Be selfish: forgive

How could I? I’m so mad at myself! I shouldn’t feel this way.

In last week’s column, I shared insights on forgiveness, what it really means, and who it’s for.  As I wrote, the benefits of forgiveness are for the one who forgives; it’s a process and often takes time.

This week, I’m going to address two often tricky aspects of forgiveness.

The first is self-forgiveness.

Boy, self-forgiveness is tough for so many people.

As I teach forgiveness practices, students often reflect, the most difficult person to forgive is themselves. Everyone makes mistakes, yet the tendency to hold ourselves hostage is rampant and causes great suffering for many.

We’d never be as unkind to another person as we are to ourselves, and learning how to forgive ourselves is beneficial. This allows us to move forward. Self-forgiveness is beneficial to our physical health, mental health, and our relationships.

Self-forgiveness isn’t about letting ourselves off the hook. It’s about taking responsibility for what we’ve done, accepting it’s in the past, and doing what’s required for restoration and renewal.

Admitting we’ve caused harm, without blame, justification, or excuse, is often the hardest step, but it’s a powerful one.

Feelings of guilt or remorse that arise are normal and healthy, and can move us toward positive change, as long as we don’t abide there.  

A feeling of relief washes over me when I can simply admit to myself, or to others, that I’ve screwed up. The cards are on the table and I can begin to repair.

Having empathy for who we’ve hurt, we may need to apologize and take steps to repair damage we’ve caused. We can then allow ourselves, with self-compassion, to move forward in life.

In taking the lessons we’ve learned, incorporating them in our lives to make better choices moving forward, we can grow from the experience.

Shame is different from guilt or remorse. Instead of acknowledging we’ve made a mistake, we feel we are a mistake, and we’re a bad person. Shame isn’t a good catalyst for positive change, and can lead us down the road of depression, addiction, and aggression.

Recognizing we’re all equally capable of hurting others and making mistakes, acknowledging what’s happened, and holding ourselves in compassion as we make amends, creates healthier and more positive change.

Sometimes, the “villain” of a painful situation is apparent. We can focus forgiveness practices with great success, but other times, we may still feel stuck. What to do?

It’s not uncommon for people to carry the guilt or hurt of another’s hurtful actions toward them, and this is expensive.

What I’ve learned is, when the pain of past hurts lingers for a long time, despite having done forgiveness work, there’s often a missing aspect of the injury not yet considered.

When we’ve forgiven the most obvious perpetrator(s), but still feel pained about a situation, it’s helpful to get curious. Instead of becoming annoyed with ourselves and the inability to let go, gently question who, or what else, needs to be forgiven.

In practising forgiveness, it’s important to get clear about who we need to forgive. It’s not always apparent where the biggest hurt comes from.

The second challenging aspect of forgiveness is forgiving seemingly innocent others.

We may not recognize our greatest pain can come from a beloved other who wasn’t the direct perpetrator of misdeeds, but who didn’t, or couldn’t, step in when we needed them most.

There may be an unlikely hurt. We may find we need to forgive ourselves, or that the biggest hurt or betrayal came from someone we love, an innocent other, who didn’t step-in at our time of need.

An example of this is a person who is bullied by another, and friends didn’t stand up to defend them.

Forgiving the bully may be easier than forgiving a friend who didn’t speak up or offer support when they were really needed. We may feel more hurt, abandoned, or betrayed by a loved one’s inaction than by the bully.

There may be anger or resentment toward the “good parent” when they didn’t handle a difficult situation, even if they too were a victim.

Forgiveness isn’t for the other, it’s for us. It liberates us from challenging things that have happened.  It doesn’t excuse what’s happened, or mean we have to reconcile with one who’s hurt us.

With forgiveness, we stop paying the price for what’s happened in the past.

Even setting the intention to forgive, or intending to intend to forgive, starts the process. It’s OK to decide not to forgive if we find it’s too much.

For bigger, more complex hurts, a counsellor is invaluable, but even the simplest practices can help reduce our suffering.

Remembering to be gentle, patient and kind with ourselves as we undertake this important work is vital.


You deserve peace

It’s said holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent-free in your head.

But, can holding a grudge affect your health?

It’s very human to spend mental coin engaged in virtual conversations with others who have harmed us. It’s easy to stay angry with those who have caused us pain.

We may avoid those who have hurt us, but conversations rage inside the privacy of our own minds. All those things we wished we’d said or done at the time, circle through in our imagined conversations.

We may even wish them harm. But when we do this, who pays the greatest price?

