Forgiveness is a topic that has shown up a lot in the past couple of weeks. I listened to a mother who lost her son during 9/11. She spoke about the importance of forgiveness and yet, reserved the right not to forgive the terrorist organization as they showed no remorse for what they did. I listened to a holocaust survivor talk about how she forgave the Nazis and that it helped her live a more peaceful life. She went on to share that there are many fellow survivors who are angry at her for publicly forgiving the Nazis for their wrongdoing.
Forgiving is not the same as condoning. We think we are punishing others when we don’t forgive. The only people we are punishing is ourselves when we don’t forgive others for the wrongdoing that caused us harm. It is the act of holding onto our past hurts that cause us to continually re-live them. What we resist persists. The person who harmed us goes about their life with remorse, or not. Our lack of forgiveness affects us, not them. Bitterness is a terrible thing to live with. We can hold people accountable for their wrongdoing at the same time we forgive them.
What happens then if the person we need to forgive is ourselves? I work with parents, especially mothers, who beat themselves up for messing up on-the-job. If the kid gets a bad grade, we parents ask ourselves where we went wrong. Worse yet, if our child is using drugs or depressed, we blame ourselves. We think we must have done something desperately wrong to have that outcome. I know. I am a mother of four. I, myself, have wished I would have been wiser, more evolved, handled situations differently, been more skilled, over and over and over again. At the root of all this beating myself up is shame. Shame is rooted in the belief that I am not good enough.
So, if shame is the obstacle to self-forgiveness, what is the solution? The first thing to do is to see the story that we are not good enough as just that…a story. Acceptance of ourselves as the flawed humans we are is paramount to having any peace. Next, I have incorporated the idea presented by Brene Brown, author of Rising Strong, that everyone is doing the best they can given the conditions they were brought up in and the resources or limitations they have. Many of us instantly protest this idea, claiming that people are not doing the best they can. Whether that is true or not, imagine how much less you would suffer if you adopted this belief as well. Try it out for a day. See what it feels like to give yourself and others the benefit of the doubt.
If I am still having a hard time forgiving myself or others, I practice lovingkindness meditation. This is a process that really opens your heart with compassion for others. For free monthly meditations, click the link below and sign up for monthly newsletters. https://westchestercenterformindfulnessandwellbeing.com September’s newsletter featured the lovingkindness meditation. I encourage everyone to do this meditation every day for a couple of weeks and see what happens. When we practice lovingkindness we are actually re-wiring our brain and opening our hearts.
May you be happy. May you be well. May you abide in peace. May you feel safe and secure. May you feel loved and cared for. (And May I feel all those things as well!)