Forgiveness is a tough word. It's even tougher when we're dealing with actions that we feel are unforgivable.
I'm talking here about major violations in our trust, our rights, and even things that constitute a crime.
For some, the unforgivable might be your partner cheating, or perhaps a sibling swindling your inheritance. For others it might be a similar experience to mine, where you were the subject of assault in one way or another. What feels unforgivable is highly personal, and in every case, valid.
Yes, in many cases the mere word forgiveness makes us sick to our stomachs. "They don't deserve it," is often how we feel.
It's OK to acknowledge that there's something you simply can't forgive.
And this perhaps may be an important step in the process of letting go.
As hard to fathom as forgiveness can be in these circumstances, it's made harder still when in the "new age" world we're also made to feel as though we're somehow not enlightened enough because we feel victimized. Even priests and pastors might tell us, "you must forgive," without giving us so much as a clue as to how we are to do it, or what forgiveness really implies.
Not so long ago, a couple of friends and I were perplexed to read a self-proclaimed guru's rant on Facebook, telling her followers that voicing their oppression only kept them in their victim story.
The truth is that whatever our feelings might be, they are valid, no matter what. Telling ourselves that we're wrong to feel how we feel is absolutely counterproductive. Our feelings are there, and acknowledging them is an important step if we are ever going to be able to move through them and be at peace.
Telling someone else that they are somehow un-evolved because they feel the way they feel is harmful. It only serves to deepen people's trauma and widen the wedge of separation within the heart of humanity.
Furthermore, as I wrote in last week's blog post, nothing will ever change the fact that we were victims of a serious transgression. We will also we never forget.
So what do we do with all of this?
Even though nothing will change the past, I do believe we can find a way to work through the feelings.
Being able to look at the events of the past and no longer feel the pain, anger, shame, resentment, fear or mistrust that come along with being victimized, IS absolutely possible.
Yes, all of those feelings are justified. The anger is justified. The pain is justified. The mistrust is justified. And yet, who is the only person affected by these feelings still being alive? We are. Nobody else.
As the adage goes, resentment is like drinking a little bit of poison hoping the other person dies.
WE are the ones in pain. WE are the ones consumed by all of the unexpressed anger and frustration. WE are the ones left fearful and mistrusting. WE are the ones who need to find relief and freedom for these feelings.
And THAT is what forgiveness is all about. It is about liberating OURSELVES from the painful feelings.
My life changed the day I read Eckhart Tolle's writing about forgiveness in The Power of Now, roughly 14 years ago. He says something like, forgiveness is no longer being willing to feel pain in response to something someone else did.
Yes! That! It changed my life because for the first time I was able to grasp that the guy who had violated me did not deserve my pain. I needed to let go of it for ME!
The challenge is that our generalized interpretation of forgiveness somehow implies that we are absolving someone from their "sins."
We also seem to see forgiveness as if somehow being akin to saying, "it's OK; it doesn't matter," so we can't say it because it most certainly was not OK. It did matter. It may well have affected the course of our lives forever.
But forgiveness is not about the other person's acts. It is NOT about absolving them.
Forgiveness is simply letting go of the feelings that continue to hurt us on the inside. In fact, if you look up Webster's definition of the word forgive, that's precisely what you'll find: to cease to feel resentment.
Now because forgiveness already has so much baggage attached to it, instead of tripping ourselves over it, it might be hugely helpful to simply let go of the concept entirely.
The most important question we can ask ourselves is this: "How do I let go of the pain, resentment, anger and shame?"
Let me tell you about the process that has helped me. This is part of the work I now do with my clients both in private and at our retreats.
- Writing about what happened
- Acknowledging all of the feelings that resulted from what happened
- Identifying our core needs and values that were violated
- Reconnecting with our power to overcome our wounded-ness. This is the turning point when we start to feel capable of letting go of the feelings.
- Move through the long-held feelings of pain, shame, anger, etc. through tools such as EFT, NLP and/or encodement work. These tools help us shift out of pretending we don't feel a certain way (because when we do, we just bury our feelings deeper) and move into truly releasing the feelings.
- Take whatever steps are necessary to feel closure around the story: write a letter that perhaps will never be sent; burn the story; plan for a conversation, or something else, whatever the case may require.
- Surrender into one of several forgiveness meditations that help us reconnect to the infinite source of love within us and all around us.
Perhaps this sounds simple, but I've been in awe of the power of this simple process. To witness someone move from the heavy burden of the feelings they've carried so long, to being free from them is one of the most beautiful experiences I've had the privilege of seeing.
You can start by writing. You can also find all of the tools you need for every step to implement them for yourself.
If you'd like to get started, I'm doing a free webinar/teleclass next Thursday. I'll be taking people through a writing exercise that was a major turning point in my ability to forgive.
Obviously, I'm here to support you if you'd like me to guide you and hold you through the process.
If you're curious about all of this, join me on the evening of February 15th for a free webinar where we'll be exploring all of this much more deeply. Even though I will be centering the conversation around the #metoo topic of sexual violence, it will be applicable to all sorts of hurts.