On that dreaded word, Forgiveness.
Do you cringe when you are advised to just forgive and forget? Does the whole concept make you want to choke? Does it seem incomprehensible that some people should be forgiven for their selfish and destructive behavior…especially when it has been directed toward you? And worst of all, are you ever infuriated by the notion that if you can’t or won’t forgive someone, that YOU are a bad person and should feel guilty? If so, then this post is for you.
I can relate to ALL of the above because I have been there. Boy howdy, have I ever! Without going into detail, let’s just say that I have been on a first-hand acquaintance with neglect and abuse since I was a small child. I am intimately aware of how dehumanizing and debilitating it is to live in an abusive environment. Thankfully I can say that this is no longer the case, but the wounds took many years to heal. This post is what I have discovered about forgiveness. Hopefully you can find something to help you so you will be free of the bitterness and pain and find joy in your life once again.
The first problem with advice regarding forgiveness is it usually involves annoying and useless platitudes. Of COURSE you’d like to feel better, but it’s not as simple as just saying you “forgive” the other person. And what the heck is forgiveness anyway? Is it letting the other person off the hook? Saying what they did really didn’t matter? Making nice so everyone else in your family or inner circle won’t be uncomfortable? Well, not to be a smart ass, but that’s just stupid. How about some practical advice for once? Think on this…
First, honor yourself and your feelings. Yes, it’s ok to be angry, sad, afraid, guilty. In fact, it’s normal. Find someone who won’t argue with you or pass out advice, but who will simply listen with compassion as you tell your story. You DON’T need advice. Instead of focusing on the WHAT, focus on your feelings. “I feel sad when…” “I feel so angry that they….” I’ll use an example from my own life. I had a house (a really nice house) that I rented to a family member as they were in a bad spot and needed a place to live. They made more than enough money to cover the house payment, taxes and insurance; in fact, they made roughly 10 times the amount I did at the time. (Now it’s even more!) They moved out and left the state. I was not invited over and had not seen the place for almost a year before they moved as they were “too busy.” Imagine my horror when I let myself in after they left….the house was completely trashed. Holes in the doors, every single towel bar/toilet paper holder ripped out of the walls, carpets trashed, garbage left behind….You get the idea. When I got estimates to repair all the damage, I was told they didn’t owe me anything and no monies for repairs would be forthcoming. Right. So my rants sounded something like,”I feel SO angry they are doing this to me. I feel furious they won’t do the right thing. I feel livid with myself for trusting them. I am sad I trusted them. I feel sad I lost a family member over this. I feel guilty I didn’t trust myself….” and so on UNTIL the feelings finally subsided. At the beginning I probably ranted pretty much non-stop inside my head and externally to my ever-patient friends. After some time passed and much ranting occurred, some space began to clear inside my head as I let myself just feel the feelings knowing they were just feelings, needed to be honored and would pass in their own good time. Granted it took almost a year before I could even think about it without getting a sick feeling in my gut like I was going to throw up, but eventually the feelings ebbed away. The most important point is that I allowed myself to have my feelings, acknowledged them, and they eventually faded away. Also note that I did NOT act upon them. The time to act in these types of overheated injuries is NOT when you are really upset as that is when you are most vulnerable! The time to act is later, when you have a clear head and can act PRO-actively on your own behalf. To summarize, focus on your feelings and not your opinions. (I feel sad/angry/guilty/afraid.) Don’t get trapped by thinking and opinions. That’s a hamster wheel to nowhere. Reasoning out the why or motivations of your offenders won’t make the pain go away. What’s done is done. Feeling the feelings makes the pain go away. And if you can’t find a compassionate friend who can keep their opinions to themselves, find a therapist or pastor or counselor or someone who will. You deserve to be heard. It honors you and reminds you that YOU deserve to be loved and treated with respect. It will go a very long way toward your healing. Go at your own pace and do not judge yourself. This process if for YOU; not anyone else.
