For too many years I lived locked inside a prison of other’s misdeeds and mistakes, and I suffered. Personally, I’m tired of paying the price for other people’s mistakes and bad behaviour.
It is said, not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
We’ve all been hurt in big and small ways by others, either intentionally or unintentionally. There’s no denying it, horrible things happen in life.
This column in no way denies the scarring and damage life’s atrocities, big and small, have created for people. It’s about ending our own suffering. I believe hurt people hurt people. This doesn’t excuse them, but we don’t have to perpetuate the suffering in our own lives.
The bigger question is, how can we stop our own suffering and paying the price for the actions, or inactions, of others? How do we free ourselves?
It’s important to be clear about what forgiveness is, and what it isn’t. Forgiveness is not saying what happened is OK. Forgiveness isn’t saying we must seek out or reconcile with the person who has harmed us. Others don’t even need to know about it. It’s an internal process.
Forgiveness isn’t “forgive and forget.” It’s letting go of our own pain. Forgiveness liberates us from the shadow of another’s mistake and we take our power back.
If we wait until someone apologizes or feels sorry for us in order to forgive him or her, 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 only keeps us trapped and suffering.
Forgiveness is a process, it’s not an event. And it can take time. It’s often done in layers. We don’t over-ride or deny our own hurt and pretend we’re all happy-happy-joy-joy.
Bottling hurt feelings up doesn’t work and puts added stress on our minds and bodies. That can make us sick. Suppressed emotions often spill over into our lives in other ways. We can shut ourselves off from support or avoid any situation or person who even smells like the one that hurt us. In this, we lose out on life.
Self-forgiveness can be even more challenging than forgiving others. Learning to be compassionate with ourselves, knowing everyone makes mistakes or yearns for a do-over helps us to stop beating ourselves up. It’s from this perspective that we can make amends if needed and learn to move on and do better.
Be nice to the right person—yourself.
Many of us use a critical voice with ourselves. But when we’re hurt, it’s important to be kind with ourselves. Imagining we are our own best friend is helpful. What would we tell someone we really loved who’s hurting? How would we be with them?
It’s important to acknowledge and feel emotions and to pause to ask ourselves what we need. We may need to share and feel heard and supported. Writing about it, sharing with a caring friend or counsellor may be helpful.
It is helpful to name the feelings that arise. Naming the emotions helps turn the volume down on the emotional centre of the brain and invite the rational part of the brain into action, according to a study conducted at UCLA.
When working with forgiveness, it’s best to start with smaller hurts, not the big things. When we’ve been hurt, there’s often a tendency to go over-and-over what was said or done in our own minds, and rehearse what we’d love to say. As best we can, we need to stop having conversations with the offender in our minds.
Holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent-free in our head. I often consider how much air-time I’ve given people who’ve hurt me and how that increases my suffering. They’ve likely not given it a second thought. How much power do I want to give others over my life?
I’ve found power and liberation in pausing, taking a few deep breaths and turning toward my hurt feelings with self-compassion. I name what I’m feeling and I don’t pretend nothing happened. Sometimes, I just silently whisper “ouch” to myself.
Deepening our understanding about what forgiveness is and isn’t is just a starting point.
Understanding forgiveness is about ending my own suffering, and not about the other, was helpful for me.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.