From Sorting the Pieces of Your Life: A Woman’s Guide to Simplicity, Order, Renewal, and Trust
“Your journey isn’t complete until you’ve forgiven yourself.” –Amanda Lynn Allred
Forgiveness frees us. Forgiveness dispels misperceptions of others and ourselves. Forgiveness is the medicine for the pain of our injuries and errors.
In the last chapter we talked about a man who had forgiven his offenders, but was struggling to forgive himself for his own past offenses, despite the fact he had done all in his power to make amends.
Forgiveness is a powerful healing balm in sorting the pieces of our lives. We all have physical clutter which makes life more stressful. But we also suffer from the burden of emotional clutter–regret, resentment, shame, unresolved injuries and mistakes, etc.
By forgiving both ourselves and others we find renewal in life and are able to trust again.
Years ago I was struggling to forgive a person who had injured me. I was filled with resentment and on my worst days rage. The fall-out from what I had suffered at this person’s hands had permeated my life for years. I had gone to both individual and group therapy; I had done as much personal work as I could to take back my life. But I hadn’t forgiven.
I reached out to my brother Cardell, 14 years my elder and a national personal growth workshop leader, for insight. I wasn’t prepared his shocking wisdom.
I recounted to him in painstaking detail what this person had done. He listened attentively and then said, “That’s none of your business!” The hot fire of anger filled my chest. “What are you talking about?” I demanded. “It happened to me!” “Yes,” he replied calmly, “and your focusing on it is keeping the injury alive even though it happened many years ago. Now you are injuring yourself!”
“You have no control over that person’s actions,” he continued. “That’s why it’s none of your business, it’s his business. What you have control over is your reaction. You can’t get the feeling you want from your injurer. It’s up to you to give it to yourself by taking care of yourself and letting go.”
What a bitter truth! Where was justice?
The irony was, I had my own shadows, my own wrongdoings. And I had been my own enemy in how I dealt with my injury. By keeping it burning with the fuel of resentment, I was punishing myself versus my offender.
As they say in Twelve Step Recovery meetings, “Resentment is a poison we swallow to hurt someone else!”
Part of forgiving is acceptance. Acceptance doesn’t condone harm, it simply acknowledges it. It allows us to end our struggle with reality. Denial on the other hand, ignores or covers up the truth or believes somehow we can change what has already happened.
Forgiveness is not an event; it is a process that comes and goes all of our lives. To forgive ourselves and others is spring cleaning for the soul.
But how do we forgive?
Over many years, wise teachers, especially the teacher of life, have given me some key tools in how to forgive self and others.
Relinquish: Our first step is to practice giving up our focus, even our obsession with the injury and injurer (obsession isn’t the same as doing healing work via therapy or spiritual paths). We stop ourselves from going down the path of rumination by gently distracting ourselves with creative, healing, action such as art or craft projects, gardening, retreating to nature, and other soothing or stimulating activities. One of my favorites is puttering around picking up the house or cleaning out a drawer. It gives me focus, distraction, and action and is a tangible, useful way to sort the pieces of my life. The second part of relinquishing is grieving. This means noticing the emotion we feel inside and allowing ourselves to cry, throw rocks, and mourn our loss.
Refrain: This step is to restrain ourselves from punishing—whether self or other. It is a natural human tendency to long for justice. Sadly, we rarely get justice. Gladly, justice is not required to heal. The irony of punishment fantasies is that we are the one having them! When the urge to punish either through our thoughts or with actual action arises, redirect that energy into physical action–run, dance, swim, bike, shovel, kick box, lock yourself in the bathroom and yell, throw rocks at trees or glass jars in a safe place. I have found that after an urgent physical engagement I feel a release, and then the tears come — carrying toxins in their tiny drops– out of my body. This is self-cleansing after all.
Reclaim: We reclaim our power by living our injuries into irrelevance. We aver from memory that which is harmful to remember. We put one foot in front of the other in walking away from that which is best left behind. We refuse to give our power and our life to another person or the past.
Release: This is another word for forgive. To forgive is to let go, to no longer require compensation or punishment. We release the toxins of non-forgiveness. In its most powerful form forgiveness may be transferred into service –for example Mothers of Drunk Drivers was started by women who had lost children to drunken driving. Sometimes we humans are even able to offer pardon or a compassionate perception to the injurer.
I love the description of what forgiveness feels like by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves: “You are not waiting for anything .There is no lariat snare around your ankle stretching from way back there to here. You are free to go. It may not have turned out to be a happily ever after, but most certainly there is now a fresh once upon a time waiting for you from this day forward.”