When the 20 year old play by play from the last time you saw your best friend sneaks up on you while you’re simply buying groceries you may wonder, “Can there really only be 4 steps to forgiving yourself and others?!” Yes!! The list is simple…and it will take practice.
You know the scenario. You’re at your desk just plugging away when BAM the fight with the kids’ coach pops to mind. Suddenly, the exchange is all you can think about. All of the “I should’ve saids” come to mind. Your adrenaline kicks in and triggers all of your stress responses: clenched jaw, hunched shoulders and a terse, “what do you want?!” thrown at a co-worker’s request to close the blinds. What the hell happened?! Moments ago you were fine and, without warning, you’re ready to punch a wall (or an innocent man’s squinty face).
You know you need to let it go, but how?? The closest lesson you’ve ever had toward the steps to forgiving yourself and others is in lip-service cliches. You want to puke at “pull yourself up by your bootraps,” “suck it up,” sentiments. Or, worse, “you just need to toughen up.” As if your angst and defensiveness are invalid somehow.
The problem with that train of thought is when you invalidate your true feelings you perpetuate and worsen them. Unaddressed fear turns to anger. Without due attention, doubt morphs into guilt. Denial becomes frustration. To summarize Carl Jung, what we resist, persists.
I’ve had the good fortune of practicing forgiveness to the point that I consider it my superpower. The number one thing you need to know about forgiveness is that you are doing the work it takes to let go and get through a work day without that migraine that starts in your jaw when you’re mad. Forgiveness is NOT saying, “it’s ok.” Never, ever should forgiveness be mistaken for the permission to let yourself or others behave badly. Instead, understand that letting go is a reclamation of the time and attention you’ve given to a person or set of circumstances that unnecessarily depletes you. You are taking back your energy so you can do something useful with it.
one It’s called a “practice” for a reason
Pay close attention to the word choice above, “forgiveness practice.” When you understand that moving on is an iterative practice you have the very first piece you need to make forgiveness easier over time: grace. In the book, “F.A.I.L.* to Win: 4 Simple Principles To Get You Out Of Your Own Way,” grace is described as a pre-cursor to forgiveness. Rather than learning to let go of the past, you understand that in the present everyone is fallible. Even yourself!
“Grace is the state of mind that accepts the fact that we are, all of us, in this classroom called life.” We’re all learning which means we’re all making mistakes. As you move forward in these steps to forgiving yourself and others drop the self-criticism when you forget or, in your opinion, get it wrong. It’s called a “practice” for a reason; you’re meant to do it better over time (not get it perfectly right the first time).
two Face your feelings head on
It absolutely feels terrible to want to slap someone. Likewise, the memory of someone else lashing out makes you feel sick to your stomach. The natural, human reaction to both scenarios is defensiveness. We either want to justify our bad behavior or make someone else understand that they hurt you.
That urge to “show them” is:
1) attempting to control others or circumstances (which is impossible)
2) an unconscious tether to the hurtful event and
3) a tragic misuse of your time, energy and attention.
Instead of trying to make the icky feelings “okay” with weak justifications or denying their existence altogether, look them dead in the eye. Name them. Put words to the thoughts and emotions that are associated with those feelings. Write them down. Discuss them with a friend or with your life coach. The more you talk about them the less power they’ll have over you. Which means you’ll feel more empowered over time.
three Make it useful
You cannot control others, but you can improve control over yourself. Every life experience you go through has a gift for you if you’re willing to look for it. Your painful past is no exception. Review the notes you made in step two and with curiosity. If these were your friend’s notes what would you see that they couldn’t? Is there an opportunity to learn healthy boundaries with others? Maybe the incident revealed strength you didn’t know you had. Hardship brought you to this article about the steps to forgiving yourself and others. That’s a monumental gift in itself!
Allow the positive aspect of your experience to share space with the painful. You have something to turn your attention to that makes good use of both the energy you expend now as well as the energy you take back as you decrease focus on the negative.
four Celebrate your wins
Look for all the ways you’ve already let go. You DO know how to move on. You DO know how to take all of that pent up hurt and consciously channel it toward something that feels good and productive. Create more of what works by focusing on it. When the ugly beast from your past rears its ugly head, remember it’s the first time in X number of hours. That means most of the time you really have let it go. By and large you do put your energy where it does some good.
You’re still irritated that it cropped up at all? Refer to step one. It’s called a practice for a reason!
Whether it’s your most recent fight, an accident from years ago or you were a total innocent in the midst of someone else’s wrong-doing the painful events in your life have something to show you about yourself (and practice within yourself) that you wouldn’t get to see otherwise. These steps to forgiving yourself and others are vital to your wellbeing as well as your personal growth, so bookmark this page and come back often. Allow the practice of forgiveness to deepen over time. You’ll find that, not only will you get better at letting go, you’ll have fewer instances that require the practice in the first place.
OMG, I can’t wait to see what you create with all of this reclaimed time, energy and attention!!
I wrote this cool ebook to help people on step three: “What Did I Do To Deserve This?” Ebook and Journal pages. Download it now and let me know what you think!
Triffany is a certified professional life coach who helps strong women tame their inner hot mess. Start with the book F.A.I.L.* to Win: 4 Simple Principles to Get You Out of Your Own Way and follow up with a class. Everything you touch will get easier as you go.