As we launch into a new year, resolving for fresh starts, you may discover that there are some lingering grudges and issues bothering you. It is then that the F-word starts to haunt you—forgive. Once the concept boils up to the surface, the ego-mind starts with the banter, “Why should I forgive when he/she did this to me?”
The answer lies in the saying, “Holding onto anger is like drinking rat poison and hoping the rat will die.” If you don’t forgive, you are the one suffering. Often the other person moves on with their lives while you sit on the sidelines in pain.
If you hang onto anger and hurt you are likely to be more distrusting, more lonely, more fearful, which results in being more judgmental, making inaccurate assumptions, being withdrawn, and doubting self and others. It is hard to love again, when these behaviors are present. In fact, it may be hard to be loved again if this is how you are behaving. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to keep them in your life, that you have to stay together, or that you condone their behavior.
Forgiving, for giving, allows us to give and receive love again—not necessarily from the same person.
So how do we do that?
I like to start with responsibility. In my experience, responsibility is the magic switch between ego and spirit. Responsibility moves us out of the realm of victim and restores our power. Taking responsibility is not about taking the blame or simply finding fault in ourselves. Taking responsibility is about restoring our power over the present and our ability to do things differently in the future. Responsibility is about learning and healing.
Here are some steps for taking responsibility for your pain and setting yourself and others free:
- Explore your role in what happened to see how you may have contributed to the original problem. Sometimes we discover we said something, did something or thought something that contributed to the other person’s actions. If so, make amends. (See step six.) Even if that is just choosing to understand why they behaved the way they did. (See step three.)
- Examine the way you responded to what happened and now, if needed, choose a new response. Did you react before learning all the facts? Did you make up a story that made things worse? If you ask yourself “Why?” you reacted the way you did, you will often discover an underlying belief that may reveal where your true healing needs to go. When someone hurts us, we often compound that pain by making up the story that “they never loved us in the first place,” or that we “don’t deserve real love” or some other equally inaccurate conclusion that hurts even worse than the original harm. We tend to react to our made up story, even more so than what was said or done.
- Explore what you understand about the other person and why they behaved the way they did. Taking a moment to understand often allows you to have some compassion, and compassion can allow you to move toward forgiveness. Sometimes you understand that they didn’t know better, or that they were lashing out in grief or stress, or that they were raised by abusive parents and have not resolved their own issues. These are not excuses, but they may be reasons that can help to set you free. As Don Miguel Ruiz suggests in The Four Agreements, “Don’t take anything personally.” When you look deeper at what is going on with someone, you often find that their actions weren’t about you.
- Determine what the lesson or the blessing was. Taking responsibility may simply be a matter of choosing to learn from what happened so as to avoid similar situations in the future and benefit from those of the past. This can be a hard one in some cases, but I have found that every single time I ask, “How was this a blessing to me?” I find an answer. The problem at hand either made me stronger, freer, wiser, or clearer. It is my experience that whenever we think the lesson learned is to love less or trust less, we have missed the true lesson. It may be we need to be wiser, be more discerning and pay more attention, but that is the nature of responsibility and is very different from living in fear.
- Build your own self-esteem to the extent that your value and strength are based on an internal relationship between you and Spirit, rather than sourced externally from others. When you self-strengthen, your happiness is no longer dependent on external realities or behaviors. This is true freedom.
- Perhaps harder than forgiving others, is forgiving yourself. If this is the issue, start at step one with yourself in mind and continue here:
- Make amends. Saying you are sorry, acknowledging what you did and if possible, making it right, will set you free. If that person isn’t someone you can return to, pay it forward. Do something for someone else to make things right on the universal scale.
- Live mindfully so you don’t have to forgive yourself in the future.
May you have a blessed New Year, free from the sufferings of the past.