I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness recently. You might be aware that most self-development, therapeutic and spiritual teachers offer forgiveness as the ultimate stage of healing. Louise Hay is certainly one of the most fervent advocate of this work and her personal journey is a testament that forgiveness is indeed an essential part of healing both emotional and physical wounds.
Even though I have known this for years and regularly work in that direction, I still find it sometimes extremely difficult to forgive those who hurt me. It is much easier said than done sometimes, don’t you think?!
And the million dollar question is “How do you actually forgive?”
The reason I bring this up is because I have tried many different techniques to forgive people from my past. But a lot of the time I managed to feel better in the moment, yet to find myself still struggling to forgive them months or years later. It felt like the forgiveness work I had been doing didn’t last.
Have you experienced this yourself?
I think a big mistake in the field of “forgiveness work” (if there’s such a thing!) is to try to jump too quickly into the stage of forgiveness. A lot of the time you’ll see and hear therapists, coaches or teachers telling you “there’s no need to dwell on the past! It’s time to move on! Let go of the past and forgive them!”
I don’t know about you, but the more I am told something like this, the more frustration I feel. Do you know why?
Because when I am told to forgive someone who hurt me, I don’t feel heard or acknowledged in my suffering. I feel that my pain is dismissed, or even criticised. I feel that I should be able to let go and move on, and that then raises an unconscious vicious doubt: why can’t I move on? What’s wrong with me? And that doesn’t do any good to self-acceptance and self-esteem…
But then I ask myself: why does the need to be heard indeed prevail over the desire to forgive and find peace????
So recently, I’ve just had two important realisations that I would like to share with you.
Firstly, I believe that when we feel stuck in our desire to forgive, it’s actually because we are trying to do it too soon. I can’t remember who says this, is it the 12 steps program or a great therapist? – but before we can actually forgive, we need to feel our anger. And our hurt. We need to feel it, we need to acknowledge it and to honour it.
I’ve seen too many clients struggling to forgive, and every single time, they had skipped the square “feeling the pain”. It’s a bit similar to the famous 5 stages of grief developed by E. Kübler-Ross. You can only move to the forgiveness stage once you’ve worked through all the stages before.
In other words, I believe one of the reasons we sometimes struggle to forgive is because we haven’t fully dealt with the pain we felt in relation to certain people and events from our past. And dealing with that kind of pain, the pain that makes us harbour resentment, anger and sometimes hatred for years and years requires quite a lot of attention and work.
Dealing with that pain firstly means recognising there is pain. Often we block this suffering as a coping mechanism to survive and keep functioning. But it is still there dormant and needs to be healed if we want peace (another word for forgiveness). So I invite you next time you experience this familiar feeling towards a specific person again, to gently explore what’s beneath those emotions. And find the anger to start with. Allow yourself to feel the anger ; until you are able to access the pain underneath it.
Once we’ve recognised this pain, we need to acknowledge it, accept it and honour it. That means we need to stop rejecting the hurt we feel, and as a matter of fact, ALL the emotions that are entangled in this pain: anger, self-doubt, self-blame, hatred, sadness – to name a few.
We need to disentangled this big net of unresolved emotions, patiently, lovingly, and treat it like a wounded part of us. Until it heals. Until we are able to own our suffering and soothe it. I would strongly recommend you do this work with a therapist, as it might be tricky to access all those layers yourself – depending on the degree of sorrow you are dealing with. There is often a lot of resistance in accepting our pain as it is intertwined with the necessity to forgive ourselves. And doing this alone is sometimes quite difficult…
And only when we have fully dealt and healed from our pain, can we start to think of forgiving the people who were inflicting it. But beware! It is very tempting for the mind to trick you into believing you’ve dealt with the pain already!! That’s another of our brilliant coping mechanisms: denial. That’s why I suggest you ask the help of an experienced therapist, who will help you to spot the denial you might be into. You may think that you don’t need someone to show you those parts of you, or that you are very aware yourself due to all the work you’ve done ; but in the same way you can never see the back of your own head (without a mirror, that is!), you have hidden parts in your subconscious that you can not see either, your blindspots. And no matter how far ahead you are on your journey, you will always need an external perspective to help you move forward…
Let me know what you think of those thoughts, if you can relate or if it speaks to you, and I’ll share my second realisation around how to forgive in my next post!