Why do you need forgiveness to reach your Dream? When you’re not forgiving, you’re angry and tight. You’re holding onto old hurts and hugging your rightness around you like a parka against the stinging winds of change. Your arms are crossed and your mind is crossing out possibilities.
If you think about it, what we can’t forgive is really who we can’t forgive: non-relatives, our parents, our partners, and ourselves. We’re going to look at these—and do something about them.
Why? Because they’re impeding your progress toward your Dream.
Why again? Because you’re expending your energy keeping your resentments warm, lamenting, bemoaning, crying, cursing, kvetching. You have little left over for actively pursuing what you want to do.
As you get better at forgiving these people, you’ll also, maybe automatically and seemingly miraculously, start to forgive your boss, co-workers and colleagues.
Forgiveness: The Ultimate Challenge
A caution—the words in this chapter demand nothing less than giving up all your cherished reasons, rationales, righteousness, excuses, yes-buts, indignation, desires for revenge, and anything else you’re keeping safe and secretly relishing about everyone you feel has done you wrong. The psychiatrist and superb Course in Miracles teacher Jerry Jampolsky calls forgiveness “the ultimate challenge.” [Goodbye to Guilt]
Are you up to it?
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Too often we hold on—to hurts, slights, insults, betrayals, wrongs, angers, resentments, annoyances—and on and on, through months, years, decades, and, before we blink, a lifetime. You know the stories—maybe you have one—of brothers estranged for 25 years over an argument they can’t even remember, of mother and daughter who exchange only frosty greeting cards at Christmas, of childhood buddies who parted over a single remark, of career-long quietly seething resentment at the boss.
This is only one type of non-forgiveness. I’m also talking about all the mountains of gripes you—and all of us—have built, even nurtured, over the years. They’re a huge trunkload, ranging from very big—the person who cheated you out of a large sum or walked out of what you thought was a great marriage with no warning—to very pesky—the proverbial uncapped toothpaste tube, the empty dish left in the refrigerator, the tool not back where it should be.
These resentments, whatever their size and import, poison our outlook and color our perspective black, black, black. Despite passing years and fleeting time, most of us are stuck. We’re stuck in a mindset that may have originated in our fifth or 25th year. We change outwardly, but inside we stay in that mental timeset.
Stuck in Past Wounds?
Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham in Great Expectations is a perfect symbol of a stuck mindset. The main character, Pip, discovers a very old woman who lives surrounded only by wedding decorations and trappings. She wears an ancient wedding dress and a full veil, her face by now very old.
Pip learns she’s been living this way for years. From the moment the letter arrived from her fiancé telling her he would not appear, she preserved everything, even to wearing only one white shoe, which she had strapped on at the moment she received the letter. All the wedding accoutrements remained frozen in time, like her mind, covered in cobwebs and encrusted with dust.
Like Miss Havisham, many of us remain intensely wounded, nurse the wound, and refuse to move forward. We hope against all evidence of the mounting years that the longed-for and long-gone groom, parent, happy event, feeling or approval, will finally surface. We rob ourselves, like Miss Havisham, of every other aspect of life.
Our resentments usually go back to childhood. Louise Hay sums it up: “We all have family patterns, and it is very easy for us to blame our parents, or our childhood, or our environment, but that keeps us stuck.... We remain victims, and we perpetuate the same problems over and over again.” [The Power is Within You]
Giving Up Your Personal History
One of Wayne Dyer’s 10 Secrets for lasting success and inner peace is to give up our personal histories. We “hang on to past pains, abuses and shortcomings as calling cards to announce a ‘poor me’ status to everyone [we] meet.... ‘I was abandoned as a child,’ ‘I’m an incest survivor’ ... ‘My parents were divorced and I’ve never gotten over it.’” As he says, the list could go on for hundreds of pages, and maybe yours does.
If you don’t want to stay a victim, and I assume you don’t because you’re still reading, there’s a lot you can do. First, consider a few principles that apply to everyone and everything we should forgive. Of all the writings in forgiveness in many disciplines, I’ve chosen these because they mean the most to me. I’ve applied them many times, and continue to rely on them (more or less successfully—I too have my personal story, with hundreds of pages).
