“Don’t bear grudges”; “Say sorry”; ”Move on!” These represent some of our early lessons about forgiveness. It’s unsurprising, then, that forgiveness is often regarded as something we bestow on others. We fear looking hard-nosed and selfish if we don’t, and then wake up knee-deep in adulthood feeling besieged by a lifetime’s worth of unprocessed pain, fear and guilt that we’ve accumulated.

In this week’s episode of The Baggage Reclaim Sessions, I revisit forgiveness and what it’s really all about.

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Some nuggets from the episode:

  • Some people think that they’re really good at forgiving others but are really unforgiving of themselves. They’re highly self-critical while keeping up this veneer of everything being okay.
  • Others silently hold onto resentment, frustration, guilt, etc., seething with a smile on their face while appearing to cooperate, and some make no bones about the fact they don’t let go.
  • The religious connotations around forgiveness mean that sometimes people conflate letting go with pressing the reset button. It’s never a good idea to pretend that something didn’t happen, that we didn’t feel what we felt. Doing it within an interpersonal relationship blocks each party from getting what they needed from the experience. Bypassing our feelings and what we need only results in setting ourselves back.

No one has the right to expect you to press the reset button. That’s the very definition of bad boundaries.

  • A lot of people hold onto the feelings from a painful experience and lose the lesson and the growth.
  • Sometimes we’re a little (or a lot) hasty in our version of forgiveness. There’s often such a rush to ‘move on’ and, yes, make others feel good, that we don’t give ourselves the time and space to process. In fact, some people won’t even give themselves 30 seconds to feel something, instead quickly opting to shut down any tension with people pleasing and pressing the reset button.
  • If we consistently feel our feelings and express ourselves by showing up in our life, we don’t have to fear eruptions where we experience an internal meltdown or unleash on others.
  • Sometimes we’re still angry because we’ve bypassed our feelings and we need to confront whatever it is that we’ve avoided. And sometimes we’re angry because we’re still being or doing something in the present that effectively encroaches on the boundary that led to the original issue that we forgave.

Forgiveness is a decision to let go by gaining perspective — and then you choose and keep re-choosing to let go.

  • It’s too much to expect that after beating ourselves up over something for an extended period that we’re going to leap up out of bed suddenly and all is forgiven.
  • If we want to change our relationship with ourselves and others, we have to change our relationship with letting go.

Letting go as part of forgiveness is more often than not about letting go of the illusion.

  • For instance, letting go of the illusion that they’re going to spontaneously combust into the person you want them to be. Letting go of the illusion that you’re not good enough, that you have to be perfect, that you can create a tipping point of people pleasing. We grieve the loss of the fantasy that we’d pursued.
  • Change of perspective equals not telling the story in the same way that we always have. Am I telling this story based on the age (and perspective) I had back then? Am I telling this story based on the perspective of the anger and feelings that I had back then? Or, am I telling this story from a place of boundaries?
  • Refusal to forgive others always points back at the anger we have towards ourselves.
  • We often believe that the reason we get back together with someone who hurt and wronged us is that we’re so forgiving or madly in love, but, actually, it’s because we want to win.

When we make the decision to forgive, to let go, we’re making the decision to figure out what the boundary is. We’re making the decision to figure out what the next step is.

  • When we acknowledge our part no matter how teeny tiny we might perceive it to be, we acknowledge that we can evolve something in our thinking, attitude and behaviour, which will change our feelings, which changes the story we tell ourselves, which changes how we show up.
  • If we see forgiveness as “I forgive you, and now it’s over to you”, we expect the other party to do ‘everything’. We’re operating under the illusion that we had the utmost emotional, mental, physical and spiritual boundaries — and we didn’t. We’re always evolving.
  • The reason we struggle to forgive is that if we’re still approaching things from the same emotional, mental, physical or spiritual place, so we’re still in the space that we were when the old situation took place, we can’t move forward. We feel stuck, and then we give ourselves a hard time.

Untrue stories always lead to painful feelings.

  • I’ve given up behaving as if I am the proprietor of the magic wand of forgiveness. Like I could sprinkle fairy dust on loved ones with my forgiveness and then they’d be obliged to change.
  • We feel as though because people have wronged us in the past and we’ve chosen to continue having a relationship with them (our version of forgiveness) that they shouldn’t put a foot wrong or that if we do, that we should get a free pass. “How dare you pick me up about putting a foot out of place?!” When we acknowledge that, actually, we’re still pretty pissed off, that maybe we haven’t forgiven anywhere near as much as we thought, this is OK. The sooner we get out of the pretence, the sooner we (and our relationships) evolve.
  • I get angry first, and then I get to the gratitude and letting go.
  • Recognising our humanness is recognising that we feel.
  • When we choose to let go, we also choose to live differently on the other side of that. We choose to feel what we feel and move forward anyway.

Links mentioned

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