In a recent conversation with a 20 year old woman whom I deeply admire, I asked if she thought there was a difference between forgiving and letting go.
"Yes!" She replied. "I think forgiveness can lead to letting go but letting go does not necessarily lead to forgiveness. Sometimes people say they've let go when all they have done is sweep it under the rug. Forgiveness is when you understand where the other person went wrong, and more importantly where you went wrong and that it's all just something that just happens in life. Then you move on with a sense of relief and maybe even happiness."
I was amazed by her wisdom and agreed completely! To my mind forgiveness is first and foremost a choice. It has little to do with non-accountability or turning the other cheek, as much as it involves embracing "what is" and making peace with it. My definition of forgiveness is my refusal to allow an event from the past to cause me prolonged, pain, shame, guilt, blame, sadness, anger or any other negative emotion. This includes, my so-called mistakes, missteps, shortcomings or poor judgment as well as those of another person.
To forgive someone does not mean we must maintain contact with the person or to even like them. When someone else's behavior triggers our pain, it is natural to have a reaction such as anger or deep sadness and disappointment. Allowing ourselves to feel such emotions is a valid and necessary step in the healing process. Sucking it up and denying our feelings is not the answer. For this stance activates a universal principle: "what you resists persists," and we will experience similar scenarios over and over until we face our feelings and deal with them appropriately.
The key is to shift from a reactive response to a proactive response by first acknowledging and fully addressing how we feel and then taking the initiative to find healthy, effective and safe ways to express and release any negative emotions. If we remain stuck in the downward spiral of continually feeding the toxic thoughts and emotions from a stance of righteous indignation, victimization or martyrdom it is like marinating ourselves in a corrosive substance. The anger, bitterness and hurt make it difficult to recognize and enjoy good relationships and worse yet, it can eventually manifest as an illness or some other form of misery, stemming from our lingering state of dis-ease.
I believe that when we are in alignment with the flow of life, we are filled with peace and love and inspiration. Un-forgiveness blocks this natural flow and impedes our ability to live fully. It is like carrying around a backpack of pain and resentment wherever we go; it bogs us down and impacts all areas of our life.
For me, forgiveness is a restoration process. When we determine to let go of the stories about being a victim of someone else's actions, or our own bad decisions, we give ourselves full clearance to rebuild our emotional, mental and physical selves and to find relief and be at peace. Our so-called bad experiences then become the catalyst to make us wiser, stronger and more compassionate people. We are able to stop the blame game and free both ourselves and others to move forward to more joy.
In relationships, when we experience hurt and disappointment, it works the same as when we get a physical wound; the better we attend to it, the less likely we will be left with a scar. When we commit to appropriately processing and releasing our most painful thoughts and emotions, we are more likely to enjoy healthy and rewarding experiences all around.
How then can we flip the script and clear ourselves of the negative side effects of life's inevitable painful experiences and give ourselves a chance to evolve into a better feeling place?
- Recast the past. Find ways to tell yourself a different story about the event in question. Do it as an exercise and see what happens when you change your perspective. Self-help enthusiast Wayne Dyer says "when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change!"
- There is an old saying, when we point a finger at someone else, four fingers are pointing back at us. This allows me to consistently reflect on my own behavior and shortcomings and work on them with compassion and self-love rather than looking out at someone else and maintaining a stance of anger and blame.
- If we have been physically, mentally or emotionally traumatized, we may require professional help to get past our wounds. Seek out a qualified therapist, spiritual adviser, or personal development facilitator to provide support on your journey to wellness.
- Practice, practice, practice. Many times we are so hard on ourselves that we don't even forgive ourselves for our shortcomings. Practice directing compassionate, non-judgmental thoughts towards yourself and being easy with you first, then it will come easier to empathize with others.
- I am a big fan of self help books and other good information. Do a Google search or go to a local bookstore and browse the self-help, psychology or spiritual sections until you find something that resonates with you. Then get to work to becoming more of who you really are!
Until next time stay in the love.
Listen to Akoshia's prescriptions for improved relationships, streaming live radio, every Saturday at www.whcr.org when she presents her segment "Today's Lesson," at 7pm EST on "A Lesson In Affection" with host Mark Lo playing the best in love songs from 6pm - 8pm EST. Podcasts are available at http://lessoninaffection.podomatic.com/