Six Universal Principles of Forgiveness
1. It’s okay to get angry.
You are entitled to feel anger at the other person’s wrongdoing. You are entitled to burst out with disappointment, shock, rage. Those emotions are cathartic and healthy.
But here’s the big BUT. Too often we hang onto these emotions. We never seem to express them enough. Any slight reminder starts us off again. They become our chronic reaction, hardening in us like coal.
This is the unhealthy part that translates so often into physical symptoms and full-blown illnesses. As many publications now attest, individuals who hold longstanding resentments are at greater risk of cancer than others who let out their pent-up feelings and let them go.
Louise Hay suggests enlightening correspondences between emotional causes and physical illnesses; for example, abscesses develop from fermenting thoughts over hurts, arthritis results from criticism and resentment, bursitis is associated with repressed anger, glaucoma with resolute unforgiveness, and malignant growths of all kinds with rehearsing old hurts and building resentment. [You Can Heal Your Life]
Go ahead. Express your anger.
2. It’s not okay to cling to your anger.
Express—Yes. Ruminate, obsess, linger, cultivate, replay, grind away—No. This is the stuff of disease, depression and decrepitude.
Maybe you’re thinking this sounds too much like an indiscriminate, unfounded generalization, but look around. Generally the most sour, frail people are those harboring the most held-to resentments and blame, sometimes for generations.
Look at your own anger. You’ve probably stayed stuck in it for too long, hardly noticing it because it’s gone underground, buried beneath your daily goings-on. You can be sure that anger is siphoning off your energy, enthusiasm and hope. It’s plugging up your joy in living now and tainting your outlook for tomorrow. It’s obstructing your ability to marshal positive energy and emotions toward your life Dream.
If you want to continue to live with this malevolent outcome, fine. Stop right here. If you want to free yourself, continue.
3. They needed to do that.
This statement about whoever you’re so mad at is the first real step in forgiving others. The declaration may go against all apparent logic and the rage in your stomach. You may have been in the fury habit for so long that it feels natural. We need discipline, self-control and determination to start changing that habit of mind.
How? Reframe your accusations and condemnations in the perspective of the statement above, impossible as it may seem at first. You’ll get used to the idea that the culprit’s misdeeds or terrible actions weren’t entirely personal, aimed specifically and maliciously at you.
On the other hand, maybe they were. You’ve remained convinced that the object(s) of your fury acted completely, willfully toward you and you alone. That’s certainly possible.
Go deeper. Something was precipitating that person’s nefarious action, something outside your particular presence, and something probably very deep inside.
Okay, maybe you say their action was in reaction to your own. That’s quite possible.
Something was operating in them even beneath this. We’re not out to psychoanalyze this person for his or her actions; we simply want to see that what you’ve always seen as the dreadful act stemmed from a very old, deeply intimate need of theirs and not primarily something precipitated by you or the circumstances.
That need, I’ll bet, was something many of us carry around (Dyer’s “‘poor me’ status”) and keep ourselves suffering with— lack of childhood love and support, rage at an absent parent, frustration at a stalled career, jealousy of everyone, feelings of unworthiness, and so on.
In other words, they needed to do that.
4. It was the best that they could do at that moment.
This is a hard one, especially because their action resulted in hurt to you. When you realize that they needed to do it, for their own convoluted, unforgiving, transferential reasons, you can also take in this principle.
To do so doesn’t mean we’re condoning or excusing them. Rather, we realize that at the moment of the unforgivable action their level of maturity allowed them to act in the best way they knew how. This is another way of saying that they weren’t aiming their entire quiver of poison arrows only at you.
In fact, they could have acted no differently. As horrible as the action may have seemed to you, given where they were in their development and how they handled the circumstances, they were doing the very best they could. Even with good intentions, like, for example, most parents have, they may not be equipped to respond, advise or support our Dreams, much less our daily highs and lows.
