“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be. ~ May Sarton
I still think about how when I was a kid and came home 10 minutes late, only to find my hamster in the jaws of my cat, knowing that had I been on time, I could have prevented her death by the Mean Feline. Flashes of being cheated on by an unworthy mate still stab my heart from time to time (bastard!). Memories of broken promises by my parents and other loved ones in my life still challenge my ability to trust and be vulnerable. But I’ve come a long way in terms of how much time these thoughts occupy my mind.
We’ve all been in that dark place, that state where we’re completely stuck in the ruminating and perseverating and full-on obsessing about the negative shizzle that’s happened to us. We do this to ourselves with things that happened today, yesterday, and even YEARS ago.
It ain’t pretty.
Did you know the average person has at least 70,000 thoughts per day? When you are in this stuck place, your thoughts add up to even more than that – and worse, it’s the same thoughts over and over. That’s a whole lot of creative brain juice potential going into something that’s already happened.
That’s when I call in the lesson for the season of Autumn: letting go. We see it all around us. The trees dump their leaves. The animals shed their summer layer and get ready for their winter coat. Plants turn inward and send all their reserves to their roots for the winter.
There is a purpose to this season, and it’s not just about getting ready for winter. Au contraire mon ami – you are actually getting ready for spring (surprise!), and all the great new shizzle that is about to come your way.
While I’ve written about decluttering your home, letting go of negative thoughts, and leaving toxic jobs and unhealthy relationships, the most profound and powerful letting go you can do is to forgive.
Forgiveness is an important part of emotional health, and thereby physical as well. Masten Kipp said:
“The joy that comes from realizing that suffering in our lives comes from the meaning we have given it is unlimited.”
I am not saying that painful things in your past didn’t happen and aren’t worthy of attention, but what I am saying is that they no longer have to be as painful or powerful. It’s not as easy as changing your mind once or twice. It takes work, and reps, like in the gym. Though if you try and try enough over time, new life and new meaning can emerge.
One of the best ways I know how to do this is to take ourselves out of our own story and step into the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the person who hurt us (aka empathy). This isn’t so that we can make right what they did, but so we can begin to understand the painful event from their point of view. And hey, in case it isn’t obvious, this counts for forgiving yourself, too. It means you step into your shoes, compassionately, from the perspective of where you were at during that point in time, at that age, in that mindset, with the tools you had available to you.
As I have guided clients through this process, the outcomes have been amazing. Forgiveness shows up on a whole new level for themselves and others. Imagine the deep sense of serenity that overcame my client when she finally forgave the former love of her life for abandoning her. Or my other client who forgave her mother for her critical and verbally abusive parenting over the years, which allowed her to finally love and appreciate her before she died two years later. Or another client, who finally slept well after years of insomnia once she forgave her best friend that betrayed her.
Where do you start?
This is not about deep and prolonged psychotherapy, although there is a time and a place for that. Where I do start with my coaching clients is in asking a few key questions (you’ll find these also incorporate Byron Katie’s work):
- Get honest about your current story regarding what happened – what do you tell yourself about what happened?
- What part do you know is absolutely true? (careful here – not just what you want to believe is true!)
- How do you act when you believe that story or thought?
- Who would you be without that thought? (ahhhhh…space!!!!)
- Empathize with the other – whether that is another person, or another You at a different time and place. What needs was the Other trying to have met?
- Generate compassion for them/You – we are all trying to do the best we can with what we have available to us (knowledge, resources, role models, past experiences…)
Again, the point of forgiveness is not to excuse what happened, but to bring a new sense of empathy and compassion to all involved – and this includes you. Forgiveness is how we break the bond over the painful event.
Another important part of forgiveness is to learn from what happened and explore what our role was in making the situation possible. This is an advanced Jedi Power, so if you are not ready for it, don’t feel pressure to go here right away. If your default is to blame yourself, steer clear of this one unless under the guidance of a skilled coach or counselor. But for those of you who are ready, the next step is to ask: What was my part in this?
- Did I have healthy boundaries?
- Did I trust my intuition?
- Did I ignore red flags?
- Do I feel I don’t deserve better?
There are more questions to ask, but those are a good starting place. And remember: this isn’t about beating yourself up. It is about learning where you can strengthen your ziji, your radiant inner confidence.
Perhaps you aren’t ready for any of the above. You’re absolutely not ready to approach this from a loving place, and you still want sweet revenge (“Hell hath no wrath like a woman scorned,” right?). For you, my sweet Jedi in training, know that the best way to “get back” at people who have hurt you is to forgive them. Mean people can’t stand that shit.
When we step into the others’ shoes and consider how they must have been thinking and feeling, we begin to understand that their actions were not truly against us, but a request for Love or Significance, albeit in a very messed up way. That was the best way that they knew how to at that time. For realz.
From a soul perspective, we can claim ownership over the meaning we give that event, and no longer make it about how it hurt us, but about how they were hurt, and how our job is now to step into more Love and Compassion and Empathy, for them and for us.
This also gives us a clean slate for Spring, where NEW love, intimacy, friendships, vulnerability, relationships, and risk-taking can be had!
These words are no doubt easy to say, and much harder to do. It’s not as easy as reading a sweet affirmation like, “I am a forgiveness warrior!” and being done with it. However, do know that it is theoretically possible to forgive someone simply by deciding to do so once and for all. Just. Like. That. SNAP!
My hope is that this post can be a beginning point for you to start the journey of forgiveness, empathy and compassion so that one day soon you will be set free of the chains that bind you from the past. TRUE FREEDOM.
It’s that simple. AND that profound.
There is unbelievable healing – and heath – in forgiveness. Forgiving someone can take years of burden off your shoulders, not to mention your soul. It restores relationships, enables new beginnings and allows us to move on to better things. It is soooooo worth it.
How can you start practicing forgiveness right now? I’d love to hear you share with me in the comments below!