“Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself,” is a phrase I use a lot in my practice with clients. But what exactly does that mean, and how do you do it when you’ve been truly hurt by someone?
Since it seems to have been a theme in my practice the last couple of weeks, I thought this would be a good topic to begin my blog.
Let me give you an example of how I addressed this topic with a client this week.
Sue (not her real name) is struggling in her relationship with her brother. He has been verbally abusive and disrespectful to her, and her family, most of their life. With the recent passing of their dad, it has escalated. Sue is the executor of her parents estate.
Her brother is an alcoholic. Sue stated that she is “consumed” by his behavior and it’s affecting her sleep, work, family, health, and overall general sense of well-being. She asked me, “How do I not let him take up so much space and energy in my life?”
I then broached the topic of forgiveness. Sue was resistant and said that “forgiveness” was the wrong word. I asked her what word would work/feel better. She said, “maybe understanding.” So, we explored that concept. For Sue, it helped to make the choice of trying to “understand” the reasons behind her brother’s behavior than forgiving them…perhaps recognizing his issues are bigger than her hurt.
Two key elements of what Sue is suggesting… 1. making a CHOICE to understand him and… 2. in recognizing his issues; meaning it’s NOT PERSONAL. Now I could once again attempt to discuss forgiveness.
First, know that the hardest to forgive are those who play the most significant roles in our lives. Those we love the most can hurt us the most.
Let’s go back to Sue. Like making a choice to understand her brother, so is forgiveness a choice. It’s not allowing another person to rent space in our head that robs us of joy, peace, energy, and what we have in the moment. It’s making the decision to say, “I will no longer give YOU this power over me.” To forgive or not is one of life’s choices. The decision is ours.
The second important element to what Sue said was in not taking her brothers behavior towards her as personal. In the book, The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz states:
"Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. Even when
a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to
do with you. That person tried to send poison to you and if you take it personally,
then you take the poison and it becomes yours."
By not taking her brother’s behavior personal and recognizing that forgiveness, like understanding is a choice, Sue was more open to the concept of forgiveness. She was tired of allowing him all this space in her head, consuming her days… and nights, robbing her of the joy and happiness she wanted to feel… the version of herself she wanted her family to see.
I asked her what would be different if this problem were gone…what would she notice. She said she’d be happy, calm, less anxious, weight lifted from her shoulder, more focused at work, more engaged with her kids, more energy, smiling, playful, more patient and loving. I responded, “That is the benefit of forgiveness."
We choose forgiveness because it is good for us. It is the feeling of peace you get when you don’t take the hurt personally… recognizing hurting people hurt others. It allows us to move negative energy into positive. It means you have better things to do than be consumed by or be under the influence of those who hurt us. Though it doesn’t change the past, it changes the present…for us. THAT IS WHY FORGIVENESS IS A GIFT WE GIVE OURSELVES.