Healing And The Power Of Forgiveness

 

All of us at some point during any regular day feel like we have somehow been wronged. It may be as insignificant an act as someone “stealing” our parking space at the overcrowded mall parking lot or sneaking into the lane right in front of us; a new dent in the car without the perpetrator leaving a notice; a friend forgetting an

 

important date; a boss accusing us of a mistake someone else made. We feel as if someone is doing us wrong much more often than we actually look at our own actions with a chance of admitting that maybe we have been in the wrong, too. I think that is mostly due to two character flaws:

  • humankind tends to judge others rather than reflect themselves
  • a lot of us suffer from self-righteousness. A self-righteous person acts superior to his peers because he believes his moral standards are perfect. This “moral smugness” is condescending by nature and is usually found offensive by others.

How do we behave when we feel wronged? We get angry, irritated, we talk back, yell, fight back, threaten or we may feel hurt and crawl into our shells to lick our wounds. More often than not, all of these normal human reactions are a luxury that someone who has REALLY been wronged cannot afford because they are terrified of the consequences. Let us please make a distinction here. Today I would like for all of you reading this to take a look at your “feeling wronged” threshold – and realize at the same time how many people around are actually victim of a serious wrongdoing committed against them. In short, I would like for all of us to get off our high, self-righteous horses and find in us compassion and understanding for those who really suffer, find appreciation for those of us who have to find a way to live with being wronged, every day. And I am not talking about a dent in the car….

How To Learn To Forgive

If a crime is committed against you it is imperative that you learn to forgive. Whether you have been robbed or mugged, have become a victim of a sexual crime or a hate crime,  have been neglected or fired or bullied, even if you are a survivor of systematic long-term abuse. Forgiveness is key. There are many ways you may need to heal both physically and emotionally. But you will never be able to find closure or come to terms with what happened to you if you don’t learn to forgive. I am absolutely certain that those of you reading this who have only just recently been exposed to any of the above crimes or who are struggling in the aftermath of such heinous crimes may want to turn away from this post disgusted and affronted, feeling both misunderstood and unheard. I understand that you may feel like I should just shut up, as if I don’t understand what the hell I am talking about. Yet, I encourage you all to keep on reading and give me the benefit of the doubt. I know exactly what I am talking about. I have been there. And I also know that for many many years the whole concept of forgiving those who hurt me beyond anything I could ever have imagined was absolutely foreign to me. I was so consumed by hatred and anger and despair at times that really, there was not a lot of room for forgiveness in me.

What we fail to understand while we are consumed by these hurtful, negative emotions is that we actually hurt ourselves; we have been made victim by someone or something. And as such, we all have a choice: become a victim over and over again by staying caught in this negative mindfuck, locked in the dark corners of our souls – or we can say: no more. I want to be more. I AM more. Being a victim doesn’t define who I am, it is “simply” something that has happened to me.

As we go through the stages of surviving a crime committed against us we all struggle with forgiveness. We hate too much, fear too much, and ultimately, we feel too sorry for ourselves; and we even gain a certain secondary benefit from being “the victim” – attention, care, some of us even use the victim-state to manipulate others around is into doing what we want them to do. Don’t cringe. You know its true, and so do I.  And in a way what has happened has consumed us to such a level that its almost become all that we are; letting go of it is – scary. It is the devil we know. Who knows what’s on the other side of forgiveness?

Forgiveness means giving up the suffering of the past and being willing to forge ahead with far greater potential for inner freedom. However – when you accept forgiveness as part of who you are, you are in a way giving up all hope of having had a different past. Thats a tough one because it also means accepting that what happened to you is true, is real and unchangeable. Something has been taken from you – your sense of safety, innocence, your belief in the innate “good” of human nature. You will never feel completely safe again, maybe you will always look over your shoulder in a dark alley, maybe everyday things will always trigger hurtful memories and maybe you will, for the rest of your life, fear the nights and their dreams of reliving the past. But – that is the cards you have been dealt. That is YOUR life and it is within your own power and your own right to reclaim it and accept it for what it is. When you do you can start letting go of what hurt you in the first place. There are powerful health benefits that go hand-in-hand with the practice of forgiveness. In the physical domain, forgiveness is associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure and overall stress relief; it is associated with improving physical symptoms such as reducing fatigue and improving sleep quality. In the psychological domain, forgiveness has been shown to diminish the experience of stress and inner conflict while simultaneously restoring positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. So the next time you ask yourself: why should I forgive them? – this is your answer. Don’t forgive them for THEIR benefit. Do it for your’s!

