The holidays are full of decorations, delicious food, friends and family, giving and fun! Right? Right?!
The truth is, the holidays can bring up a lot of relationship stuff. Yucky relationship stuff. Family issues. Difficult friendships.
You know what I’m talking about.
It may not be this year, but I’m guessing that everyone has endured an uncomfortable holiday gathering, or decided not to even go to a gathering because of a conflict.
What we don’t talk about often during the holidays, and definitely NEED to talk about during the holidays, is forgiveness.
Now, if you just got your back up because you are NEVER EVER going to forgive that a-hole in you family, and they don’t deserve to be forgiven. Relax. I’m going to let you in on a little secret…
Forgiveness is for yourself. Not for them.
“Without forgiveness life is governed by… an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” – Roberto Assagioli
Forgiveness is about letting go of the anger because the anger is hurting you, not them. As much as we would like to think the anger is hurting them, that the daggers coming from our eyes stings them to their core, this is no guarantee. They might feel it. They might not. They might care a lot. They might not care at all. One thing I can tell you for certain – daggers shooting from your eyes are doing a lot more damage to your eyes than to anyone else. I can’t imagine the pain as the daggers pierce your cornea and hurtle through space and time to the person you despise.
I’m exaggerating, of course. And taking the metaphor literally. BUT, it does make a point, doesn’t it?
Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.
Now, I’ll let you in on another secret. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to become best buddies with them. Or even let them back into your life at all. In fact, they may have already passed on to the great unknown. Forgiving them just means you have released your anger toward them and moved on. YOU no longer carry the burden.
Oprah put it a better way, “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”
Isn’t that what you really want with that anger? Change?
A therapist once told me that anger is your body telling you that there has been an injustice. Isn’t your anger really a wish that the injustice will be righted somehow? That the person will realize the harm of their actions and change?
The past changing? The injustice righted completely? The person at fault realizing they have done wrong? What are the odds of any of that happening?
“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” – Katherine Ponder
Think of anger and resentment another way. If you are feeling these emotions toward someone, you are energetically connected to them. And, I’m guessing, this is a person you would rather not be energetically connected to. So you see, in no way will you feel peace until you release this connection by releasing your anger and resentment.
Remember, anger is a path to the dark side. As Yoda says, “Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Don’t you want to let that go?
And now you may be saying, “Easier said than done. My feelings of anger are too strong!”
That’s why forgiveness is a practice.
No, you probably won’t be able to forgive that person overnight. But the awareness of what this anger is doing to YOU will hopefully begin the process. Because you realize that, in many ways, you are doing this to yourself. This person is, hopefully, no longer actively hurting you. (If they are, you need to look into changing that relationship ASAP!) It is just your anger toward them causing the suffering.
So How? How do I release this deep anger in my gut? How do I stay on the path of the Jedi?
Here are some practices to help lead you to the path of forgiveness.
1. Self-Reflection – Forgiveness is for you and about you. Your feelings and behaviors toward this person of conflict are your clues to how to release your resentment. Investigate your feelings. Journal about what happened and what you wish would happen. Do not judge these feelings. But as you reflect, you will unravel the story behind your feelings. In fact, you may realize it has become more of a story or legend in your mind. Let go of the story and begin to heal. Click here to read a blog I wrote on practices for Self-Reflection.
2. Write them a Letter – I have always found this practice cleansing and healing. Write a letter to the person you have negative feelings toward. Do not censor yourself in the letter. You aren’t going to send it to them. It is for you. The letter is for you to say all the things you wish you could say and get it out of your system. In my experience, as you write this letter, sometimes revelations occur. Like, maybe your anger is really about something else entirely and you didn’t realize it. Or maybe, by the end, you realize it is a good-bye letter.
I once wrote a letter to a boyfriend I was angry at. Luckily, I read the letter to a girlfriend before I gave it to him. Her simple response was, “I think that letter is really for someone else.” I was stunned. And, at first, a little pissed off that she said it. But my gut told me she was right. So, I reread the letter with a different perspective. She was absolutely right. The letter was to a previous boyfriend who wasn’t a very good boyfriend. I was projecting anger from that relationship onto the current boyfriend. So, you see, you never know what will come up.
