Recently, I was introduced to a beautiful concept during one of Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra’s 21-day meditations, and the words have really stuck with me: “Forgiveness is for me,” it said. “Forgiveness sets me free.”
We all experience emotional pain in our lives, both the pain of hurting another and the pain that gets triggers within us in response to the behavior of others. If we do not take action to “mend” the hurt within ourselves, we can end up feeling “stuck– often for many years –in the pain of the anger or resentment we’re holding onto. Not only does the stress of this repressed pain provide the perfect incubator for dis-ease to form in our bodies; it also holds us back from experiencing each moment with fresh eyes and living our lives to the fullest.
Most of us know how terrible it feels to harbor pain and resentment, and some of us have no doubt experienced how holding onto grudges robs us of joy and causes us to repeat unfulfilling patterns. So, why, then, do so many of us continue telling the tales of those we feel have wronged us, long after the wounding incident? In some cases, the experience of being a victim is so pronounced that we’ve actually made it part of our identity and we truly don’t know who we would be apart from this self-assigned role. Others believe that forgiving someone (or ourselves) for a past hurt is the same as discounting that the painful event ever occurred or condoning the action of those who were involved.
What I’ve seen in the course of my practice as a life coach is that there is one misconception surrounding forgiveness that is more prevalent than all the rest, and this misconception is at the heart of why many of us squander years of our lives in a holding pattern of resentment, guilt, and pain: We believe that forgiving someone else is a kindness that we’re bestowing on them. The reality is, although forgiveness may look like a gift that we are giving to someone else, it is really an act of self-love that we bestow upon ourselves. It is one of the most liberating steps we can take. When we forgive others, we are finally able to take back our power, to release the past, and to move on with our lives. Forgiveness frees us in body and mind from the heavy burdens of the past and allows us to appreciate the person we now are – as well as the person we have the potential to become.
So, how can we forgive more easily when others have hurt us? And even more important, how can we forgive ourselves?
The first step is being aware of and acknowledging the pain that your actions have wittingly or unwittingly caused or the pain that you experienced in response to someone else’s actions. Emotional pain often starts innocently, as the result of misunderstanding or a miscommunication. If you start with the premise that the person involved most likely did not act out of an intentional desire to hurt you, but rather acted in an attempt to meet some need of his or her own, you’ll find that much of the sting of the hurt you experienced will ease right away.
Next, remember that your singular intention in forgiving another is to help yourself feel better, lighter, and more at peace within yourself. It’s not your job to make sense of another’s behaviors; you are in charge only of your life, and of your thoughts and actions. Forgiveness is what you are after because forgiveness is what will set you free.
Taking the two steps above will prepare you mentally and emotionally to releasing old resentment, but the next step – if you approach it sincerely and with an open heart – will give you the most traction of all.
Justification is the primary “payoff” we get from dragging around out resentments and grievances from the past: As long as we hold the person who hurt us responsible for our limitations and shortcomings, they continue to provide us with the perfect excuse for why our lives are not as fulfilling as we’d like them to be.
The moment we recognize the blessings that ultimately came out of the challenges we’ve lived through; when we discover the insights, skills, wisdom, and clarity of desire that’s been born within us as a result of the pain we experienced, our justifications and excuses begin to fall away. We see ourselves as powerful creators rather than as victims and come to know ourselves as someone who is much bigger than the heartaches we’ve endured, and as someone who has expanded and evolved – not only in spite of those heartaches but because of them.
To find the blessings of any painful relationship or event, find a time when you are feeling settled and calm, and gently begin to contemplate these questions:
*How has this experience caused me to grow, to expand, or to evolve?
*What do I now understand – about myself, about others and about life – as a result of having lived this experience?
*What insights or skills do I now possess that I would not have developed if it had not been for this experience?
*What desires have been born within me as a result of this event?
*What opportunities are open to me now that were not possible or probable prior to this occurrence?
Every experience – the blissful and the painful – presents us with opportunities to learn, grow, evolve and decide with greater clarity who we want to be and how we want to live our lives from this moment forward. The sooner we seek out and embrace these gifts, the sooner our resentments soften into gratitude.
The final and most important step in the process of freeing yourself from the stress and limitation of resentment is to release any resentment you may still be holding against yourself. We’ve all made mistakes, and we’ve all brought pain upon ourselves by allowing ourselves to remain in denial rather than heeding the voice of our intuition. And most of us have said or done things that have resulted in pain or heartache for someone we deeply care about. It’s vital that we offer ourselves the same amnesty that we offer others, and to acknowledge that we really are doing the best that our resources permit us to do at any given time.
A really beautiful ritual for cultivating forgiveness and self-love is to simply call forth in your mind’s eye an image of yourself as a sweet, innocent child below the age of five, and imagine telling this child that you are sorry for all the times you made poor choices, discounted your better judgment, or ignored your intuition. Acknowledge all the ways and times that you participated in behaviors that hurt yourself or someone you love, and for all the times you sold yourself out in an attempt to win the love, attention or approval of others. Allow yourself to be moved by the openness of this child; of the love that can so easily be shared and received. An open heart and an increased capacity to both give and receive love are just some of the gifts waiting for those who are courageous enough to let go of blame and self-judgment and step into forgiveness.
Life is simply too short to hold onto dark energy; forgiveness releases you from any past negativity and enables you to become a much healthier, happier person.
Jeanne Provost is the founder of Living Well Life Coaching based in Wilsonville, Oregon. As a life coach and certified hypnotherapist, Jeanne helps clients with their journey of forgiveness and guides them in fulfilling their life’s passions and dreams. To learn more about her work, visit her at www.livingwelllifecoaching.com.