Forgiveness is a great goal to have for the coming year. It’s making a commitment to a process that involves letting go of hurt you have carried with you for years. The time frame is ongoing and the result is feeling lighter and happier. Like everything else you might have as a personal goal this year, it takes practice, time and patience but pays off long term. Like the difference in the crash diet vs changing your life style in eating more healthy in some way, the differences it makes are gradual but add up over time, and the result is greater happiness. Forgiveness involves compassion and love for ourselves in order to gain this opportunity.
Many of the people who have hurt us don’t “deserve” forgiveness. So be clear that the reason you want to work on embracing forgiveness is to lessen your own load so you’re not carrying it around with you anymore. The reason one small scowl or negative word or behavior can “ruin your whole day” is that it’s triggering some hurt you’ve been carrying around for a long time. The longer it takes to get over daily hurts, the bigger and longer you’ve been carrying that baggage. The solution is to watch your reaction, understand it and be able to choose to let it go. The only way to do this is to work on letting go of those big pains that color how you see yourself and the world.
50% of us were lucky enough to grow up in a loving family. And that means there are an awful lot of us walking around who are walking wounded. If you didn’t learn that love and trust were your birthrights, then you have a lot of work to do to feel happy in your life. That begins when you take responsibility for your happiness and work to do everything you can every day to be loving and compassionate to yourself. Do you believe every child deserves love? What could you have possibly done as a baby or small child to be so unlovable? The answer is nothing. All babies and children are lovable. You might begin with thinking about some childhood experiences only as they pop up in your mind, create a different scenario. Create the scenario with a loving parent, sibling or friend and how it would have felt so different. The new scenario you are imagining is yourself loving your small self the way you deserved to be loved and treated. Powerful stuff there, and healing, because with this scenario you begin to say to yourself and imagine yourself loving yourself when you needed it, and when you practice doing this enough, loving and healing your small self and soothing yourself, you have come far in learning an important skill towards self calming. Self calming and self soothing are the key. When you have learned this, you have developed the power to create your own daily happiness.
When someone does something in the present that triggers a really strong response, that crushes us, we go back to that feeling of feeling unlovable, rejected, and powerless. So once again, the first step is always to calm down. You have to calm down enough to be able to figure out what’s going on and how you’re going to get over it. Depending on the injury, that can take some time, just to get calmed down. Be compassionate and patient with yourself, and be kind to yourself during this time. Life happens, pain and loss happen. It’s not fun, but it’s not preventable. We have to learn to deal with it.
Anger keeps you in a place of pain, as does depression. Somehow you have to find some meaning in the suffering from the loss in order to go on with your life with a level of hope and trust. Lack of forgiveness keeps you in a perpetual state of pain and isolation. Forgiveness is about letting go. Anger keeps you engaged, so the anger and thoughts of revenge have to be resolved and released before you can proceed to forgiveness.
So how do you get to forgiveness? Think of forgiveness as a gift you’re giving to yourself rather than to the person who hurt you, because it is. Your deciding to release this is not condoning the other person’s terrible behavior but is an act you’re doing for yourself. Here are some steps that might help.
- Forgive yourself first. The mistakes you’ve made were never your intention, were they? You were doing your best and made a mistake.
- Assume the same thing about the person who hurt you. Assume they were also doing their best or try to imagine what hurts they might have experienced in their lives to make them so twisted and evil.
- Do your best to find some positive out of the experience. Maybe it made you stronger, or you learned something new about yourself and how tough you are, that despite what has happened you’ve been able to pick up the pieces of your life and move on. Recognize, if it’s appropriate, what got you engaged in that interaction to begin with and if there’s a different choice you could have made to exit earlier from the interchange and how that might have ended up differently. Or recognize what you have learned from it. Many of the parents from the Sandy Hook shootings have become very actively involved in gun control and mental health efforts. The worst events still provide us an opportunity to do something positive in the name of what we’ve lost. Observe and read about others who have overcome adversity; because you might find a link to what helped them put that in their past. Sometimes thinking about what others have survived can help us realize our situation in comparison isn’t insurmountable and we can be grateful our trial is not as horrible as theirs, and that can give us something to be grateful for. (Read “Unbroken”).
- Be kind, very kind to yourself, and slow down your breathing. The reason practicing Yoga can be so healing is that it teaches us to breathe, and that we can breathe, even while trying to do something that is very difficult or impossible. The knowledge that we can master and recover from this situation as long as we keep breathing and slow and control our breathing gives us courage to face what we fear.
- Practice Mindfulness. This is another way we gradually re-wire our brains to slow down and feel better. Do you know this is actually a scientific practice that actually re-wires our brains and can be learned in 8 weeks? There are courses in this scientific based practice that improves your mental and physical health. You can go on YouTube and start practicing using some of the thousands of videos there. It’s harder than it sounds, just like meditation is, but is easier than tradition meditation because you’re trying to focus on just one thing and maintain your focus on just that thing for a period of time. The re-wiring in how your brain functions can be seen on an MRI, and the effects for those of you with anxiety and depression can be miraculous, especially combined with learning Cognitive Behavior Therapy which is learning to monitor and restructure your thoughts in more positive ways. You are not at all helpless, you have incredible power to change how you feel every day once you know how to do this. When you were a child, someone had to teach you how to dress and eat and take care of your hygiene. This is your brain hygiene and these techniques will teach you how to take care of your most important organ, your brain.
So, lots to work on here in 2016. Be patient and compassionate with yourself, but each day that you do something different is a success in of itself. Work towards forgiving yourself and those around you for all our human imperfections. You’ll be healthier and happier if you do.