“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” ~ Matthew 6: 14-16
“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.” ~ Robert Muller
“Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time-just like it does for you and me.” ~ Sara Paddison
“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
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~ Paul Boese
“He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.” ~ George Herbert
“Without forgiveness life is governed by… an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” – Roberto Assagioli
“Forgive all who have offended you, not for them, but for yourself.” ~ Harriet Nelson
“Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” ~ Louis B. Smedes
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” ~ Luke 6:37
While my goal is to support you in doing your work, I’m doing my work too. Some days it’s easier than others, and some days you get knocked flat on your butt. The key is to get back up and keep moving forward. Sometimes it’s by leaps and bounds, and other times it’s with baby steps. Patience, Persistence, and Commitment are required to do the work. You also have to throw in a healthy dose of forgiveness and self-love – especially when things are tough.
The lesson that I am learning (slowly but steadily) is that the spiritual path isn’t always peace, joy and tranquility. It’s not supposed to be. The most important work that we can do is to lean into, and fully experience, the shadow parts of ourselves – the old wounds, the dark memories, the injuries that were too painful to look at so we put them away in a box in the closet. It’s also some of the hardest work that you can do because it requires that you dig into the parts of your personality that you deem unworthy, unlovable, undesirable, and unattractive. These shadows are the weeds in our lives and they keep us from becoming the highest and truest expression of ourselves as human beings.
You may think you have already “dealt with” your hurtful experiences, but have you healed them? There is one way to know – remember the experience of a past hurt or trauma in detail and “feel” into it. Is there any emotional reaction? Is there any pain, fear, resentment, bitterness, or anger? If so, you haven’t healed yet; just repressed. I know, because I spent many years of my life repressing past injuries. I thought I had healed them because they weren’t obvious to my conscious mind. But they live on as negative energy. The energy of past traumas remains trapped in your body until you process and release it. That is true forgiveness. It’s not an intellectual process. It’s a heart activity. Most of us were never taught how to do this. It’s time to learn. It’s time to heal.
Hurting People, Hurt People… Including Themselves
If you’re reading this, you’ve been hurt – wounded by others. The great irony is that hurt is entwined with love. The vulnerability of loving another, of opening your heart-space to them creates the possibility of injury. You can’t have one without the other. Therein lays the importance of true healing. The more you seek to protect yourself from hurt, the more you limit your ability to fully experience love.
An unhealed soul wound is like a thorn that hasn’t been removed. The acute pain may ease, but the area around the thorn becomes inflamed. If anything touches the thorn, the pain is severe – more intense than the original penetration. The only way for the injury to fully heal is by removing the thorn. At any point we can choose to remove the thorn, but the process would be painful and we tend to avoid pain. Instead, we either protect the thorn or attempt to medicate it.
We protect the thorn by building walls around it, and putting up defense mechanisms. If anyone comes near the thorn, we lash out in an attempt to protect our wound. That is why hurting people, hurt people. Sometimes the wound becomes so infected that the pain is constant. We think the pain is coming from our current situation instead of our past experiences. That’s when we medicate with addictive and/or self-destructive behavior. Some of us turn to alcohol and drugs, others to food or shopping, still others to hoarding behavior, mindless hours of TV or internet surfing – whatever it takes to dull or avoid the pain. Some of us descend into the paralyzing beliefs of guilt, unworthiness, fear, shame and worthlessness.
Here are some traits of “hurting people” – people with unhealed spiritual trauma and injury. Do you recognize any of them in yourself?
- Hurt people transfer their pain to the people they love. They inflict anger, judgment, manipulation or control on their friends and family. They blame others for hitting their “sore spot” and react defensively, thus hurting others and perpetuating the cycle.
- Hurt people interpret every action or word through the lens of their pain. Their emotional pain causes them to suspect that everyone is out to hurt them, or that there is evil intent behind other people’s actions. Ordinary words are interpreted negatively and they often overreact.
- Hurt people believe themselves to be victims. They are suspicious and have difficulty trusting. They believe that life is “unfair” and they have been treated in ways they don’t deserve.
- Hurt people alienate others. They continually hurt the ones the love and need the most with their self-destructive behavior and then wonder why no one is there for them. They blame others for being distant, for not knowing what they need, and for abandoning them.
- Hurt people have the emotional maturity of the age they experienced their un-healed hurt. They cannot grow beyond that stage until the wound has been healed.
- Hurt people are frequently frustrated with life or depressed because the past pain continually spills over into their present experience. They fail to see that their current pain is actually the un-healed pain of the past.
- Hurt people often erupt with inappropriate emotional responses because particular words, actions or circumstances touch or “trigger” the past wound. These reactions seem to “come from left field” but are actually a response to the years of pain and un-healed hurt that is overflowing into the current situation.
- Hurt people occupy themselves with busyness and accomplishments as a way to avoid their pain. They frequently “live for work” and when they have free time, or find themselves unemployed, they experience significant pain, depression, and low self-esteem.
