“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong” – Mahatma Gandhi
As someone who tends to take things personally, I sometimes find it hard to forgive. Right now, I am working on not only forgiving, but on not being so quick to feel wronged in the first place. If you are convinced that everyone is out to hurt you, you will easily find things in your life that reinforce that idea. But rather than sweating the small stuff, I am working right now on remembering that most of the time, people are simply doing what they think is best for them and are not intentionally causing me harm or are out to make me feel bad.
I think for a long time, I have felt like forgiving people or “letting them off the hook” would show that I was a pushover, that I was weak and unwilling to stand up for myself. But being able and willing to forgive is not a weakness. It takes tremendous strength to look at someone who has hurt or wronged you and to send them love rather than anger.
In addition, forgiving someone does not necessarily mean inviting them back into your inner circle of friends, though it certainly can. You can forgive someone while simultaneously recognizing that your relationship with that person is no longer healthy and does not need to continue, at least not in the same way it was before.
When we hold onto our pain and anger and relive those feelings every time we think of the actions that hurt us, we are giving away our power to be happy and allowing that person to continue having a negative effect on us long after the initial event. Anger, hatred, and the desire for revenge does us more harm than good. These emotions may feel powerful in the moment, but in the long run they only continue to cause us pain.
Being truly able to forgive and let go of negative feelings towards a person is a super power that not everybody has, but everybody can certainly learn. It does not happen all at once, but we can all improve with practice. It can be especially hard when we are in the moment and can’t seem to find a way out of our anger, but it is never too late to look back on what happened with a new perspective and change how we feel about it.
You can start by simply noticing when these feelings arise and paying attention to where you feel that emotion in the body. Bring awareness to the feeling and observe it without judging yourself for feeling that way. If the source of that feeling is a person, simply send them love and light and then move on without dwelling on it.
The feeling may return five seconds, one minute, or one day later, and you can simply repeat the practice. It may seem hard at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Eventually, sending love and light and then moving on will become your automatic response and the pain will get less and less. It may feel strange at first to send love to someone you feel hurt by, but sending them anger and hatred only hurts you, it does not hurt them.
Perhaps the only thing harder than forgiving others is learning to forgive ourselves. We are often so much harder on ourselves than we are on those around us, and we say mean things to ourselves that we would never say to our friends.
Remember that you are not defined by what you have done in the past, by the mistakes you have made or the people you have hurt or been hurt by. It is fine to feel guilt about something, take an action to try to fix it, and then move on. But dwelling on all the things you feel you have done wrong in your life will not help make you a better person or to do more good moving forward. Once you have apologized or atoned for a mistake, the only thing left to do is to move forward and learn from the past.
When we feel shame about something and don’t allow ourselves to move on from that place, it can be incredibly detrimental to our self-esteem and is not an effective way of changing our behavior in the future. If we feel defined by our mistakes, then we will most likely continue to make the same ones because we think it is “just who we are”. However, if we can forgive ourselves for something we perceive as a mistake and recognize that it doesn’t make us a bad person, then we are more able to learn from it in a constructive way and avoid such mistakes in the future.
Something that helps me when I am looking for self-forgiveness, for anything from lashing out at a friend to staying up too late, is to imagine that the person that action came from was my inner child. Often when we are doing something that is not in our best interest, it is because we have temporarily given power over to our inner child. Our inner child may be upset because she feels something was unfair, or she is really tired and hungry, or she is afraid of rejection. How would you treat a child you made a mistake?
When I feel scared or embarrassed or ashamed, I like to imagine that my inner child is the one feeling scared or embarrassed or ashamed and then I talk to myself as if I was talking to that child. And let me tell you, I was a very cute kid, so I am quite inclined to be sweet and kind to her. I comfort her, tell her that everyone makes mistakes, and tell her that I love her no matter what. When I am able to think of myself in this way, it makes it much easier to offer forgiveness and then move on.
For years, I have been holding onto so much pain and hurt centered around the people I felt wronged by, both in my past and in my present. I even hold pain sometimes that is based on completely fictional events that I imagine may happen in the future – what a waste of time is that!? I have been realizing lately how much this pain is holding me down and how completely unnecessary it is!
So my practice right now is to simply notice when I have those feelings and to let them go. I repeat the phrase “let it go” over and over to myself and notice an immediate relief and lightness when I do. I’ve been practicing this everywhere I go and even though it’s only been a few days of this, I already feel like I am getting better. I use it when someone cuts me off in traffic, or when I get an upsetting text message from a friend. I notice that initial feeling of self-righteousness come up, I step back and observe it, and then I make the choice to let it go because it’s just not as important as I have been making it.
Sure, there are times when people really wrong us and we should let them know how they have made us feel. But I have found that most of the things I’ve been getting upset about are just not that important. Life is too short to take everything so seriously! Why carry around any more weight than you have to?
This is something I am working on right now and I invite you to try it – after only a short time, I can already feel how this practice is making my life so much better!