I recall an acquaintance, a beautiful young professional woman with two small toddlers, saying she would not forgive her husband for leaving her for another woman because he had not asked for forgiveness. Both in our 20’s at the time, I felt uneasy with her statement.
I always thought forgiveness was not about the person to be forgiven, but for the person who forgives. The act of forgiving has provided me with a sweet release, a place of empowerment. I wished this friend could experience that same feeling. Now, three decades later, I have exercised that empowerment many times and hope that those I have wronged have done so as well.
True forgiveness means you are not holding someone else responsible for your experiences.
How do you do this?
There are four steps you need to know.
Compassion for self and others needs to be present for true forgiveness. Even when you lack understanding as to why someone would hurt you, there is always room to say “what am I to learn from this?”. Through the desire to learn, we experience the “lesson in the action”. When we take responsibility and seek to understand, we shift from blaming to forgiveness. It is important to note that when we don’t understand why, there is still always room for forgiveness.
John Dewey, the great educational reformer, said “individuals do not learn from experience, they learn from reflecting on the experience”. When we reflect on the experience of compassionate forgiveness, we find a clear way forward while honoring our highest selves. It is a process, however. Fortunately, the more we process, the better we get at becoming clear on our learning and therefore our responses to “being wronged”.
What about forgetting, once forgiven?
“Forgive and forget” disavows the deep reflection which allows us to learn. Learning is the greatest lesson in the process of forgiveness – why would we want to forget that great lesson?
During forgiveness, the hurt eventually evolves and becomes something of greater significance. There is a turning point, a defining moment – when the incident evolves into a moment of learning and reflection. You have re-framed it. Your reference point is no longer a gnawing, raw, energy depleting, victim-harboring hurt.
When you redefine a hurtful incident, you ascribe a new powerful meaning, and that is worth remembering.
Today, I am remembering my dad who shuffled off this mortal coil six days ago, 11 days after my Mom’s Covid-delayed celebration of life. Actually, I am remembering my mom and my dad with respect to forgiveness.
In my teens I began to learn to forgive my parents, my dad for his abuse, and my mom for not protecting me. My dad, the abuser, and my mom, his victim. In my 20’s I began to learn to forgive my mom the alcoholic, and my dad, the codependent. In my 30’s I was forgiving my dad the adulterer, and my mom the woman who said she would stay and put up with the charades. She didn’t, thankfully.
I learned so many valuable lessons from my family of origin, but my greatest lesson is forgiveness.
After Mom’s passing, I felt peaceful. She had not consumed alcohol in 15 years; she had vascular dementia for 10 of those. I had been her caregiver and advocate for those long, painful, exhausting ten years. I am thankful for those lessons as well.
Despite Mom’s alcoholism she was a rock, a north-star whose addiction only played out a couple of times a year. I loved her beyond measure. Her celebration of life was just perfect, surrounded by those she had shared her light with, even during her illness. She always had a spark. The nursing homes called her Angel Mary. Yes, that was my Mom.
Polar opposites tend to attract they say, and as much as Mom was an angel in my eyes, my Dad was the opposite. His primary response to anything in life was anger. As a young child I hid, cowered, and tried not to call attention to myself. It was rare when I did stand up for myself.
Flash-forward to 2021: all of us adult children made it home before my Dad passed. I was still treated the way I have always been treated, reinforcing the old narrative of being unloved and neglected. The benefit of my experience with forgiveness is that I was able to acknowledge the toxic victim scenario, and move to peace in a much shorter time-span. But I am human, and it still took me a few days!
What I have learned since childhood, is healthy boundaries, grounding, and clearing bad energy; all of which I have relied on heavily this past couple of weeks. I am so thankful for those skills born out of lessons in compassionate forgiveness. They are powerful tools during crisis. My life’s energy is bestowed upon me to recognize love and nurture it. If I find myself shunned, locked out, or demeaned, I have the opportunity to actively commit to releasing myself from negative energy.
If I can make that commitment, you can too.
If you are embroiled in victimization or mired in old worn-out family narratives and want to scream at the top of your lungs that you are worthy of the love, admiration and respect of others, this is your time. This is your time to reflect on your responses and choose a different path. You don’t need to scream. Choose the path that allows you to live in light and love, compassion and acceptance, regardless of what anybody else tells you or regardless of how anyone else treats you.
Your pathway to empowerment through forgiveness is waiting for you.
Feeling sick and victimized? Try these basic steps:
- Ground yourself. There are many ways to do this, but a simple one that works for me is as follows: Close your eyes. Put your feet on the floor. Feel the solid surface below. Feel everything around you. Be aware of all aspects of your physical body. Take deep breaths. Picture all that negative heavy energy flowing out of your body, out through the ground. Envision healing light pouring through the crown of your head – the seventh chakra. Let the divine light enter through the chakra and liberate you from old limiting patterns. Feel the light travel through you and out into the ground.
- Set healthy boundaries. Be aware of how the situation is altering your energy, perception, emotions and actions. Is there a feeling in your body that tells you something is not comfortable (headache, shoulders tight, stomach pain)? Have a respectful strategy to deal with the situation at hand when you notice these changes. This strategy can be role-played with a trusted partner in advance to allow you to have a plan in place before going into a potentially uncomfortable situation.
- Choose yourself. If by chance you are unable to deal with the challenging situation, know that you are at liberty to make the best choices for you. That may be respectfully removing yourself from the environment which you find challenging. Calmly, respectfully and with confidence, remove yourself and allow yourself to take protective measures to recalibrate your energy and find new ways to manage the situation.
- Clear the energy. Finally, if you do remain overwhelmed by feelings of raw, depleting energy, a process of clearing negative energy may be helpful. Some simple strategies work here: telling the energy to leave you, yawning, sage smudging, candle lighting, crystals, and laughing are all very therapeutic. But sometimes that isn’t quite enough. In a grounding position, envision strings tied to the person(s) or situation(s) blocking your energy. Breath deeply and recite a mantra such as “I release these bindings which represent old narratives, negative energy or limiting beliefs”. Envision yourself cutting the bindings with love and reverence for yourself. Watch the bindings fall away. Turn your attention to the love and light again pouring through the crown of your head, and washing the negative energy out of your feet.
These steps allow you to own your responses to hurtful actions.
They eliminate blame.
They redefine the situation on your terms.
If you are filled with compassion for yourself, you will invest in the steps outlined above. Allow yourself to overcome damaging narratives and victimization. Revisit or bookmark this blog as an easy reference for the next time you feel the desire to scream, retaliate, or plot revenge on someone whose done you wrong.
If these four steps don’t resonate with you, invest the time to explore other possible tools or consider a coaching relationship that will work for you. The important part is that you unapologetically own your authentic energy, with reverence and compassion for yourself and others.
You will harness the ability to compassionately forgive, learn how to respond in a way that honors you, and allow yourself to remember the valuable lessons of forgiveness, which you will assuredly rely on again in this lifetime!
Happy forgiving but not forgetting,