Before reading further, take a moment to examine your relationship with forgiveness. How do you hold this concept? Think of how you relate to the idea of forgiveness in each of these areas of your life:
- Your spouse or partner
- Your kids
For the most part, we are pretty stingy with our forgiveness. Our friends are usually the people that we are most willing to forgive. We've known them a long time, and, while they are close to us, they are not so close as to continually trod upon our hot spots and trigger us into survival mechanism.
Strangers operate in a forgiveness limbo. We will often forgive them for a lot, like bumping in to you in the street (here in Canada, we've almost made a national identity out of this), while in other areas we will hold a grudge against them for the remainder of a week (remember that driver that drove to the front of the merge lane and then sidled in front of you?). Work often also operates in a bipolar relationship with forgiveness. We will often forgive someone for larger transgressions, but carry small things around with us, unwilling to let go.
Our family is especially adept at pushing our buttons and triggering us. They are the people closest to us in our lives, and so it makes sense that they would also most often do things that set us off. Forgiveness in this area is often begrudging, conditional, or replaced by simply pushing something under the proverbial rug.
[Tweet "Forgiveness is not something that belongs to anyone but ourselves."]
If you take a pause to consider how forgiveness shows up for you, you will likely see many of these patterns appearing in your life.
Many of us hold forgiveness as something that is conditional. "I will not forgive that person, unless they do X". We carry this around with us, almost like a banner. We make proclamations that what they have done is so terrible, they are unworthy of our forgiveness. We do so with the thought that we are condemning them.
Sadly, we are only condemning ourselves. Forgiveness is not something that belongs to anyone but ourselves. We hold complete control over whether or not we forgive someone, and it is completely unhindered by anything that anyone else does. It is an internal act that we are 100% responsible for.
When we refuse forgiveness on the basis of conditions that we've imposed, we simply create baggage that we must lug around. Every time someone talks about the person you are incomplete on, you are reminded of why you cannot forgive them. You are holding on to the scar as though it is serving you somehow.
Think of someone in your life that you are unwilling to forgive. Now think of how that is serving you. Does refusing to forgive them allow you to hang on to a story about how they are a terrible person? Maybe it is your way of punishing them for something they did, when they otherwise got away free.
Whatever it is, the impact on you is far greater than it is on them. Holding on to resentment, anger and frustration is an act of fear. It keeps in place your negative stories, and it prevents you from moving forward. You may meet someone that reminds you of that person you cannot forgive, and the resentment you are holding on to will bleed into your interactions with that person.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, is an act of love. By forgiving someone, we are letting the past simply be the past. It ceases to be an issue, and we can let go of burdensome energy. When we withhold forgiveness from someone, we create conditions upon on ourselves that dictate how we can act. If we are unwilling to forgive someone for showing up late, we create a story about how we should feel and be when we ourselves are late (rather than having the freedom to just be with whatever happens).
When we forgive someone, we let that negativity go. We create a space for something new. Certainly, something new for them, but much more importantly, something new for us.
So here is your practice this week. Identify three people that you are withholding forgiveness from. What is it that you are not forgiving them for? Then, separate the facts from the interpretation. What are the facts of what happened, and what was your interpretation about those facts. Then, forgive them. Alone, to yourself, at first, if that's all you can manage, but ideally, forgive them directly. Grant them amnesty for what they have done, and allow yourself some freedom and room to grow.