I love the idea of forgiveness. Forgiving people for pain caused. Forgiving myself for deeds, words, and thoughts I’ve committed that embarrass me, or things I’ve said and done that have given others pain, is certainly liberating. But it’s still hard for me. When I take inventory of my past transgressions I am, at times, mortified. And though I like to think I walk the talk of practicing all we preach on Happiness Series – mindful living, happy thoughts, meditation, being present – sometimes it’s tricky. Sometimes I’m forcing myself. And it’s in the forcing that I get more anxious.
Recently I was visited by an old friend. And this old friend had done me wrong in the past. I thought I had forgotten and forgiven and come to love my friend again, but when confronted with the friend, and his old habits, I found myself sullen, angry, and anxious. Why? I thought I had forgiven, gotten over the old slights of yesteryears. We had moved on. I loved this friend for who he was, not for what I wanted him to be. I know, I know, I know, I need to get over it. He’s not going to change, and he will be in my life for the rest of it, so why couldn’t I get over it. Why couldn’t I forgive him? And why can’t I forgive myself?
First of all, why Forgive? “Religious teachings and psychological insight are practically one and the same when it comes to forgiveness. When we hold on to our pain or resentment, we are burdened by them. We forgive because we need to lighten our load, and not carry pain forward relentlessly.” (From Psychology Today)
But what about forgive and forget? That may be too difficult. We can forgive but should we forget? Isn’t the remembering -not holding on obsessively but remembering- a good thing? If we’ve been hurt by someone or something, it’s good to be conscious of that. And if we forgive a person, we can remember the lesson of why we came to forgiveness. If I get burned by touching a hot pan on the stove, I’m not going to touch it again. Lesson learned. I’m not going to hate the pan or the stove forever, but I’m also not going to forget it happened.
How often are we told to forgive and forget, or at least to forgive, to ease a situation in our lives? AND HOW OFTEN DO WE JUDGE OURSELVES FOR feelings of anger or resentment towards another person or situation? All the time, I’d guess. As we know, forgiveness is a wonderfully freeing thing but it can’t come at the expense of acceptance and honoring our truth.
So back to my old friend and his visit… I came up against strong feelings of anger, anxiety, and resentment I thought I had gotten over – long ago! Well, the feelings still cropped up and telling myself to get over it, to forgive, to forget, to live and let live was only making me more anxious. What do I do when I’m evolving, feeling good and strong -even happy- and then I run into THE person, THE situation, and it all comes back in a big, ugly roar? I kind of just tolerated it. Of course, it would have been easy if things had changed for this person. If the situation I left behind had evolved and improved to my satisfaction but it hadn’t. Hey, this is life. Some people, some things will just never change.So these tricky “undesired” feelings came back and I felt bad. Actually, I felt worse than bad because I figured the healthy thing to do was to forgive and move on. (It felt almost exactly like when I dwell on my faults and what I’ve done wrong. Same side of the same coin!) But guess what? I was wrong.
And then I got some wonderful advice from my friend and Happiness Series contributor Gabriella on what really works.
I wanted to share it because it was so helpful for me.
It’s all about avoiding “the new age trap of thinking you should forgive and let go in order to be a ‘good or spiritual’ person. This actually just represses the energy of whatever the emotion is. The better way to really be FREE is to acknowledge it all,” Gabriella says. Acknowledge the hurt and the anger or the resentment and pain. She encouraged me to get neutral around the situation and state it matter-of-factly, accepting that this is just what happened (not right or wrong). In my case, when he says this, I feel dismissed, angry, hurt. And this is what really happened… Or for someone who has ended a romantic relationship, how about this: I acknowledge we had a great life, and she threw it away. And I feel this pissed, and this is what happend.
Gabriella explains further; “And then, any FEELINGS that are associated with these ‘happenings'” dissipate with this neutral accepting statement, I acknowledge that I feel angry and I have the right to feel that way. “After all the energy is mitigated/diffused… you will move naturally into letting go and forgiving.”
And it worked. I felt lighter. After accepting that I was right to feel the way I did, I was able to stop dwelling on it and my anger. It felt more authentic and liberating than forcing myself to do a version of forgive and forget. And then I tried it on some of the things I had done and said that I regretted. It works for that too!
Give it a go when someone or something is bothering you, when you’re hostage to past and present perceived slights and hurts. Or when you need to forgive yourself and you’re ready to stop beating yourself up. Hope it helps you as much as it did me!
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About the Author: Tania Van Pelt is the creator of Happiness Series. She is a writer and content creator, working in film, tv, and online. She wrote the popular lifestyle book "Ageless Diet," published in late 2015. And she is currently working on her next book. She also developed a sitcom pilot set in the restaurant business called "Employees Only TV" and is developing another web series comedy about Denver.