- Hurt people often attempt to medicate themselves with excessive entertainment, hobbies, sexual relationships, drugs, alcohol, pornography or other compulsive behavior as a way to avoid their pain. Occasionally they completely shut down emotionally and go through life dull and numb.
- Hurt people often live double lives and lack integrity. They present an “image” in public that doesn’t match their private lives. They may pretend to be happy, in control, and fulfilled, when they are not. This attempt to hide their “dark side” , or shadow, leads to hypocrisy, guilt, shame and depression.
- Hurt people are often self-absorbed and unaware that they are also hurting other people. The depth of their pain is directly related to the depth of their ability to hurt others.
Are any of these weeds growing in your life? Unhealed hurt leads to pain, unresolved pain plants the seeds of resentment, anger, bitterness, the need to control others, feeling out of control yourself and self-destructive or obsessive behavior. These are the fruits of the shadow.
The only way out of this cycle is to heal the hurt and release the pain. This begins with experiencing it, telling the truth about it, standing in that truth in integrity, forgiving (others, yourself and God), and lastly choosing a new end to the story. It can be done. It must be done in order to live a fulfilled life overflowing with peace, contentment and joy. But it isn’t easy.
Many people have lived with (and compensated for) their pain for so long that they no longer recognize its origins. Working with a trained professional – like a spiritual life coach – can provide the insight you need and help you begin the process of healing and forgiveness. There are processes and techniques that will help. Things don’t have to stay the way they are. There is hope and healing if you are willing to do the work. It’s time to stop ignoring the weeds. It’s time to pull them out by the roots and plant something new. It’s time for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not an intellectual process – it is a spiritual process. Forgiveness is the decision that you will not continue to let the pain of past injuries dictate and control your current life. It is the willingness to release the negative energy – to process the pain in a productive and cleansing manner – and liberate yourself from it. It’s not about the person who hurt you; it’s about you. Hurting people, hurt people, but healed people, heal others.
If you’re ready to heal, consider these six aspects of forgiveness:
- Forgiving does not mean forgetting. When you choose to forgive you cannot (and should not try to) forget the injury. That would be stupid. Instead, seek to learn the lesson – for all experiences are lessons that God would have us learn. This is called wisdom. At the least, it’s an example of how you don’t want to treat others. Remember the golden rule?
- Forgiving requires that you experience and process the pain. This is often the most difficult part. It is not sufficient to simply tell yourself you forgive. That’s just a diversion – that’s building another wall around the thorn. Forgiving means extracting the thorn, removing the infected tissue surrounding it, and covering the wound with the healing balm of love.
- Forgiveness is a process, not a destination. It is not a “once and then done” activity. Just like after a surgery, the incision will be tender for a while. You must tend to it. But you must also exercise it and strengthen it. It’s like spiritual rehabilitation. It takes time but it can be done. And just line a bone that becomes stronger in the area where it was once broken, your spirit becomes stronger and more resilient once you complete the healing process. However, the process does not go on forever. You don’t want to sit in the pain, you want to heal and release it.
- Forgiveness requires putting your ego in check. Most people aren’t malicious – they don’t seek to hurt others intentionally. Remember hurting people hurt people. Part of the process requires the acknowledgement that the injury you experiences was not about you. It’s very unlikely that they set out to hurt you on purpose. They were simply doing the best they could with what they had at that time. It’s ok that it wasn’t enough for you – that it wasn’t what you needed. When people know better, they do better.
- Forgiveness requires forgiving all involved –not just the person who hurt you, but also yourself, and God. We tend to judge ourselves harshly for “letting” someone hurt us, as if we chose to drink poison. True forgiveness involves forgiving yourself and releasing your need to take responsibility for the injury. Lastly, forgiveness also means forgiving God. Sometimes we want to blame God for allowing bad things to happen to us. Remember that God does not permit evil; God permits freedom of choice. People permit evil. All experiences are lessons that God would have us learn.
- Forgiveness is not excusing the hurtful action. We excuse a person who is not to blame. We forgive a wrong that has been committed.
- Forgiveness is not giving permission to continue hurtful behaviors; nor is it condoning the behavior. It is choosing not to carry the pain of the hurt forward.
- Forgiveness is not reconciliation. We must make a separate decision about whether to reconcile with the person we are forgiving. Forgiveness does not require a future relationship.
- Forgiveness results in loving – and even desiring to heal – the person who hurt you. When forgiveness is complete, you realize that the person who hurt you did so because they were also hurting. Your healing will result in wanting healing for them as well – and for all who are hurting. Compassion and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin. Compassion and love come naturally when forgiveness is complete.
As we heal ourselves and forgive others we break the cycle. When we heal ourselves, we begin healing others; as we heal others, we heal the world.
Isn’t it time to break the cycle? Isn’t it time to give yourself permission to heal and forgive? Isn’t it time to lay the burdens down? You’ve carried them long enough.