Forgiveness 101

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. That is a line from the Lord’s prayer or “Our Father” as we dubbed it as school girls studying in Good Shepherd Convent. I must have said that prayer a thousand times or more in the 14 years I spent in a school that is very close to my heart, with a bunch of girls and teachers who are still to this day closer than family. But the full purport of those words didn’t sink in then. It sunk in years later when I was trying very hard to get unstuck. Yes I was stuck. While I thought I was stuck in the present, I was actually stuck in the past. Holding on to some grudges that I didn’t even know I was holding on to. Being unforgiving without even knowing it. All the while being or thinking I was being this wonderful, spiritual human being.

Rude awakening! You can’t be spiritual and unforgiving. People hold grudges in different ways. Some just cut of  emotionally and physically from a person. They don’t talk to them, visit them etc. And in this case it is easy to figure out who you need to forgive.

Others like me don’t really cut off from people, at least not forever. I might not call someone who hurt me for maybe a few weeks or months. But if they initiate the call, I will answer and I will talk amiably. So it was hard for me to distinguish between people I needed to forgive and people I didn’t need to forgive. I acted normal around these so called hurtful people and did everything they expected of me. Talk about being a pushover!

But in my defense, I felt like life was short and forgiving and moving on seemed and felt better than the constant tension and pressure that goes into trying to hate someone and trying to avoid someone. When I was a child the adults around me held onto a lot of grudges and I always felt the tension and stress in that environment. So much so that in my adult life I chose to do the opposite. Only problem was I really wasn’t doing that.

So then we come to the question, how do you know you have not forgiven someone? Especially if you belong to category 2 like me. If you remember something the person has done in the past and it still has the power to upset you, or if you are constantly in the midst of unfolding drama in the presence of this person then you need to forgive. Forgiving doesn’t mean you condone the action and think that you deserved it. Of course you didn’t! It is simply the act of letting go of that experience and all the emotional memory attached to it – hurt, guilt, anger and shame. You really don’t need to walk around carrying it on your shoulders, all the way to your grave. Move on and stop punishing the person over and over again for what happened 17 years ago! That’s what happens by the way. Every time you interact with the person you are interacting through the filter of that awful thing they did to you.

There is another aspect to forgiveness and that is forgiving yourself. Most of us have such harsh standards for ourselves. Some of our expectations are unrealistic and when we don’t meet them we get frustrated and berate ourselves for not being perfect. We are constantly at war with ourselves and very very unforgiving of ourselves. This can really keep you stuck. It’s like having iron manacles binding both your feet. You feel chained to your emotions.

The first step in forgiveness is to accept that you and everyone around you are imperfect. Accept is the key word. The way God accepts you with all of your faults. It’s ok to be imperfect. Never have high expectations of others. You will be disappointed and you will launch yourself into a downward spiral of unforgiveness and resentment. You can train yourself to achieve and you can try to perfect yourself. But remember to do it in a loving, supportive way. Remember others have their own drives and own reasons for being here.

Unforgiveness and grudges have a kind of energy that creates the same pattern over and over. It’s as if the person is trying to hurt you over and over when you have done nothing. But you are actually triggering it by holding onto and fanning the flames of that age old awful incident.

If you are not talking to the person who needs to be forgiven, do this! Light a candle, visualize the person, write what you want to say to that person and speak it out. It helps to write how the person hurt you if you never really told the person to their face. End by saying this. _________(person’s name) I forgive you and I set you free. Also ask that the emotional cords connecting you to this person be cut forever. Repeat this exercise for as many days as you need to until you feel no emotional distress when you remember the incident and you have not one iota of resentment toward the person.

Sometimes even if you are talking to the person you may find it hard to bring up something that happened decades ago. You can use the above method and you will know you have forgiven that person when you feel a certain lightness around your relationship. You can joke with the person and feel like things are back to what they were before the unforgiving incident.

Forgiving frees you, lifts the weight off your shoulders and helps you quickly progress towards your goals. Expect miracles around your act of forgiveness. I know I have!

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