I procrastinated on writing this article for almost a week. What can I say about forgiveness that won’t sound trite and/or impossible to someone in the midst of experiencing the inability to forgive? Everything people said to me when I was in that situation was absolutely true, and only served to irritate me, leaving me further entrenched in my anger. I’m hoping not to have that effect. Please forgive me if I do.
You Need to Forgive Him/Her
They said it, and it was true, but not for the reasons they gave me. They told me it was the right thing to do, it was required for religious reasons, I shouldn’t ask for what I couldn’t give, I would regret it if I didn’t make peace before s/he died, and so on. If someone ever told me that I needed to do it for me, it was so far beyond my point of reference that I couldn’t relate to it.
In the perfect focus of hindsight, forgiving the undeserving for the unforgivable was one of the biggest gifts I ever gave myself. I released a ton of emotional garbage. Suddenly, there was a lot more time and energy (emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually) to devote to other things, important things like self-care, healthy relationships, pursuing my calling, and so on.
Forgiveness is a Selfish (Self-Full) Act
Forgiveness has exactly NOTHING to do with the other person. It doesn’t matter what they have done or not done; forgiveness is all about getting free from baggage, and whoever you’re forgiving has no business in your baggage.
I thought that if I forgave someone, I was giving them permission to do the same thing again. Oh, Hell-to-the-NO! As the cute little Facebook meme says, “Forgiving you means I no longer dwell on what an asshole you are. It doesn’t mean you’re no longer an asshole.” Again, forgiving has NOTHING to do with the other person. It’s about my time, my health, my well being, my quality of life. Forgiving is all about ME and nothing about them.
In taking responsibility for my own quality of life, I realized that I needed to stop carrying stuff around: resentment, anger, grudges, hyper-alertness, hyper-sensitivity, tension, anxiety, reliving the past, distress, negativity, shame, guilt, self-destructive behavior, insomnia, fear, hatred, depression… the list goes on, but you get the point. The only way for me to drop all that was to forgive others for what they had done (or not done) to me. I didn’t expect to have to start where I did.
All Forgiveness Begins Within
Ironically, I couldn’t forgive anyone else until I started with me. I had to forgive me for holding on to all of that stuff in the first place, for letting others take advantage of me, for saying no when I wanted to say yes, and saying yes when I wanted to say no. I had to forgive myself for being a doormat, needy, demanding, demeaning, angry, depressed, and… all those other things.
Crap! That’s a lot of forgiving! It took a while, and when I thought I was done… I wasn’t. I still find it necessary to forgive myself. As a matter of fact, forgiving myself for not having this blog post up so I could send my newsletter out yesterday is THE ONLY WAY THIS POST WAS POSSIBLE. If I hadn’t forgiven myself, I would still be beating myself up instead of writing.
Given that my expectation of forgiveness was that people would do the same things to me, anything not like that took me by surprise. I was surprised at the amount of freedom I felt. I was surprised by the amount of happy that was possible in my life. I was surprised that others related to me differently, especially since I hadn’t talked to them about my new “forgiveness thing.”
The most unexpected consequence was the change in my relationship with my mother. I had spent at least four decades hating her. That’s a lot of hate. When I was ten years old, I went to live with my Dad and refused to speak to her. I was only 12 when he died, and refused to give the hospital her name because I wanted nothing to do with her. One day, the reasons why will be in my book. For now, just trust me that she gave me every good reason to hate her.
Yet, I chose to forgive her. I didn’t even tell her, at least, not right away. I didn’t have to. In order to forgive my mother, I had to find compassion for her. I had to understand they WHY behind what she did. Setting aside the anger made space for that. I started relating to her from compassion, and that changed everything.
My son once told me that he would forgive me when I forgave my mother. Though he forgave me sooner, forgiving her brought good changes in my relationship with him, too.
I’ve lived this. That’s why I’m so passionate about it. And, yes, I promise I’ll write about how to find compassion for the worst humans. Just give me a minute. In the meantime, I’d love to read your thoughts on forgiveness here. Where are you in your forgiveness journey? What is true about forgiveness for you?
“Forgiving Doesn’t Mean They’re Not an Asshole” is this week’s featured class in the Wednesday Webinar Series. For more information, please see the Calendar.
First-time attendee discount! Use this link to take your first class at Half Price before 12/31/2015!