Monday, 15 September 2014
Self-Love September: Forgiveness, Acceptance and Reconciliation
I am not unique in my belief that forgiveness is often something we must do for ourselves so that we don't carry baggage around with us for the rest of our lives. 'Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.' Apparently this isn't really a quote by the Buddha, but whoever said it deserves a medal. I consciously try to drink as little poison as possible these days. I know that I'm only hurting myself. Acceptance, release, forgiveness - these things are the wonderful gifts which you can offer to yourself just as soon as you're ready to take the power back and be the central character in your own life. The cold hard truth is that some people will hurt you, degrade you or walk away from you when you need them the most. Some people will lie, cheat or manipulate you. Along the way, no one is fully exempt from suffering at the hands of someone else's behaviour. But hanging onto it and drowning in it means suffering at the hands of your own behaviour. You get to choose how long you want to stay submerged in that pain and, ultimately, when you want to let it go.
Throughout my life I've witnessed a lot of people trying to open up a dialogue with the person who hurt them in order to receive closure. I have done this a few times myself. I told myself that I needed the other person to say the right thing, apologise to me or do something to make it right. I believed that, at the very least, they should know how I felt and understand the impact of their actions. But then I realised that the other person's headspace is none of my business - their journey in theirs and mine in mine. I realised that I was depending on someone else to hand me the key to healing. What if the apology never came? Was I happy to resign myself to a life of feeling wronged and carrying pain and anger around with me? What if they never saw my point of view? Did their unwillingness to understand me really mean a life of emotional purgatory? Who benefits from that? What good does that do?
Closure is an incredible force. It comes from within you. It cannot be obtained from without. All of the things you think you need from someone else in order to help you turn the page are already at your disposal, with or without their cooperation. I can assure you of that. If you are carrying anger around with you, you are effectively suffering twice - once at someone else's hands and once at your own. You have some control over that second kind of suffering. Use that control and you will make it out alive and live to thrive!
So, how does it work?
First of all, confirm for yourself that you don't want to live with anger inside of you. Write it down. Confirm on paper that you are unwilling to continue carrying the baggage. Commit to ridding yourself of it. Why? Because why not? Your precious energy is being directed into negative rubbish which doesn't nurture you and certainly doesn't help you to get things done. Without it you will feel freer, lighter and more capable. You'll be able to focus on the things which really interest you. You will be able to feed your passions with your incredible life force rather than tying your life force up in knots of bitterness and resentment.
Next, recognise that anger which lives inside of you needs an exit! It won't simply dissipate into a flock of doves and grace the skyline. It needs to be given full expression. You can do this through journalling, writing unsent letters, making art or talking it through with a friend or counsellor. Processing the anger is healthy and natural. Anger itself need not be destructive if it is dealt with in a way which nurtures you and allows you to release it so that it doesn't weigh you down. Anger is a worthy response sometimes, but it is the gateway to other emotions - emotions which are necessary to invite healing. If you refuse to open the gateway to anger and let it all out, you will struggle to reach those other emotions such as sadness and sorrow which are instrumental to reaching acceptance. So, allow your anger to find a way out. You may find that expressing your anger takes time. If you enjoy expressing it, there's nothing wrong with that, but remember that your aim is to reach a point of being emptied out.
Give yourself credit at each point of success on your healing journey. When you can acknowledge your own progress, you are being your own friend. You are showing up for yourself in an incredible way.
Remember that the good memories you shared with someone in the past don't need to be tainted by the untimely and unpleasant end of the connection. A key component of healing resides in the realisation that your good times with someone are still your memories to enjoy if you want to. Though the relationship has fundamentally changed, the joys in your past are fixed moments in time from which you drew many positive feelings. I have managed to keep hold of great memories I made with people who are no longer in my life. I don't allow music, movies or locations to be tainted by the fact that I no longer maintain a positive relationship with someone I associate those things with. Every wonderful moment in my past is mine. It may sometimes be confusing to realise that you find yourself enjoying a good memory of someone who hurt you. But the truth is that everyone has positive character traits which can surface at times. Enjoying memories of those traits doesn't mean that you want to reconcile with the person - it just means that you are in possession of your own past and refuse to permit it to be tainted by their later transgressions or your own bitterness.
Learning how to enjoy memories instead of tainting them can often be a reminder that every single person who has ever shown up in your life provided you with a lesson. That lesson has the power to enrich you. You don't need to regret any human relationship. You can simply see the tough ones as opportunities for post-traumatic growth.
Finally, remember that forgiveness and reconciliation are entirely different things and you can have one without the other. In fact, sometimes you absolutely must have one without the other. It is not always appropriate to invite someone back into your life after a conflict or betrayal. Your gut will tell you what's what, but it's important to stand strong if other people are trying to convince you otherwise. Many people in this world believe that forgiveness and reconciliation go together like milk and Oreos. Those people will be unwilling to see your point of view and may vehemently encourage you to allow your transgressor back into your life. If you fully forgive someone and manage to heal 100% and move on, you have done what you needed to do. You are no longer carrying anger towards them and you are no longer hurting yourself. Reconciliation is a different ball game; it is not necessary or advisable if you feel that it would mean laying yourself open to further pain. Sometimes people will see your unwillingness to reconcile as proof that you have not healed. But those people may not yet have learned one of the most powerful lessons there is to learn about self-love - that closure is an inside job and so is knowing at the very core of your being that you're doing the right thing.