Forgiveness, so simple and yet so complex, so elusive. When we forgive, we heal. Forgiveness after all is about the pain and/or anger of being hurt and our desire to hold on to that or let go of it. Thinking about forgiveness and the emotions that arise around situations that require us to forgive others or ourselves is not the kind of reflection that most of us consider regularly.
How do we forgive others when we can find it so difficult to forgive ourselves? Stepping into the confessional of the blogosphere, makes it easier to acknowledge the self loathing attached with prior mistakes, bad decisions and willful misconduct. It does not erase them and it does not make them ok, but I can become ok with that which is in the past.
The ability to find forgiveness for one’s self is a critical ingredient to forgiving others. It is difficult, sometimes the pain attached to not forgiving ourselves is just such an integral part of our “story” that we just cannot give that identity up. Without forgiveness there can be no healing, no growth. You are on a treadmill and you are doing nothing. This is not where I want to be, how about you? I don’t know exactly why I did not learn to forgive myself, or perhaps, I unlearned forgiveness, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that at some point I woke to the fact that my biggest enemy, biggest critic, biggest bully, was within me. I was meaner to myself than anybody else could ever be. And I don’t really know why and you know what? I don’t really care why because I do not have to continue that behavior.
So really, I do still get mad at myself when I do something that I think was stupid. Yes, I call myself silly names, and think bad thoughts, and then I let them go. This is critical, because without doing that, you cannot really forgive anyone else. That empathy, that understanding has to be extended to you, before you can truly extend it to another. Without self forgiveness, grudges and resentment are nurtured. That is not to say that if you forgive yourself you won’t resent others or that you won’t hold a grudge, but you really can’t let go for another if you can’t experience that release for yourself. That resentment, is more hurtful to you than it is to the person you resent. Many years ago, I heard an expression that really sums it all up. “so and so is living rent free in your head.” When you resent someone, when you cannot forgive them, you allow that person to live rent free in your head. I try to not let that happen anymore, after all if I am going to have tenants, I should expect rent.
Now in today’s world who are you really going to extend the privilege of rent free accommodations? So when I say forgiveness, I am not talking about being a doormat. Forgiving someone does not excuse their behavior. It does not mean that you condone it. It does not mean that you will tolerate it in the future. It does however mean, letting go of the power that you have bestowed in another to effect your mood, your quality of life, your happiness. It does mean that you take responsibility for what you have the ability to control, which is only your own response to any situation. If you have the slightest feeling of vindictiveness or malice, you have not forgiven. You have not begun the healing process.
There are at least two types of forgiveness. The two that I have to work with are when my forgiveness is asked for, which is most commonly experienced in the form of an apology and the other is when I forgive someone who has not apologized. Make no mistake, in both circumstances, the forgiveness is all about my healing, not yours. And you know what, sometimes I am so mad, feel so abused, that I am not ready to forgive when forgiveness is sought. That person is not demonstrating a sufficient amount of regret or remorse for me to let them off the hook. What a mistake that is. The truth is when someone asks for forgiveness they do so because they do acknowledge the error in whatever it is they have done. They do wish to repair the relationship, my not being ready to accept a sincere apology is always about my anger, my hurt feelings, my grief and my need to continue to wallow in those emotions. And, oh, if I can force you to feel bad at the same time, even better. Not proud of it, but there it is, and you know what it is true for all of us. Now I am often able to catch myself. I do not hold on to resentment for years, months, weeks or usually even days anymore. Most times I am able to catch those thought patterns and turn them off. For any of you who have ever been on the receiving end, please accept my apology. But just so you know, I have already forgiven myself for all past transgressions.
Now I have been known to call someone on an insincere apology. Maybe it is a character flaw. But I don’t want to hear the words “I am sorry,” if you are not. I will tell you that. I try not to say “I am sorry” unless I mean it. The words become hollow if used without sincerity. Some people find saying “I am sorry” very difficult. For some acknowledging their regret is too difficult. Others too readily accept blame and say “I am sorry” at the drop of a hat. This is also problematic. These apologies frequently do not come across as sincere.
At the end of the day, if you are not forgiving yourself, how can you forgive others? How can you find and embrace the divinity in yourself if you cannot forgive yourself? If we relearn to forgive ourselves, it opens a whole world to us, an interior world, of peace. That will be the beginning of the journey that will allow you to forgive others and heal.
What could you? If you could forgive yourself, your partner, your children, your parents, your friends, your siblings, your enemy?