The injury may be long in the past, yet we experience it as though it just happened. The effects of revisiting past hurts don’t stay only in our thoughts, as our bodies respond with a chemical cascade appropriate to our thoughts.

One memory of a past hurt can bring back the same feelings we had at the time of the injury.

I appreciate the visual created by Michael Singer, in his book Untethered Soul, of unresolved hurts becoming like thorns sticking into our flesh.

Anything that touches the thorn, or reminds of what’s happened in the past, reactivates the pain. So, we start to avoid anything that can touch them, essentially bubble-wrapping ourselves in protection. We close off parts of ourselves, and start to show up differently in the world.

These thorns can fester and become infected, affecting our health, happiness, and quality of life.

We may suppress our hurt feelings and resist them, only to find the memory activated when something reminds us of what happened. Carl Jung’s insight often proves true: “what you resist not only persists, but will grow in size.”

The pain may surface with greater intensity somewhere down the road, often looking quite unlike what it really is.

It may show up as anger, bitterness, resentment, and even as emotional and health issues.

Research reveals harbouring a grudge negatively affects our blood pressure, as well as the blood flow to our hearts. There’s a correlation between held rancour and the number of medications used, quality of sleep, and body issues.

If we had to wait until someone apologized or felt sorry for us to forgive, we might be waiting a long time.

Sometimes, they aren’t sorry, they don’t even know the pain they’ve caused, or they’re dead. Waiting for another to feel sorry would only keep us trapped and locked into our own pain

What to do?

Forgiveness practices are helpful in removing those thorns, and lessening the impact past misdeeds have on our health and happiness.

Before you stop reading, I invite you to get clear about what forgiveness really is. Many misunderstand forgiveness, what it is, and who it’s for.

Let’s be clear to start. Forgiveness isn’t for anyone else. It’s an inside job, and is for the benefit of the person who forgives. Forgiveness isn’t about condoning, minimizing, or saying what happened is OK, and it isn’t forgive and forget.

For forgiveness to take place, we never have to see or have contact with someone who has harmed us. Forgiveness is about reducing our own suffering and reducing the impact hurtful experiences have on our lives.

We stop paying the price for what’s happened.

I’ve wished it wasn’t so, but for bigger hurts, it can take time. Forgiveness is a process and is often done in layers. Sometimes, with bigger hurts, a period of grieving must precede forgiveness.

I used to get impatient with myself, thinking I had failed in my practice, when an old hurt would surface. What I’ve learned is when an old thorn gets touched, there’s another level of healing that’s ready to take place. 

Instead of moving into self-judgment, self-compassion and patience are important.

There are many different ways to forgive, to liberate ourselves from past hurts. It’s not one-size-fits all. Even setting an intention to forgive causes a shift inside of us, a loosening of the thorn. It’s a place to start.

It’s suggested not to begin with the biggest hurts, but to start with smaller things. As we practice forgiveness, our capacity to forgive increases, and we’re better able to deal with the big stuff.

It’s worth investigating forgiveness practices to find the ones that work best for you. There are many resources available free on the internet.

Forgiveness practices can move us from feeling like a victim into being a victor, as we remove thorns remaining from another’s unskilled or malicious actions.

Forgiveness isn’t about the other; it’s an act of self-love and liberation from the past. You deserve peace.

All or nothing

All or nothing. Go big, or go home.

There are often changes we’d like to make in our lives, but we don’t. We may feel motivated in the beginning to make sweeping changes, only to find they quickly fall away.

It’s easy to move into feeling like a failure, or repeating self-critical thoughts, believing we lack self-discipline or the ability to achieve our goal. This is not helpful, and only moves us farther away from our goal.

Recently, while cleaning off my bookshelves, I chuckled as I removed many long-forgotten self-improvement books. I smiled as I remembered the passion I felt about the latest and greatest miracle diet, or a way to a better me, when I bought them.

Many of them were quick to gather dust, as what was suggested in these "tombs" of wisdom, and what I expected of myself, became impossible.

The negative self-talk did nothing to motivate me, and only made me feel miserable and cynical about my ability to accomplish my goals.

I used to feel a pang of failure and guilt when I looked at them, a reminder of what I saw as my personal failure. But, no more, as I’ve learned some secrets to healthy change:

  • small things add up.

It’s easy to fall into the self-defeating practice of all or nothing, of guilt and self-criticism. But what’s easier and sets us up for greater success is starting small, and allowing the sum of our efforts to add up to positive change.

Learning to celebrate each small change we make lays down a more solid foundation than self-criticism, or an all-or-nothing mentality, ever will.

