In the past few weeks of discussing the topic of Forgiveness – and especially for those focusing on this time of year in the Jewish calendar which is all about forgiveness – the following question has come up quite a few times:
“If forgiveness means that I don’t have to wait for the other person to apologize or even acknowledge their wrong-doing, then by me forgiving them, aren’t I letting them off the hook?”
The short answer is “No, you definitely are NOT letting them off the hook!” They still need to be responsible for their actions, and there is an effective way to deal with that aspect of hurtful events that we teach in our workshops.
So rest easy if that was also a concern of yours…and keep reading to find out the answer to the follow-up question we usually hear:
“Well, if they haven’t apologized, and I’m not letting them off the hook, what the heck is forgiveness, anyway?? And how can I ever be ok with what happened?”
The Big Reveal (…and a Warning – this may at first seem counterintuitive!)
Here’s the point that simply can’t be overstated: Contrary to popular belief, forgiveness is NOT about the other person. In fact, I encourage you to make that sentence a mantra in your life, one that you call to mind every time you feel stuck not wanting to forgive something or someone…because, inevitably, that is going to happen from time to time!
Forgiveness is something you do for yourself so that you are no longer holding the negative energy of an event, a hurt, a circumstance, or even a person. Forgiveness, or letting go, is a decision that you make that takes care of you, so you are free of the pain and suffering that you have lived with ever since the event occurred.
As an indication of just how difficult it is to really embrace forgiveness, people sometimes without even realizing it expand on their lingering feelings from an incident by beginning to see the world in general, and everyone in it, as a potential source of pain. When I suggest that forgiving that incident might help them, and point out that it was only that specific incident that caused the upset, they respond by describing a much more global view of it. They say:
“Yes, but they hurt me, and now I can’t help but be mistrustful of others. How do I know they won’t hurt me as well? The damage has been done, and I can’t help it. Because of what they did I have a right to be ____ !” (fill in the blank with defensive, angry, bitter, hurt, mistrusting, etc.)
What they can’t see in that moment is that the above statement is also a decision. They have decided that “I can’t help it,” so therefore, they cannot. Whatever we believe we make so, and that is why it is so important to look at your thoughts and beliefs, and see if they really do support an empowered, healthy, positive life for you. Only you can do this for yourself.
Even if you haven’t made the leap to deciding you can’t ever trust anyone again, or that “people stink” you too have your own unconscious patterns that work hard (supposedly “on your behalf”) to convince you not to forgive. There are “places you go,” with your thoughts and emotions, whenever a new hurt happens, and when something reminds you of an old one. The process is so automatic that you don’t even know it’s happening. It’s like computer software – it runs in the background, subtly guiding you to stay stuck so you are guaranteed not to risk getting hurt that same way again.
Each type of insult to our sense of self has its own pattern, and its own set of thoughts and beliefs that explain, support and keep it alive. It’s a self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing system that actually causes us much more pain and grief than the original incident ever could!
That’s why it takes consciousness awareness, deliberate exploration and lots of practice creating new thoughts and beliefs to really shift out of that automatic system and take back your power to be happy. You can literally create new thoughts and beliefs, that you can call on whenever that particular type of insult occurs or is re-awakened, and that will help you stay peaceful in relationship to that insult. These new habits that you develop also provide a sort of “immunity” from getting stuck again in the old thoughts and emotions.
It’s like going to the gym and working out a particular muscle – once you learn the right way to use the equipment or do the exercise, all it takes is lots of repetition and inevitably that muscle gets stronger. And it tends to stay strong after that, and the exercise gets easier and easier over time.
I tell people all the time “don’t believe everything you think” – it usually gets a startled look at first, while they unravel the logic in it. But it’s such an important piece of advice!
We want and need our thoughts to support, empower and inspire us. And when we hold a grudge against someone, or live in fear of a similar situation occurring again “if we don’t keep our guard up,” our thoughts keep us stuck in the past. First of all, it’s an illusion – no matter how vigilant, or isolated, or defensive we may try to be, it won’t protect us from future hurts. Nothing can do that! More importantly, it does not allow us to honor the life lessons we have learned from the event. And that is NOT inspired, healthy, empowered or positive thinking.
So, in truth, when you forgive or let go, the only person you are letting off the hook is you…and isn’t that a pretty darn good reason to do it?
There are many ways to process and heal our hurts, transgressions, and the ongoing effects of these events. Sometimes getting training, practice and support from others can make a huge difference in getting us unstuck more quickly. We can also learn how to let go of all the lingering impacts more thoroughly and successfully.
If you think you would like to strengthen your “forgiveness muscle” and have some real-time practice processing actual events in your own life that are still affecting you, check out our upcoming participatory workshop that’s taking place in Hackensack, NJ on September 22nd.
It’s called “Letting Go and Living Free: The Fine Art of Forgiveness” and what we teach in it, and practice together, will give you a whole new sense of power around forgiveness. If you think it would be a blessing to live truly free of suffering from the hurts in your life, click here to find out more and register for this inspiring workshop.