The person who treated us badly.
That we allowed them to treat us badly.
The abusive situation.
That we let it go on so long.
That we didn’t see it coming.
That we weren’t more patient (or bold, brave, kind, understanding, decisive …).
When it comes to the breakup, the breakdown, or the bridge burnt, before we can venture into the territory of forgiving the person or situation, we have to forgive ourselves.
I’m going to quote myself here, based on my own life experience with people and situations that required forgiveness:
All forgiveness starts with self-forgiveness.
And I’m going to quote Buddha here, based on a sign hanging on the wall at my hair stylist’s salon:
If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
First tho, let’s clear up some misconceptions about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not:
- An admission that it was your fault.
- Condoning whatever happened.
- Saying it didn’t matter or have impact.
- Brushing it under the rug, in a gesture of “all is well!”
Assigning fault is usually beside the point.
It’s not OK.
It likely still hurts and has impact.
Perhaps all is not at all well.
And still, it may be time to forgive.
Forgiveness is an internal decision
to unchain yourself
from what happened.
At a certain point in your healing process, the anger, resentment, injustice, pain, and shock you have — however valid — binds you to what happened. You become prisoner.
So, at a certain point, you decide you need to be free of those chains.
Maybe the best way to understand forgiveness is in the sense of “forgiving a loan” — a contract that will no longer be upheld.
When a loan is forgiven, there’s no more deal, no more contract, no more bond, no more chains.
It’s a bit reductionist of me to say that there are three steps to self-forgiveness.
It’s an intense process, it only works when you’re truly ready, and it takes as long as it takes.
However, guiding your process by these steps, treating them as signposts to look out for on your self-forgiveness journey, might prove fruitful.
Three Steps to Self-Forgiveness
Step 1: Ouch
Whatever happened, hurt. Maybe it still hurts. Acknowledge the pain, the ache, the suffering, the loss.
It hurts because whatever happened, matters to you. That is the way of things.
Don’t head off into fault-finding, figuring-out, or numbing.
Just be with your aching heart, your impacted body, your reeling mind. Tend, care, validate.
Step 2: What Is
As Carl Jung is credited with saying, “What you resist, persists.”
This step is the opposite of resistance. Because when we resist, the crappy thing that happened is strengthened and reified, as are the chains that bind us to it.
This step might include a lot of journaling, therapy, yelling into your pillow, puzzling it out with a friend. All good and useful.
And then, you’ll come to a fairly drama-free sense of it all:
It happened, whether or not it should have.
It is, whether or not you wanted it to.
Probably, anyone in your shoes would have done the same.
Being with it all in this way loosens up the chains.
Step 3: Boundary
Take a lucid look into what boundary of yours you crossed, let someone else cross, or are just discovering that you have?
And then make a sacred, solemn vow to yourself that you will not cross it or let someone else cross it in the future.
Say to yourself, a threshold was breached, and it was no beuno. So, that won’t happen again, not on my watch.
Then you can stop beating yourself up for whatever happened.
Once we understand what line of ours was crossed and that we will do our darnedest not to let it be crossed again, the parts of us that were beating us up, can settle down.
Sometimes we only learn that we have a line in the sand, once we cross it.
We learn by trial and error. But we can do better and better at keeping ourselves safer and healthier, the next time.
Once we’ve done
this bit of self-forgiveness,
forgiving someone or something else
is a whole lot more possible.
But let’s hang out with self-forgiveness for a bit first.
To your unchained freedom,
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PPS: Photo by Wendy K. Yalom photography