by Dr. Yasmilde
Most times, when I ask somebody what is it that they understand as forgiveness, I get a generic answer. That is, after I get this look from them that says “isn’t it obvious?”. But then I press on and I get these explanations about it meaning to let someone off the hook for something they did. Usually, the whole description sounds rather intellectual and impersonal, with a flavor of ‘it’s a good-people’s thing’ all over it and accompanied by a little sparkle of shame/guilt in the person’s eyes.
I can totally relate… Forgiveness is a tough thing to master!
Even today; being fully aware of my forgiveness towards myself, family members and other people in my life; I struggle explaining this. To my scientific brain, forgiving was extremely confusing. I would constantly want to deconstruct it: What are the steps? How should I express it? How do I know I am feeling the right thing?... I was even more confused by the fact that from very early on I had an ‘eye’ for recognizing the personal reasons behind somebody’s harmful attitude towards me and managed not to develop resentful feelings about it. I even remember very clearly being criticized by a friend when I was 16 years old for ‘over-justifying’ other people’s actions. I recognize today that I was always very much aware of other people’s feelings and was driven by an intense desire for sparing them. Sounds great to you? Well, that’s not a bad thing, save for the fact that it didn’t come balanced with the awareness of my own feelings about it. I was suppressing my own pain and frustration. That, is not forgiveness.
This brings me to the first hurdle: becoming aware of the need to forgive. Intellectually, I was always capable of being compassionate, and that tended to dampen the emotional charge associated with the experience. So, I thought I was being forgiving. That worked until life dealt me some pretty hard blows and I started to struggle not to have super-strong emotional negative reactions targeted to people involved. My third divorce was probably the cherry on top of a series, and it happened in a cloud of pain, frustration, shame, guilt, disappointment and hopelessness that brought me to my knees. So, first clue: if it is something that has an emotional hold on you, that gets triggered every so often, there is forgiveness to be given.
The second hurdle (actually parallel to the third one), would be to develop empathy for the other person’s circumstances and choices. Chances are, her/his attitude was not personal to you but a reflection of his/her personal history and fears. Fears that were probably there way before you ever showed up in their lives (and yes, your parents are in that list). Before we manage to increase our level of consciousness, we are all the result of our personal experiences/perceptions. If you contemplate that notion for a second, trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes is the way to go. And nobody is talking about justifying but of understanding. Make sure to know the difference and you won’t get criticism like the one I got at 16!
The third one (right there with the second one) is to realized that, guess what?! You are an important part of the equation. I find this is the part of all this we struggle more with. For starters, people always react to the energy we bring into the situation. So, the questions would be: Was my own attitude conducive to a better outcome? How did I contribute to the situation? This process becomes way easier the higher our level of consciousness is. That is, if we start being capable of seeing the glass half-full and not half-empty. Because, you see, everything that happens to us is an opportunity to learn something about ourselves, to gain awareness of our behavioral patterns and limiting beliefs. And then we become capable of bringing the experience home with another question: What was I supposed to learn from this?
Now you may agree with me on that being forgiving is far from being an intellectual exercise. When it is genuinely done, it requires an almost gut-wrenching practice of self-contemplation and self-compassion, it requires being willing to flip your perception of someone (specially yourself) or something. Are you willing to learn how to love what hurts us the most? And all of a sudden you realize that whatever emotional charge you had associated to the person/experience is gone. Where there was turmoil and pain, there is now peace. You literarily feel expanded, light, happy…
The act of forgiving is one of the most liberating experiences you could ever have, especially if you start with forgiving yourself. Then, go ahead and do it today!! I’ll meet you on the other side.
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