It’s Spring and time to clean out your closet. Yes! the one with all the shoes, but this Real Optimal Living Blog Number 5 is really talking about your “internal closet:” The closet holding your guilt, anger, and pain. We all know that forgiveness is free, but it comes with a cost that may include humility, reflection, reliving the pain, and developing insight. It involves the release of powerful — sometimes crippling — emotions in favor of peace and serenity… and the ability to move on.
What if you’d like someone to forgive you?
Ask yourself if you are truly remorseful. If you faced the same circumstances, would you repeat the same behavior for which you now seek forgiveness? If you’d do something different, then perhaps you’re ready to genuinely ask to be forgiven. If you’re not sure how you’d respond in a similar situation or you think you’d do the same thing, then you’re probably not ready to apologize. So don’t. An insincere apology is as transparent as Saran Wrap and serves the same function; it maintains the freshness [of the emotional wound]. Instead reflect on the situation. Ask yourself what you are truly sorry for. Is it that you didn’t intend to hurt them? That you felt the benefits from your actions were so positive that they outweighed the potential harm? An honest apology goes a long way, even if its not exactly what the other person wants to hear.
What if you’d like to forgive someone?
Becoming a mother taught me a lot about forgiving, especially about doing it quickly. When my eldest daughter was a toddler, I was dumbfounded by the rapid transition she could make from having a temper tantrum to being happy… with all not just forgiven, but forgotten as well. This would occur so fast that I’d still be trying to do deep breathing exercises to remain calm from her emotional outburst (i.e., remaining the “calm psychologist”) when she’d already moved on to being my happy little baby girl without a trace of negativity. I can recall joking about whether she had multiple personalities because I couldn’t understand how she could transition from anger to joy so quickly. Then I observed other mothers and their kids and saw the same pattern: The kids would “just get over it” and move on. All’s forgiven and forgotten. Our challenge as parents was to do the same.
Another reason I’m focused on forgiveness as Real Optimal Living Blog 5’s topic is because in the past few days, I took the opportunity to raise an issue with someone that I’m close to. Over a decade ago, I had been devastated by her actions — which, in all honesty — were in response to my unsuitable behavior. Blame it perhaps on immaturity, but I had expected unconditional support from this person based on what I believed I would’ve provided if the circumstances were reversed. On hindsight, that expectation may have been unreasonable. She wasn’t me and I should’ve predicted her response given what I knew about her and the people from whom she took advice and counsel at the time. Over time, I was able to see that she didn’t mean to harm me per se, but felt that she had to remain true to her character regardless of its impact. I could — with maturity — understand that. Did I still blame her for her actions? Yes. Could I forgive her for being her? Yes. Was I still hurt and angry? Yes, but less and less so.
So why raise the issue with her after so much time had passed? Because I had residual feelings that still wedged the smallest of chasms between us. And because I believed that I had enough distance from my emotions that — regardless of her response to my confronting her about the issue — I felt she couldn’t hurt me further. I had forgiven her “in abstentia.” By having forgiven her first, I could withstand either a remorseless or remorseful response. In reality, our discussion was enlightening (remember, there are always differing perspectives when more than one person experiences the same event), emotional, and beautiful. I couldn’t believe it, but we “hugged it out.” Literally. Regarding my relationship with her, I now feel an incredible lightness of being.
But what if you cannot have a face-to-face discussion with someone whom you believe has hurt or wronged you? Perhaps they are no longer in your life or are deceased. I still believe that forgiving them in abstentia is cathartic. Process the situation, your role in it, and their hurtful actions. Be sure to examine your own culpability as closely as you examine their’s. Perhaps you had absolutely no responsibility in the harm that befell you. Reflect — objectively — on what the other person is (or was) capable of at the time. Who are (were) they? It may be helpful to understand the person for who they are (were) rather than who we would have liked them to have been. It does not excuse their behavior, but helps give greater perspective so you may find a little more room in your heart to forgive.
This Spring, clean your internal closet and release some of the emotional baggage you’ve been harboring. You may feel lighter, stronger, and more peaceful. Who knows? The main person you may need to forgive is yourself.