Most of us know or understand on an intellectual level that forgiveness is good for the soul. Unfortunately, it’s our heart that tends to struggle with this truth. We often ask ourselves the following questions:
“How can I forgive my parents when they were so abusive to me when I was growing up?”
“How can I forgive my spouse for cheating on me?”
“How can I forgive my best friend for abandoning me?”
“How can I forgive abusers and manipulators who hurt people?”
“How can I forgive myself when others do not forgive me and throw my past in my face every chance they get?”
We all want to understand how to forgive and honestly, these are tough situations to forgive. The thing about forgiveness is, it cannot be forced. We cannot will ourselves to forgive. It is a process we must go through and even work through to get to the place of truly forgiving. We cannot deny the anger, the blame, or the judgment that we have when we are hurt by the actions of others. So how do we reach a place of forgiveness?
Believe it or not, forgiveness toward others is the natural outcome of forgiving ourselves and of taking loving care of ourselves. It really is all about good self-care. When we judge or even hate ourselves, we are actually projecting our own self judgment and self hatred onto them. No matter how much we tell ourselves that we have forgiven them, any negative emotions we harbor about ourselves inevitably come out. We cannot forgive others until we first forgive ourselves!
Let’s look at the questions, one at a time.
“How can I forgive my parents when they were so abusive to me when I was growing up?” As long as you continue to treat yourself in the abusive ways your parents may have treated you, you cannot reach forgiveness. A lack of self-care tends to perpetuate anger toward others. As adults, we have a wonderful opportunity to learn to treat ourselves better than when we were children. We can choose to love and respect ourselves in a more understanding way. If we don’t do this, the past becomes the present as we continue to treat ourselves in the same way that we were treated as a child, and then we continue to blame others for how we feel. It is a direct result of our own lack of self-care.
“How can I forgive my spouse for cheating on me?” This may sound harsh but the truth is, you will not be able to forgive your spouse until you are first able to see your own part in the relationship issues that may have contributed to the infidelity. Now, this is not to say you “caused” your spouse to cheat on you, but if you take a hard, honest look at the relationship, there were likely many ways you did not listen to yourself or honor yourself. By ignoring your own internal wisdom and guide, you unwittingly put yourself in a position of being betrayed. It is only when you discover how you might have betrayed your own needs and then forgive yourself that you will reach forgiveness for your spouse, even if you end the relationship.
“How can I forgive my best friend for abandoning me?” Most of us believe the world influences our belief system but it is actually the opposite. Our perspective of the world mirror whatever is happening in our own inner belief system. When we feel abandoned by someone, there is a good possibility that we have abandoned ourselves. We often fail to attend to our own feelings and needs which means failing to be a loving advocate for ourselves. Once again, by realizing the impact of learning to take loving care of yourself, you will find your anger toward others gradually disappears, no matter what they do.
“How can I forgive abusers and manipulators who hurt people?” Though it does not feel this way, the behavior of others is actually not personal. People’s behavior is a result of their own wounds and pain. As a popular saying goes, “Wounded people wound people.” It has little to do with us so whether we choose to be judgmental of them or accepting and forgiving of them will have little to no impact on them. The impact of our decision is only on us. How harsh and judgmental we are toward ourselves is reflected in how we treat or see others. Forgiveness is the natural outgrowth of doing our work to seek forgiveness, and ultimately peace. Once we shift away from self-judgment and into self-compassion, we are then able to do the same for others. It is important here to mention that having healthy boundaries is a must. We can forgive others and love them, yet still keep a healthy distance.
“How can I forgive myself when others do not forgive me and throw my past in my face every chance they get?” By waiting for others to forgive you, you give up your own power to forgive yourself and will stay stuck in anger and judgment. The truth is, you don’t need the permission of others to forgive yourself. It is important to correct any wrongdoing. Ask forgiveness and make reparation where appropriate, but once that is done, we must let go and move on, making a commitment not to repeat it. At that point you have done all you can do. If others choose to hold onto hate and anger, that is their choice. Likewise, it is your choice to forgive yourself.
As you can see, the anger and offense we feel toward others is directly related to how negatively we feel about ourselves. It may seem counter-intuitive but it is true. We must reach the place where we love and accept ourselves for exactly who we are, bumps, bruises, and all. We love ourselves, not in an arrogant or self-centered way, but in a truly authentic way. Then, and only then, are we free to love and forgive others. Learning to move out of our own negative, critical judgments and attitudes and into a more compassionate heart is not easy. It takes work but forgiveness is the natural outgrowth of compassion. That’s when you will live in peace!