Ok, time has passed and you feel the pain lessening. Now what? If you have allowed yourself to feel your feelings, you will notice other feelings start to bubble up- peace, security, happiness, gratitude. Yep. This is true. If you haven’t already, now is the time to make a big- really big gratitude list. List everything you are grateful for in your life. And believe it or not, you will actually find things to be grateful for regarding the horrible situation you have been grieving over. Example: “I feel grateful I learned to finally trust myself. I feel grateful I learned I don’t need to own a house to feel safe. I feel grateful I know I can handle anything life hands out to me. I feel grateful I have wonderful friends that love and support me. I feel grateful to know I really can survive…..” Yes, if you are seeing that I learned some valuable lessons about myself that made me vulnerable to being abused, then you are absolutely correct. Did it suck? Absolutely. Was it a relief to actually find some good out of a horrible experience? Yes. After all, if you have to suffer, why not get something positive out of the experience? Often I find insights about myself that I hadn’t expected. After all, I can only control me/fix me/change me and make sure I am never put into this situation or ones like it EVER AGAIN. Safety, peace, gratitude ensue.
Now what to do about the offenders? Let. It. Go. That’s it. Now it’s time to let go of the pain and rage and hurt. Just let it go because as long as you FEEL those feelings of anger/rage/hurt/guilt/grief, you are tied to the abuser by cords that are unbreakable. When you let it go, their control is gone and you are FREE. Letting it go does NOT mean they get away with anything. If the person who wronged you did something illegal, then you/the public need to be protected and they should be prosecuted. If you decide to press charges or move forward legally, it’s entirely YOUR choice but now YOU are in control and not the abuser. If what was done to you doesn’t rise to the level of legal action, you still get to speak your truth. It means you are not obligated to make nice or go to family events or lie about what they did and how it affected you. You don’t have to hide and you don’t have to lie but all of the venom of the experience will be dissipated and you will have more authority when you speak. Letting go does not mean the offender is off the hook- it means you let YOURSELF off the hook…of anger, despair, guilt.
Finally, one day in the future you will be doing something routine and it will come to you that the abuser is to be pitied because people who do wrong to others do so out of fear- fear of lack, fear of loneliness, fear of self-hatred, fear of something other than love. You will see that no matter what they think they have gained, they have really lost…and in many cases, lost their souls. You can’t act in a hateful manner and love yourself. Despite all exterior evidence, you can be assured that your abuser utterly and completely hates himself. No, you don’t have to do anything for them; it’s not your job. You don’t have to talk to them or pretend you like or trust them. You certainly never have to trust them. But do not be surprised if you find a small compassion for them welling up inside you. They really are to be pitied, even if they are rich and powerful. The biggest regrets of the dying aren’t that they had more stuff; it’s that they didn’t love themselves and others more. Aren’t you glad you are learning to love yourself today?
The following quote is from one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and sums up forgiveness nicely.
“First, we have to face the notion that in order to consider forgiving someone we must have been blaming them for something. We must have anger, resentment, blame, even hatred going on in order to feel the need to forgive. Forgiveness is really an act of letting go, releasing the anger, the hatred, the bitterness, the thoughts of revenge that we have been carrying around. We can do this letting go without even encountering the person we want to forgive. We forgive by releasing all resentment, anger, and bitterness and thus set ourselves free from the negative feelings that weaken us. First we have to get past blame. Then we have to learn to send love to all.”
“Forgiveness is the most powerful thing that you can do for your physiology and your spirituality, and it remains one of the least attractive things to us, largely because our egos rule so unequivocally. To forgive is somehow associated with saying that it is all right, that we accept the evil deed. But this is not forgiveness. Forgiveness means that you fill yourself with love and you radiate that love outward and refuse to hang onto the venom or hatred that was engendered by the behaviors that caused the wounds. Forgiveness is a spiritual act of love for yourself and it sends a message to everyone, including yourself, that you are an object of love and that that is what you are going to impart.”
Yes, forgiveness is an act of love you give to yourself. Surround yourself with positive books, people, experiences. Get outside and breathe fresh air and look at the trees and the sky. Get enough sleep and eat fresh, simple, clean food. Read your gratitude list daily. Rent a funny movie. Give your (or a friends) four-legged kids a pet. Do some small good for another person today. Just breathe and remember you ARE loved. Please feel free to respond. This is a moderated blog so your comments are safe.
This site has some gentle and useful tips: http://tinybuddha.com/blog/10-happiness-tips-for-people-who-have-been-hurt/