The Science of Forgiveness

Forgiveness doesn’t come easy and it won’t happen overnight. Its not a button you can just push. In fact, it is a science, a learnable skill. The problem for many of us is that sometimes we can choose to forgive another, but still in our heart of hearts, the anger or resentment lingers. It seems impossible and implausible to forgive – and yet we can learn how. Harvard researchers have described forgiveness as one of the eight positive emotions that keep us connected with our deepest selves and with others. These positive emotions are considered to be key ingredients that bind us together in our humanity and they include love, hope, joy, compassion, faith, awe, and gratitude. Whether you have a spiritual bent or not, scientific research supports the notion that developing stronger positive emotions supports us in leading healthier, happier, and more connected lives: When we forgive and develop these other positive emotions we become less encumbered by the scars of the past.

And still the question remains: how do we fight that beast? How do we learn to reach into the deepest crevices of our heart, soul and brain and turn all those painful, negative emotions around?

You must realize that your story is your’s, and your’s alone. It is for you to recount, to tell to yourself and to others over and over and over again just the way that you perceive it to be true. As much as forgiveness is key, so is breaking the silence. Sharing your experiences, your ordeal lightens the load and makes it bearable – and it helps others to see they are not alone! Think of it as a collective sea of minds. Each time you share your story it is poured into that sea and diluted again and again and again until finally, it’s “concentration” (speaking in a chemical sense) and the impact it has on you is so small it won’t hinder you to live a happy and good life. Believe this, please:  You will not heal unless you share your story. Silence empowers negativity and the perpetrator. Tell your story and while you tell it, make yourself the survivor – which you are – and ultimately the hero of your own story. What happened to you is unspeakable. But YOU survived it – and you are stronger for it.

There are many strategy models out there on “leaning forgiveness”. In essence, they all look a bit like this one:

  • Look at what has happened to you. Don’t make it less or more, darker or lighter, don’t evade any pain or anger those thoughts may cause. Don’t rearrange the details. Just look at it truthfully and honestly. Pay attention to the anger inside of you and realize how it is holding you back and keeping you hostage in your own day-to-day existence.
  • Review what has happened to you and realize the moment you started to reclaim your power in it. You may have been able to escape an abusive situation, you may have chosen to disengage from people who hurt you;  you may have called it quits on a toxic relationship; you may have rebuilt your life after it fell apart. You ARE indeed the survivor and hero in your own story. Look at the strengths that you developed as a result of this situation. Being hurt or compromised can be your invitation to a transformative new path and a more fulfilling life.
  • Be empathic and compassionate toward yourself. You blame yourself, I am sure, for not walking away sooner, for not telling anyone, for not fighting back, for not seeing the signs. Don’t. You are not to blame.
  • Adopt a symbolic end to a painful situation: this can be lighting a candle and being thankful that you have survived; it can be a moment of peace, a prayer, a celebration with friends or whatever comes to mind for you and feels right. You are here, inspite of everything. And life is  G O O D even if there are bad people in it. An end and the beginning of a new phase of life.

Remember that at any given point in this story you have the power to change how the book ends. If you cannot forgive the people who harmed you – and I understand that empathy for the abuser or perpetrator might be the hardest step to achieve, if ever –  then forgive the situation. It happened. It is a part of you. And you are stronger and better for it!

And finally, forgive yourself. You didn’t ask for this. And you are doing the best you can!

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the post, I would love to hear how you have managed to forgive or if you are struggling with it! If you would like to share it would be really appreciated – you can leave a comment below!

Thank you for reading, as always

Deb