Who can you forgive today?

On Sunday morning I was skimming through my emails and one caught my eye. It was from someone I rarely hear from sharing the sad news that her uncle had died suddenly from a heart attack the night before.

I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and wondered whether he had been able to resolve and heal some of the deep pain that he had held for so long.

My mind wandered back to shared childhood adventures. He was much older than me and seemed confident, strong and very grown up. And yet, in our recent email exchanges, I discovered how vulnerable and hurt he had felt at that time – and really for the rest of his life.

Everyone experiences challenge, difficulty and pain – the “stuff of life” contributing to character and growth. Those experiences ground us, help us grow and are balancing factors that intensify joy and the need to live lightly.

As if his life was stretched along a time line, I looked down and was able to identify some of his moments of pain, stress and trauma that stacked on top of one another to become a heavy burden causing heightened sensitivity and reactivity. Those he loved most were able to hurt him most. And in turn, those who loved him most were hurt by his reactions. Walking on eggshells didn’t work. To avoid pain they avoided one another.

This is where forgiveness is needed.

When we’re children we’re taught to apologize and expect forgiveness. If someone apologizes to us, we are expected to forgive them. But real life is not quite so simple. All sorts of things get in the way such as intentions, understanding (or lack of), and feelings, as well as the degree of hurt or trauma.

Research reveals that resentment, depression or emotional rage or pain can affect our health, quality and length of life.

How do we live through and beyond hurtful, cruel or dreadful events?

The first three steps are related to being able to accept:

  • What has happened – not fight it or condone it;
  • That life isn’t fair;
  • That we can’t fix or change other people in an effort to make ourselves feel better. We need to be our own project for change.

Forgiveness needs to happen in the mind and heart.

It requires:

  • Consistent and determined separation in the mind of the person/people from the hurtful acts – whether physical violence, or unkind words or deeds. In other words, remembering that whatever negative thing they did, there are many more instances when they were normal or helpful or kind. This mental practice is followed by many people who have forgiven unimaginable cruelty or hurt.
  • Knowing that hurt people hurt people. It can be helpful to imagine the perpetrator as a small hurt child who is lashing out at their own pain.
  • Understanding of yourself and the other person/people.
  • Acknowledging and releasing your own pain such as feelings of anger, betrayal or shock. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, go through this process gently and slowly (with professional help if necessary).
  • Focusing on someone or something you love and feeling love often every day.

As you forgive, imagine growing stronger and your heart healing.

I hope that my friend found forgiveness before he died.

Wishing you love and peace, 

Gillian.

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