I recently had a conversation with a client where we discussed the concept of forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard – both to understand and to practice, especially if you are reeling from a painful encounter or a lifelong paradigm that was put upon you that are working to cast aside.
There are a few important things to know about forgiveness that can help you to forgive not just those who have hurt you but to forgive yourself, a concept that can be particularly difficult for people.
The first thing to know about forgiving is that it is not a wiping clean of the slate. To forgive is not to excuse or annul the offense but to acknowledge it without reliving the negative emotions associated with the experience. You can forgive the person without condoning the act. You never have to be at peace with what happened, but with practice you can be at peace with the person.
The second thing to understand is that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, not the offender. When you forgive you are telling the person that you are no longer going to carry the burden of the pain. After all, railing against them after the fact likely never reaches their ears – they are happily going about their business with nary a thought of you – while you are suffering the consequences of reliving your unhappiness.
And lastly, forgiveness is not an act but a practice. Rare is the person who can wake up one morning and experience full forgiveness. It is something that is gradually built up starting with allowing yourself to remember the facts without feeling the anguish all the way to perhaps eventually wishing the offender well.
And of course the hardest person to forgive can often be ourselves. Most of us can be harder on ourselves than any other person but that serves absolutely no good purpose. We all err. We all do things we wish we’d done differently. And some people allow themselves to be defined by those things. Imagine how much gentler, kinder and more joyful life would be if we could tell ourselves that yes, we erred but it is what we do now, in the moment, that is truly defining.
I challenge all of you to recall a time when you felt injured by another, try your best to examine the situation with your head and not your heart and imagine what it might be like to be able to rid those memories of any of the negative emotions associated with them. Now imagine that you are able to tell that person, in your head, “What you did was wrong and you should be ashamed and disappointed in yourself. But I am no longer willing to carry the burden of the feelings you caused in me. I leave them at your feet and you can do with them what you wish.”
The first few times you do this it will feel as foreign as wearing a prosthetic nose! But with repetition and mindful consideration of the points above, you will gradually find yourself feeling freer and freer until such a time as you realize that you have experienced forgiveness.
Go be awesome!