How do you move past a dark mark in your life? A time you were so hurt or betrayed or abandoned that you feel like the person you were is no longer there. The old you has changed as a result of what you went through. How do you get past it or do you?
I was talking with a friend a while back about forgiveness. What is it actually? What does it mean to forgive someone? And is it necessary? And if so, how the hell do you go about doing it? We didn’t come up with all of the answers but I did learn a few things. As I thought about our conversation I realized a few things.
1) Forgiveness has absolutely NOTHING to do with the person that hurt you, nothing. If it did the other person would have to know that you had forgiven them for it to be “real” but they don’t need to know. It’s a personal decision you make with yourself. It’s the last thing you can do and have complete control over to end the relationship once and for all. It’s closure. It’s sticking a fork in it. It’s done and over. And none of it is for them or about them; this decision is all about you.
2) Forgiving someone else is one of two simultaneous actions the other being- forgiving yourself. To be able to forgive someone else you have to forgive yourself for the part you played in the situation.
I had something terrible happen to me, it was an injustice that I worried I would never get past. I beat myself up over it; no, actually, I ripped myself apart. How did I not know better, how did I not see it coming, how did I let it happen, how could I be so stupid and naive? I started to believe and act the exact way I was accused of being and acting. Ugh!
I realized for me to go on, I had to stop talking like that to me. I wouldn’t allow anyone else to talk to me (or anyone I loved) that way, why was I letting myself do it? I started to recognize that I am human, and as a human I am imperfect. I will make mistakes and make bad decisions but ultimately I am a good person with good intentions and a huge heart. I don’t deserve to be exposed to such mistreatment especially from myself.
3) Forgiveness isn’t a one-time thing, it is a process. Yuck, sometimes I just want something over and done. I don’t always want to have to “go through a process”. The thing about it is that it sort of happens in layers, or levels sort of like Kubler-Ross’ stages of death and dying. But this is more like the stages of freedom and liberation!
First, I had to get to a place where I could wrap my mind around what had happened. This was probably the hardest part for me. I was so stunned and astonished that another human could treat someone in the way I had been treated it took some time to admit it had actually taken place.
I had to do damage control. Next, I sought out help from those I trusted and who had my best interest in mind. After that, I sat with the thoughts of how things had been before and what I wanted to go back and what had to change for good.
I sorted through and picked up the pieces as I began to forgive myself. I started to understand that to get to that place where I no longer thought about what happened I had to forgive the people that had done this. Otherwise, they were just taking up real estate in my head, and they did not deserve any of my time or energy.
4) Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. It also doesn’t mean you welcome the person or people back in to your life. You have to decide what is best for you, and know that just because you forgave them doesn’t mean they won’t do it again. Remember- forgiveness has nothing to do with them.
5) Practicing gratitude helps to forgive. Find the things that you are thankful for, and focus on them. Soon enough they will become larger and more important than the person or people you are trying to forgive. What you focus on expands. If you believe this, you understand that focusing on gratitude will make those things in your life bigger and better. And all the time you are spending on being grateful is time you are not spending thinking about the shitty thing that happened to you.
6) Forgiveness gets easier the more you do it. Become a person that easily forgives. You can practice it and practice makes perfect, right? Forgive the person that cut you off on the highway, forgive the mom for going backwards in the school pick up line, forgive your spouse for being snarky, forgive your kid for forgetting her backpack, forgive your neighbor for making ruts in your newly manicured lawn. Forgive! It feels good to not be harboring ill feelings towards anyone.
Along with this is being the person that is not easily offended. You can choose to see the good in people, and assume that their intentions are not malicious. Everyone is going through something, and everyone has shit that they carry with him or her every day. You may have come across them at a bad time, but that doesn’t mean that they are a bad person. Don’t allow your self to be offended, then you don’t’ have to work on forgiveness quite as much.
None of this is easy and I am far from perfect on any of it. I am real woman dealing with real issues and these are some of my observations and things that have helped me. I am working on forgiving others and myself every day. I try to practice what I preach but I don’t always do such a good job. I fall way short of where I’d like to be most of the time. Please forgive me.