01/02/2014 12:09 pm ET Updated Mar 04, 2014

Wheelchair Wisdom: Forgotten Is Forgiven

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Forgiveness. That's the gift I'm giving myself this year, and the gift you might want to give to yourself, too. Why? Because forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, laced with compassion, can transform any situation and move you from negative energy to positive.

Forgiveness is the quickest way to affect lasting change in your life. It's easy and powerful.

Sometimes, when people learn that they have a serious illness, they begin judging themselves for not seeking medical help sooner, before the disease had progressed to the present stage. I know I am guilty of that. In 1980, I just didn't want to acknowledge what was happening to me. Denial. Again, it was my judgment of myself that was the issue, not the fact that I avoided seeking medical help sooner.

We hold so much against ourselves and against others; and then we hold it against ourselves that we hold things against ourselves and others. The process of judging ourselves and others for not measuring up to our perceptions is a painful one. It's this judgment against ourselves sthat we really need to forgive first.

The action (in this case, my not contacting a doctor) was just the action. Our judgment that the action was bad is what caused our stress. This is not the same as denying that the harmful situation happened or saying that it really doesn't matter. Certainly it matters!

Forgiveness is unconditional, even when forgiving ourselves. To forgive is to be willing to let go of any hurt, guilt, or resentment that we feel in regard to another person -- or ourselves. If we are holding on to a perception of self-blame, for example, emotionally beating ourselves up because of something we did or failed to do that we feel might have prevented the illness we have today, that perception accomplishes only one thing: it causes us stress.

Forgiveness can be a great healer. To forgive yourself, begin by saying the following to yourself:

  • "I forgive myself for holding on to those perceptions that cause me pain." (To me, this means I will release myself from negative perceptions.)
  • "I forgive my parents [or others] for being emotionally repressive." (To me, this means I will let go of any blame I feel toward my parent [or another]. Expressing myself as who I am today is my responsibility.)
  • "I forgive myself for not seeing a doctor sooner." (To me, this means I will forgive myself for anything I did or did not do in the past. Instead, I will be responsive to life in the present as I remember who I am.)

Looking back to just after I was diagnosed, I can now see that I was making my way through the emotional states that renowned psychiatrist and pioneer in near-death studies, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, has labeled the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I will add self-forgiveness to this list.

Though Kübler-Ross based her observations on her interactions with dying patients, she also observed that these "stages" apply to many other circumstances -- for instance, when we experience loss of income, loss of freedom, the death of a loved one, or the onset of disease or chronic illness. She also observed that there was no preordained order to these stages of grieving, describing the passage through them as a roller-coaster effect.

Years later, when I read of her research, I was struck by just how accurately she had defined what I went through then -- all the stages, but in no particular order. And how long was I caught up in each stage? I can't say -- but I know that I was in the grip of that all-encompassing experience of grieving and denial for quite some time.

Most people understand the term forgiveness as accepting an apology or letting go of an old grievance for a past harm another person has done to you. We "forgive" a debt or we "forgive" a loved one who has said something hurtful. However, there is another meaning of forgiveness. It means letting go of your past perceptions.

Similarly, if another person was in some way responsible for our present condition, we may be "holding a grudge." It is not unusual for one who has been seriously injured by another person's negligence to say, "I will never forgive her!" What we don't realize is that clinging to this past perception causes us pain and stress. When you refuse to forgive, you hold onto the past, and it is impossible for you to be in present time. It is only when you are in the present that you can create your future.

When we cling to blame or take the stance that we will "never forgive" the person who we feel is responsible for our pain, we are literally creating part of the "dis-ease" we wish to heal. Self-forgiveness is a promise to yourself that you will not cause yourself any further pain by clinging to these perceptions, as if by doing so you were punishing the other person (or yourself). Our lack of forgiveness in such situations is, in fact, part of the disease -- and we can heal it. We do this by recognizing that blame (and self-blame) is a specific kind of perception that we can let go of, thus freeing ourselves from its painful grasp. Say now: "I move beyond forgiveness to understanding and I have compassion for all."

Clinging to the past never harms anyone but ourselves. The fact that we did something or someone else did something is of little consequence. The real problem for us began when we judged what happened as wrong, bad, mean, hurtful, nasty, improper, and so on. Say now: "I forgive everyone in my past for all perceived wrongs. I release them with love."

Often we need to forgive ourselves for putting up with painful experiences and not loving ourselves enough to move away from those experiences. So love yourself, forgive yourself, forgive others and be in the moment. See the old bitterness and the old, stale pain just roll off your shoulders as you let go. When your heart opens wide, you come from a space of love. Forgive everyone. Forgive yourself for judging, knowing it was the judgment -- not the action -- that caused the pain, hurt, and separation. Remember, you are not saying that it does not matter that you or another person did something to cause your present pain. But that was then, and this is now. Unhook yourself from the past so that you can be at peace with your life today. Forgive all past experiences. You are free.

And remember, we do not have to know how to forgive. All we have to do is be willing to forgive. Here are some statements on forgiveness:

  • I know that old, negative thoughts and patterns no longer limit me. I gladly and safely let them go.
  • As I love and forgive myself, it becomes easier to forgive others.
  • I am ready to be healed and am willing to forgive.


  • What can you release in the last days of 2013? Ask your higher power to help you.
  • Is there a belief that keeps you stuck or powerless? Write it down and turn it around into a positive statement.
  • Make sure you also affirm: I am whole and have everything within me to __________. (Fill in the blank.)
  • In what area of your life can you use some extra assistance from your higher power?
  • Is there still something you can do or complete to end the year strong?
  • Be open and allow your higher power to help you in the most amazing ways.
  • You must ask your higher power for this assistance.

Forgiveness is a gift to yourself. It frees you from the past, past experiences, and past relationships. It allows you to live in present time. When you forgive yourself and forgive others, you are indeed free. There is a tremendous sense of freedom that comes with forgiveness.

To a Happy New Year and a Happy New You!



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If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life around illness or any adversity and apply a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please find Linda's book, You Are Not Your Illness: Seven Principles for Meeting the Challenge on

Linda Noble Topf is author of You Are Not Your Illness: Seven Principles for Meeting the Challenge, Simon & Schuster, 1995. Wheelchair Wisdom: Awaken Your Spirit Through Adversity, will be published in 2014 by Berrett-Koehler & iUniverse.