As a mindfulness teacher, I encourage my students to build up their ability to engage with the practices, to celebrate when they take the time, instead of beating themselves up when they forget.

Self-compassion and positive self-talk are much more motivating than negative, which erodes our belief in our ability to grow and make positive change.

A friend recently created a July group challenge, inviting people to join and incorporate a positive change in their lives for the month. Having grown a bit sedentary during the pandemic, I chose exercise.

Initially, I found myself falling into the old-habit of setting the bar too high, seeing myself making ambitious changes to my activity level.

Then, I remembered: start small and celebrate my success.

I’d love to report that I’ve been strapping on my runners and really giving my body a good workout, but I haven’t. I forgot to make a plan.

Making a plan is important, and learning to adapt that plan to fit our lifestyle, when it doesn’t work, supports success. Pre-determining a plan of action, and clearly establishing our goal and commitment to ourselves is important to success.

I’ve recommitted. I’ve made a plan and even a back-up plan. I need a back-up plan when it comes to exercise and weather, because I’m a bit of a princess when it comes to the cold and the rain.

I don’t like walking in the rain, and often suggest I’m made of sugar, because I feel I might melt if I get wet.

Making positive change happens one-step-at-a time. It happens when we make a plan and learn to celebrate our successes, no matter how small they may be.


Are you fighting a civil war?

Mini civil wars are sprouting up all over. Name calling and unfriending abound as we draw close our circle of opinion, even among family members.

We live in interesting and curious times.

As the confusing climate of the world heats up, so much in life is polarized. I’m curious about how we’ll view this time in 20 years.

There are many strong opinions being presented in the headlines and on social media. People with different perspectives easily become opponents, instead of just other human beings who hold a different opinion.

As the old saying goes, opinions are a dime a dozen. Many of us live in silos of opinion, listening to, and reading only what we agree with, or ridiculing and bullying anyone with an opposing opinion. I’m often reminded of school-yard bullies instead of rational adults.

My opinions and beliefs have changed many times, and, I hope, will continue to evolve and deepen. I’ve learned not to believe everything I think, but to analyze and consider my opinions and why I hold them.

Our opinions are so dear, and when we cling to them and refuse to truly listen to opposing beliefs, it’s easy to throw walls up. It’s easy to stop listening when others share opposing opinions, but when we do this, we lose out on learning.

Not everyone who holds a different view point is an idiot; they just see things differently. They have different knowledge, experience, concerns and history we may not be privy to.

Instead of name calling, or unfriending, what would happen if we listened to understand?

This is a time for civil discourse, not a time for civil war. To have civil discourse, we have to learn to listen and not dismiss everyone as an idiot or an enemy, who differs in opinion.

I used to listen only to formulate my response. I wasn’t actually listening, but thinking and planning a rebuttal. It’s a common human practice.

I’ve really grown as I’ve learned to listen to understand. Learning to listen, really listen, to the message and deeper meaning of the message of another, takes practice.

I admit to being confused about what’s happening in our world, and I want to understand others who hold different opinions and beliefs. I’ve made it a practice to listen to more diverse sources and perspectives, even though they challenge my beliefs, and through this, I am learning.

I was shocked recently when a friend shared her political perspective that’s diametrically opposed to my own.  Arrogant me made the assumption that, because we are friends and hold other similar beliefs, we’d be aligned politically. I was wrong.

I admit to an initial reaction of wanting to label her and stick her in the camp of "other," but instead decided to become curious and to listen deeply. Instead of offering my opposing opinion and rationale, or arguing with her, I chose to ask gentle questions to help me to understand.

As I listened, really listened, I came to a deeper understanding and appreciation for her perspective. This opened my mind to things I hadn’t yet considered. We had a civil discourse.

In civil discourse, we engage in conversation to enhance understanding. It’s not meant to convince or argue with another, but to listen deeply to what’s being said, and the intent behind the words.  

Much of our message isn’t in the words we speak, but what lies behind them. Instead of judging their message as wrong or right depending on our beliefs and opinions, we remain open and curious.

Civil discourse isn’t a contest. It’s a time for people to share their views without rancour. As we share, it’s important we don’t make it personal, and we afford the person the same respect we’d hope to receive.

It’s interesting to see if we can remain calm when other people are saying things we dislike or that oppose your perspective. We grow as we learn to listen through our differences, and not pin our discomfort on another person, making them bad.

As we mindfully listen and speak with one another, bridges of understanding can be built. We can stop the war, and begin creating a world that works for everyone.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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