You can write as many letters as you wish. Forgiveness is a practice. And there are probably many layers to discover.
And, what do you do with the letters? That is up to you. I usually burn them. I feel like the fire releases the emotions. I also like fire in general. I’ve heard of people burying them. I’ve heard of people keeping them in a safe place. It is totally up to you. I would just seriously recommend you do not send it the person the letter is addressed to. Seriously. I don’t care how brilliantly the letter expresses your side of the story, your hurts, your anger. This practice of forgiveness is for you. Do not connect more energy to them by sending the letter.
Seriously. Do NOT send the letter to them.
3. Think upon the lessons you learned from this relationship. Thank the person for being a teacher in your life. – Just like you, I have had people in my life who have hurt me. Even with all the practice of forgiveness, I can still think back on those situations and feel anger in my gut, hurt in my heart. But I can quickly flip that and reflect with gratitude on what I learned from that experience. I find some peace knowing that person came into my life to teach me a lesson. Some of the lessons I have learned are:
Respect and love for myself.
Respecting myself enough to set up boundaries.
I have a choice of who I let in my life and who I don’t.
Speak my truth no matter how scary.
I do the best I can, and my intentions are always good regardless of the outcome.
Respect for other people.
Think back on what you learned from this person. If you aren’t sure, journal about it. Or ask a friend what their perspective is.
4. Loving Kindness – It is often the case that when someone hurts you, it is because they have been hurt themselves. Will Bowen said, “Hurt people hurt people. We are not being judgmental by separating ourselves from such people. But we should do so with compassion…People hurt others as a result of their own inner strife and pain. Avoid the reactive response of believing they are bad; they already think so and are acting that way. They aren’t bad; they are damaged and they deserve compassion.”
As a side note, he also said, “Note that compassion is an internal process, an understanding of the painful and troubled road trod by another. It is not trying to change or fix that person.”
When we can see that the person who hurt us did so because they are hurt themselves, it is easier to forgive them. We realize they are human. That they, too, are doing the best they can with what they have, and what they have is a damaged perspective on themselves and others. The most common example of this is the bully at school. The kid who is always intimidating the weaker kids, beating them up and taking their lunch money. But if we follow the bully kid home, we discover that his father is an alcoholic who yells and hits the bully kid. He suddenly doesn’t seem like such a bad kid.
There is a meditation called “Loving Kindness” that helps you find compassion for others. You can use this meditation to reflect on the person you are angry at, and then wish them peace. Click to read my blog on the Loving Kindness Meditation.
5. Every time you think about this person, send them love and peace. – This one is a combination of #1 Self-Reflection and #4 Loving Kindness. You need the self-awareness to realize when you are thinking about this person and the situation that made your angry. Once you realize where your thoughts are, instead shift your thought process to sending them positive energy. Completely let go of your negative train of thought on the situation, take a breath, and wish the other person peace. You can wish yourself peace as well. And then wish peace to both of you. Again, you are doing this for yourself, not for them. Sending them love is not saying you want to re-engage in a relationship with them. It doesn’t mean you don’t believe they did any wrong. You are simply wishing them peace.
Still having a hard time? Here is something to remember about wishing your enemy peace and love. In the Loving Kindness Meditation, you are wishing that person to be happy and healthy, to have joy in their life, peace, and be free from suffering. What would this person be like if they truly felt this way? What would the world be like if everyone felt this way? The world would be a much better place. Your wish of peace to your enemy is really your wish of peace to the world.
Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. It’s not saying that what that person did was okay. It is not letting them “get away with it.” It just means you are letting go of the burden of hurt. By forgiving, you are releasing the control that person has over you. And you are no longer hurting yourself by reliving the memories over and over, getting yourself all riled up. It isn’t easy. I never said it was. It is a practice that takes time. But it is a practice well worth the work as it is for your own peace of mind.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Louis B. Smedes
Did you like this post? Spread the Yoga Nerd love and share the post with your friends!
Have you joined yet? We have a lot of fun here! Become a subscriber and receive the weekly blogs directly into your inbox. Plus, you’ll find out what’s going on in my world in the Heatherland section of each email. Join the Yoga Nerd community and subscribe below!