to let go of that hurt and heal that wound requires a shit ton of inner work, introspection, detachment from outcomes, overriding the ego…we have to do a lot of growing up in a short period of time in order to forgive.

Quite frankly, many, many people choose not to do this work.  It’s messy, it’s uncomfortable, it makes you confront things you do not necessarily want to confront.  It makes you dig deep and take a good hard look inside you.  You know those people – they carry a bitter resentment with them that you feel in their presence, a dark little cloud that colours their perspective.  Over time that bitterness grows and can seep into other areas of their life.  In short, these are not pleasant people to be around, as they see the worst in everyone and everything, and cling to their identity as a victim of some past wrong doing.  Not fun.

Then there are the people who choose to get real with this work, who push through the messiness and discomfort, and confront even the darkest of things that happened in their past.  You know these people, because they tend to have a lightness to them; they may have been through hard things, but they accept it for what it is, and how it shaped them, and learned to carry on without bitterness or resentment towards a person or situation.  They’re a lot more pleasant to be with, as they get it.  They get that you need to grow and move forward, and that the risk in doing so is worth the reward.

In order to fully heal and move forward, we have to let that shit go.  We have to acknowledge that yes, this person or experience shaped us and yes, we learned a hella lot from it.  And then we can take a big breath and say out loud that we forgive that person for their role in that experience, and keep saying it, keep processing it, until it is real for us.  Sounds a little scary hey?

The weak can never forgive; forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

Gandhi

Let’s say that you are the strong one.  Let’s say that you are ready to get super real in the pursuit of setting yourself free from old pain that is preventing you from moving forward.  How do we actually go through the release process of forgiveness?

If reading this makes you uncomfortable at all, I bet you already know the person who you’re having the hardest time forgiving, the situation you are most struggling with to release.  Typically the person you forgive the least is the one who yields the most control over you, and the one to whom you have relinquished the most of your power.  But you deserve far better than to be attached to someone – even without them knowing – who treated you poorly before this moment.  Let’s save that white whale and get some practice (and success) by starting closer to home.

Let’s start by forgiving yourself. 

Mmm hmmmmm.  Forgive yourself for whatever it is you did, or think you did.  Whatever bad decision, whatever error in judgement, whatever you did too much of, or whatever you didn’t do enough of…let’s start by giving you permission to forgive yourself from that, and release the control it undoubtedly has over your life. 

Yes darling, this can be a challenge.

But my sweet, you can do it.  Dig deep and let go of whatever you’ve been holding on to.  Know that whatever it is can almost always be undone, and if it can’t be undone, then baby, it never has to be done again.  Take what you learned from it and never repeat that mistake again.  If necessary, make the phone call, write the letter, say the genuine and authentically heart-centred apology that will assist in giving you permission to forgive yourself.  You will be amazed at the power that lies in hearing or watching as someone forgives you.  And this is where you first get the taste of forgiveness as a powerful drug.

Next, forgive someone else – but not your white whale yet.  Practice forgiving someone who isn’t you, but isn’t the one who really hurt you.  Think of an ex partner or former friend or employer / coworker who you feel really tanked things for you for awhile.  You know exactly who I’m talking about, don’t you lovely? 

In order to do so, think about every single good thing you got from that relationship, from that exchange.  Write it the hell down.  Now add to it.  Keep adding to it.  Write down every attribute from them that lead you to where you are now, and frame it in the context of “damn, I’m so lucky I learned _____ from _____.  If not for that, I wouldn’t have _____.” 

The effects of the drug get stronger here, because as you consciously take note of all the good stuff that, like a phoenix, rose from the ashes of something that felt really awful at the time, you can suddenly embrace the experience not as something or someone that jilted you, but as a proud notch on your belt that moved you in a forward direction.  Something that had to happen to get to your this glorious place right now. 

Now we’re ready for the big one.  When you’ve forgiven yourself and forgiven the test run – and yes, this might be many weeks or moths of work, sorry sugar – you’re ready for the big forgiveness.  The one that makes you feel sick just thinking about forgiving.  And baby, this is about to be the best high of all.  But you have to do the work first.  Same process, same changing of the thought pattern and context, but just going a little deeper as you go. 

You must be tender with yourself as you do so.  Chances are this big wound is deep, like childhood deep.  When we are wounded in childhood, and when we don’t heal that wound, even as an adult we revert to that child space when you scratch the surface of healing the wound.  That means that you need to treat yourself with actual kid gloves – speak to yourself as you would to a little one.  Prepare to care for and pamper yourself with lovely things, experiences, words, foods, as you work through this shit, because your heart is about to open, and you need to be mindful of that. 

This level of forgiveness will take some time.  Write out the list of things you learned.  Write out the attributes that you developed from the experience.  Write out the things that you didn’t get when you needed them, and how that shaped you here.  As you do so, let yourself feel all of the things.  Rage.  Cry.  Weep.  Snuggle.  Repeat.

Start to look at the vision you want of yourself, for yourself.  Does that person need to be encumbered by the past, or can she be free?  Does that person need to be defined by someone else’s choices, or can she be defined by her own?  You get to make this decision, and that means you alone get to decide how you feel about and react to anything that has happened to date, and how you want to feel moving forward.  This isn’t forgetting about the past, it’s accepting it as a healthy part of you, that you never have to live through again.  You owe nothing to that past, and everything to yourself in this moment and in your future.

I dare you to work through this.  I dare you to try it and see how you feel.  In all fairness, time is the greatest healer, and if you go through the process of forgiveness and “it doesn’t work,” start smaller and work your way back up.  Like anything, it really is a process, and one that takes practice.  I do promise you that going at it until you get it right will truly bring you comfort and peace, a newfound level of calm in your life.

Be brave little one; you can do hard things.

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