5. What was done simply “missed the mark.”
The sin you feel was perpetrated upon you can be seen another way, reframed. In Jesus’ original language, Aramaic, the word for “sin” also meant an error or mistake. From this standpoint, a sin is not irrevocable, to be pushed in our faces at the Last Judgment. It is simply a mistake and requires correction.
Author and Unity minister Eric Butterworth writes that sin is only “missing the mark.” [Discover the Power Within You] As we forgive others their mistakes, we also forgive ourselves. How? Jesus said, “Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Lk. 6:37). Jampolsky comments on these commands with great wisdom:
Whenever I see someone else as guilty, I am reinforcing my own sense of guilt and unworthiness. I cannot forgive myself unless I am willing to forgive others. It does not matter what I think anyone has done to me in the past or what I think I may have done. Only through forgiveness can my release from guilt and fear be complete. [Goodbye to Guilt]
Can you stretch your mind to take this in? Yes, it is a stretch. We rush to condemn, blame and harden our heart at the other. This reflex produces only more of the same suffering for us and does nothing to loosen our own baggage of anger, resentment and hatred.
Instead, see the wrongdoing as simply missing the mark. This view helps you get some distance, put some space between you and the action. The detachment helps you stop the blame and take the next constructive action for yourself.
6. Continued resentment and blame, especially if not faced, hurt only yourself.
Hugging the other person’s wrong to you only glues it closer. Dr. Fred Luskin, co-founder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, paints a graphic picture: “By carrying around these hurts, you are letting the person who harmed you continue to inflict new bruises. You are renting space to him in your head.”
Luskin’s first book is called Forgive for Good. This title not only refers to time but our own health and well-being. The subtitle is A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. Since we create our own realities, what we concentrate on grows, or, as in the Law of Attraction, what we focus on is what we get.
Forgive Strangers, Acquaintances, Friends
Are you ready to tackle a few impossible people? When we think of them (you know the ones), Jampolsky’s label of forgiveness as “the ultimate challenge” hits even harder. If you’ve ever tried to forgive, really forgive, anyone—from that person closest to you to the driver in the other lane—you’ll likely agree with him.
How to start? Butterworth’s wise answer sounds strangely like reframing: “Any time you feel a sense of guilt, a sense of unforgiveness ... if you take a good look at yourself, the chances are that you will find there is much you can do today by getting a new attitude toward the people around you.”
Start with people who may be a little easier: strangers you don’t have much history with. Maybe the guy who unthinkingly bumps against you on the street, the woman who pushes in front of you in the grocery checkout line, the rude customer service rep.
Your first responses, naturally, will be anger, annoyance, irritation, indignation. You’ll probably take one of two roads: Curse them out for all to hear, or swallow your ire, glare and curse inwardly. As you know by now, neither reaction helps very much.
I’m not suggesting you simply ignore the event (nor would Dr. Luskin); your reflexes should be acknowledged. I am suggesting that you change your habit of response.
Of course this takes practice, and if you practice in advance, you’ll be that much more prepared. First, see the offending person surrounded in light. You may have to force yourself, but draw on your meditative practices and give it a try.
Then, follow Jampolsky’s excellent suggestion:
If you feel tempted today—regardless of the seeming justification—to blame anyone, remind yourself that in the loving eyes of God we are all sinless and innocent.
The more you repeat and hold to such thoughts, the calmer you’ll feel. When I’ve been able to catch my habitual damning reaction, I’ve experienced several blessed results, and they’ve dissipated my wrath like a sudden rain shower purging August humidity.
©2011 by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission.
Published by Unity Books, Unity Village, MO 64065-0001
Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams
by Noelle Sterne.
About the Author
Noelle Sterne is an author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor. She publishes writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and fiction in print, online periodicals, and blog sites. Her book Trust Your Life contains examples from her academic editorial practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her book for doctoral candidates has a forthright spiritual component and deals with often overlooked or ignored but crucial aspects that can seriously prolong their agony: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (September 2015). Excerpts from this book continue to be published in academic magazines and blogs. Visit Noelle's website: www.trustyourlifenow.com