Given that I recently wrote about knowing your self-worth I wondered if forgiveness would be a natural next topic. I certainly know for me forgiving myself was a significant barrier to beginning to see my self-worth.
There have been many occasions in my life I have needed to find forgiveness for myself or others. Some big occasions when my mother tried to take my life, or the years of abuse from my father or the bullying I faced in school. Some small, broken promises, missed commitments, odd priorities that have meant people weren’t there for me when I needed them. And I have needed forgiveness for mistakes big and small, sometimes for simply saying something I thought was funny and realising I was wrong, on the worst occasions trying to control someone else’s life (all with the best intentions, but in hindsight the wrong thing to do). Then of the course the myriad of mistakes I made growing up.
On some of these occasions I have been able to forgive quickly at times though it has taken years. There are still wrongs I am yet to fully forgive and release myself from the grips of resentment and anger. But I know I will always seek to forgive. Perhaps ultimately part of me is hoping if I forgive others then I can find it myself. Most importantly though I have learnt the benefits forgiveness has for me and those around me.
What is forgiveness.
It is not about forgetting, pushing aside or finding excuses for the hurt caused to us. It is about accepting the wrong, correcting it where possible, preventing it occurring again and moving forward. It takes time and is not a linear path. Sometimes if you are anything like me, you will jump between forgiveness and un-forgiveness. You don’t always have to forgive, but it is important to find a way to move forward.
Let’s tackle the more obvious half of this dilemma forgiving yourself. There are a couple of things to consider if there is something stopping you from forgiving yourself.
Realisation of the wrong is the first step.
Firstly, the fact that you feel there is something you have done wrong demonstrates you have already taken the most important step. We all make mistakes; we all say or do the wrong thing at times. For some people they never even think twice about it, they never reach the point of realising perhaps there was a better way they could have approached a situation.
If you are at the point of feeling you have done something wrong you have already done the hard work of acknowledging there is something you can learn from. You have already grown as a person because you feel some form of guilt. You have started the process of becoming a better person that doesn’t make the same mistake again. You shouldn’t hold against yourself something that you know you aren’t happy for doing. You deserve forgiveness.
Can you make things, right?
Then comes a tricky part is there something you could do now to make the situation or the other person feel better. Sometimes simply a sorry, or perhaps an offer to help them, or meet up or make it up to them. You must follow through on anything you commit to. I don’t believe there is ever a time where there is nothing you can do. It is true though that sometimes no matter what you do it may not be enough to help resolve the situation. You have to decide what feels reasonable and right to you and if it is not enough then walk away. Perhaps time will be what is needed.
Learn for the next time.
The next tricky step is that understanding of what better might look like, it is painful sometimes to recall the things you said or did. Often though when you do it is obvious where you think you went wrong. What is sometimes not as easy to see is how you could have acted or done something differently. This is probably the most important step though, as only through considering the alternative options might you position yourself better to avoid making the same mistake. Perhaps you should have walked away, perhaps you could have considered the other persons point of view.
Once you have an idea of what you could say or do better, ask yourself is there is anything I could now to help improve the likelihood of that outcome in the future. If there are steps you can take now, take them.
Let it Go.
Then comes really difficult part. Let it go. Once you have done what you can to make it right, learnt what you could do in the future it is time to let it go. Even if the actions you have completed have not driven the outcome you desired. Perhaps you didn’t get to reconcile. You have to let it go, move forward and forgive yourself knowing you have done all any reasonable human could do and that is more than enough.
Forgiving someone else.
Now for often the more challenging issue. Forgiving someone else. Remember forgiveness it different to, reconciliation and forgetting. Sometimes it is very right to forgive someone and still walk away.
Should you be the person forgiving?
Is the wrong yours to forgive. I have on occasion held resentment towards someone when the wrong they have done was towards someone else. When they have hurt a friend of family member, broken a promise or let them down. In this case the wrong is not yours to forgive. Life is hard enough without you taking on the mantel of someone else’s issues. You should also be mindful when you do this you may make it harder for the person who was wronged to forgive and move on.
Develop Empathy – Acknowledge the complexity of life and that you only hold so much information.
We all see the world through filters that have been crafted from our upbringing and experiences, even without these filters it would be impossible to have all the information about a situation, then even if you had a clear (unbiased) view and every shred of detail you still wouldn’t have the other persons perspective. Accept that life is complicated and that it is likely what ever the wrong there was something influencing their actions. One of the biggest steps in forgiving my mother was coming to terms with the fact that she was suffering from a very real, very challenging mental health issue and this greatly impacted her thoughts and actions.
Acknowledge none of us are perfect.
I have had what people would consider as some fairly extreme wrongs done to me. I have learnt that in the same way no amounts of rights can right a wrong, no amount of wrongs can wrong a right. For example, the times my mum really failed me couldn’t take away from the kind and wonderful things she did. She wasn’t one person 100% of the time and that was ok, she was a complex mix of her rights and wrongs just like the rest of us. Perhaps though her wrongs were more extreme and frequent than most.
Understand that forgiveness ultimately benefits you.
Holding onto to the negative feelings when someone does us wrong is most harmful for you. Your feelings, thoughts and resentment have more effect on you than on the other person. It is us that lives with reliving the situation, running it over and over in our heads. The other person is free to move on and be happy if they chose to. Forgiveness is for you. You don’t have to reconcile or accept the person in your life to forgive them.
Once you have owned the impact of the negative action, empathised with the other person, acknowledged the truth of life that none of us are perfect and understood the benefits of forgiveness you should be much better equipped to move forward. (And perhaps make the next mistake to learn from). 😉
I should say a massive thank you to all the people that have forgiven me over the years. I know I am not perfect but I will keep on trying to be better, thank you for sticking around while I learn to be that better version of me.