“You cannot erase memories, but you can let go of the heavy energy that is attached to them.” – Yung Pueblo
No one can go through life without being hurt by another human - often it’s not intentional, but it can certainly feel that way. What do you do with those emotions? How do you transcend, forgive and move on?
Sometimes forgiveness has two levels – the more obvious is forgiving someone else who hurt us or someone we love. But there’s another level too – forgiving ourselves. When we can forgive ourselves instead of judging ourselves, that’s when true healing begins.
Today I want to give you two examples of forgiveness. And one is very personal – It involves me and my father, and this is brand new information that I discovered in a meditation. For years, I harbored resentment and a lot of hurt and anger around my father. In some ways, he emotionally abandoned the family, was very selfish, clued out, and I had a lot of judgment. In my mind, this was not the way it was supposed to be!
So, I saw him as the villain, and myself as reluctantly bearing the weight of his insensitivities. The burden fell on me to keep things “together” and beneath it all, I was deeply hurt that I wasn’t seen or valued or loved in the way I wanted to be. A lot of people would say, there comes a point when you have to accept the situation and move on – which is what I did. But truthfully, I was still carrying that backpack of hurt, while stepping forward in my life.
It was only when I could look at things through another lens that I found some freedom. It turns out I had to forgive myself for being tethered to this perceived pain, all the while dancing around it to try to live my best life. Have you ever felt that you were taking two steps forward, and one step back, and you couldn’t figure out why?
But this morning, I put my hand on my heart, and asked for a way to see more clearly, to forgive myself for still having these feelings, and to find freedom.
It was almost like having a conversation with my Dad, who has been dead for about 7 years. In my mind, or more accurately my heart, I asked, “Why were you like that, why were you not there, why did you just assume that I would pick up the broken pieces?”
I heard an answer that he never meant to hurt me; he was actually doing his best from what he knew at the time. He explained to me that he was reacting to his upbringing and his lack of self-love, and the bravado and not listening to anyone was what he resorted to when he didn’t feel good about himself. It was his way of coping, a defense, the best one he knew.
He gave me an image of two hearts, like a Venn diagram, one heart being him, and one me, showing the overlapping area where we intersected. Then he expressed that he hoped in some way I could understand that he was like a baby trying to take steps. In some ways we all are. He hoped I could use my feelings as fuel to grow.
Then I saw the image of a cage. In my resentment towards him and in creating a cage to keep out the hurt, I was also imprisoned in a cage that limited my growth. So breaking free from the cage of anger, forgiving myself and seeing the situation in a new way was KEY to stepping into a bigger version of who I am.
When we can forgive ourselves for feeling hurt and reacting to mitigate that hurt, that is a huge step. When we can forgive someone else, or at least recognize that they are dealing with their own demons, and maybe it is not personal, that can be liberating, too.
Now part 2:
I want to warn you that this is a pretty intense and true story. Jon Dorenbos would seem to be living a charmed life. He had a long and successful career as a professional football player career in the NFL. He’s also a world-class magician featured on America’s Got Talent and on The Ellen Degeneres Show. You never would know that at the age of 12, Jon’s Dad, who had been a sports coach and a great dad, murdered his mom, and his family as he knew it was shattered forever.
How do you recover from that; how do you build a life? After years of therapy, and turning to sports and magic as ways to transcend the pain, he discovered that he had more power than he had known. What power? The power to rewrite his own story. In his own words, “If I can come to peace with why he did it, with my own story that I tell myself, that’s all that matters.” We’ll be going through the steps to forgiveness later, and this is one of them: Rewrite the story of your past to include your choice to forgive, for your own freedom.
Years later, Jon decided to meet his father one on one. It was not to see him as a monster but to gain some inner peace. He told his dad “I forgive you for being lost and making a mistake because I have done that too - I’m guilty of that.” In speaking with his Dad this way, he added, “And you know what, I could live with that.“ Jon intentionally crafted a story that would allow him to thrive and move forward in his own life.
Forgiveness is a process. You cannot force yourself to forgive. Be wary of people telling you to forgive and forget – this is a personal journey. Here are some steps to forgiveness; including some points from the work of Dr. Fred Luskin, author of Forgive for Good:
- Be clear on what upset you, and tell a few trusted people.
- Since forgiveness is for you, not anyone else, decide that you want to feel better for yourself – this is about your liberation.
- The aim is not to reconcile with that person or people, but to take their offenses less personally. See them as young children trying to walk, falling down, getting up, falling down…
- Realize that you are not in control of other people’s actions and adjust your expectations accordingly. Don’t expect anyone else to change; you are only in control of yourself and how you frame any situation. Viktor Frankl wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man, but the last of human freedoms, to choose one’s own attitude in any given circumstance, to choose one’s own way.“
- Forgive yourself for feeling the hurt of being in a difficult situation. You are just doing the best you know how. You are navigating turbulent waters – life is complicated. Comfort yourself and know that there’s a difference between self-compassion (it’s a tough moment) and self-pity (I’m a victim in my life.)
- Make a choice to focus on the goodness, kindness, beauty, and opportunities around you rather than your wounded feelings and your attachment to a dysfunctional situation. Choose to see what is working in your life.
- See the relationship through a more spiritual lens - like souls trying to work on their lessons. Rewrite the story of your past to include your heroic choice to forgive yourself and them, as a means of moving your life forward. Recognize that you are the author of your future.
Forgiveness is a personal journey, it can happen quickly or over time, but the good news is that it is possible. If you want a deeper look, I provide more to explore in Emotional Advantage, Embracing ALL Your Feelings to Create a Life You Love. You CAN let go of feelings that would keep you imprisoned - and from one who is in the process, know that as you do it, you are creating more space for inner peace, authentic joy and timeless love. What could be more important?