Someone has hurt you. You’re angry and sad and in pain and you have every reason to be. They are total bastards and if you had your way, they’d be tarred and feathered and stomped to death by a herd of runaway Elephants. You want them to hurt, they way that you’re hurting. You want them to feel your pain. You want them to be punished for what they’ve done to you. You want revenge. We’ve all been there, and it’s not an entirely bad place to be. Rage and revenge feels better than self-pity and feeling like a powerless victim. There’s nothing “wrong” with wanting to punch someone in the face (I wouldn’t recommend doing it), as long as you don’t stay there. Yes, you have every right to be angry and hurt. But eventually, you’ll want to work your way towards forgiveness. In this post, I’d like to make the case for why you should do that and give you the steps that can help you get there.
Why forgive them? Do they even deserve it?
When coaching someone into forgiveness, I usually get asked “Why should I forgive them? They don’t deserve it”, or some variation thereof. But here’s the thing: Forgiveness isn’t about them. It’s about you. When you forgive someone, it’s NOT the same as:
- Letting them off the hook
- Telling them that they can do it again (whatever the offense was)
- Being a doormat
- Excusing their behavior or deeming it “acceptable”
I’ll say it again: forgiveness has nothing to do with them whatsoever. It’s about you wanting to feel better than you do right now. Period.
It doesn’t matter what they did to you. You can and should forgive them, for your sake. They don’t even have to know that you forgave them. It’s not about exonerating them, making them feel better, being the better man (or woman), saving face, demonstrating compassion, or anything else that has to do with how others see you. It’s all about you.
What happens when you forgive someone
To better understand this concept fully – the idea that forgiveness REALLY has nothing to do with the other person, it’s helpful to look at what happens when we forgive someone. I find that this is the hardest thing for people to get their heads around. They get it intellectually, but a part of them doesn’t want to forgive, again, mostly because they don’t want to let the other person “off the hook”.
Chip and Dale have had a fight. Chip stole Dale’s money and ran off with his girlfriend. Chip is an asshole. Dale is, quite understandably, really upset. He’s wavering between feeling like an idiot for ever trusting Chip (self-blame) and wanting to find him so he can rip his face off (revenge). Chip is sitting somewhere in Bermuda, so nothing Dale does or doesn’t do will affect him. In other words, Dale can feel horrible or he can feel good. It won’t make a difference to Chip. But it will make a difference to Dale. And that’s why Dale should forgive Chip.
As Dale sits in self-blame, which is quite a powerless emotion, he feels awful. He is about as far removed from the vibration of Who He Really Is as he can get. It’s a painful place to be. Again, this pain is in no way helping the situation, nor is it hurting Chip. So, Dale moves up the Emotional Scale to anger and rage. Instead of turning the blame unto himself, he’s now blaming Chip. While this isn’t a good feeling emotion, it feels a lot more powerful than shame and self-blame and therefore, feels better. Dale is now hopping mad. Instead of pitying himself, he’s pacing around his apartment, ranting and punching couch cushions. He’s feeling more empowered – he’s shifted his vibration significantly. Has this change made any difference to Chip? Nope. But Dale is feeling better.
Once he’s gotten the anger out, Dale is ready to shift his perspective on what happened. He begins to analyze how he could have attracted being robbed by a friend. He realizes that he’s always had issues with betrayal and abandonment. He has huge trust issues which he traces back to when he was a small child. He realizes that the Chip incident is just one of a whole pattern of experiences that all feel the same. Chip’s behavior has highlighted a belief that Dale has been carrying around with him for years. And as Dale has this realization, he works his way up the Vibrational Ladder, continues to find new perspectives, releases the belief of betrayal and ends up completely shifting his vibration around all relationships. For the first time in his life, he’s attracting women who are kind and compassionate. His relationship with his father improves. He finds that more and more people with integrity are coming into his reality.
As he begins to see how his experience with Chip has served him, he finds the feeling of forgiveness, both for himself and for Chip. Has any of this made any difference at all to Chip? Nope. He’s still sitting in Bermuda, oblivious to what has happened. But it’s made a HUGE difference to Dale, who not only feels tons better, but has drastically improved his vibration and all of his present and future relationships.
Forcing them to see your point of view isn’t an option
When we’re stuck in revenge mode, a part of us thinks that if we hate enough, if we hurt enough, if we focus on the unfairness enough, that eventually it will hurt the other person and teach them a lesson. But that’s not really an option. In extreme cases, you may be able to get them arrested, or you may be able to sue. But you can never control what kind of experience they’ll have. You can’t guarantee that they’ll learn any lesson or that they’ll feel your pain. You can’t force them to see things from your perspective.
This is particularly poignant with breakups or parent/child relationships. If your parents abused you, neglected you or did anything else that you think “damaged” you (and who doesn’t think that to some degree?), you probably want them to pay some kind of price, to at least apologize, or to know how much they’ve hurt you. You want “closure”. You want them to see the situation from your perspective, thinking that when they do, you’ll finally feel better. But often, getting the offending party to see things from your point of view, simply isn’t an option. And no matter how badly you feel, or how long you hold on to that horrible feeling, you can’t force it to be an option.
Your options are:
- Continue to feel horrible
- Choose to feel better, but make it conditional upon something you have no control over, thus robbing yourself of the control over how you feel
- Choose to feel better
When you choose to forgive for your own sake, when you don’t need the other person to understand, say or do anything, then you’re choosing Option 3. You can’t suffer enough to cause them suffering. You can feel bad enough to make them feel bad. And you can’t pay a high enough price to make them pay. Why would you choose to try?
How to find the feeling of forgiveness
Now that I’ve hopefully made a good case for WHY it serves you to forgive, how do you actually go about find that feeling when you’re currently balled up in the fetal position, crying “Why Me?” It’s quite simple actually, but not necessarily easy. First, you have to be willing to feel better. That alone is quite a big step. If you’re not ready to feel better, that’s ok. Wallow in your dark place until you get sick of it. But once you reach that point, you can follow these steps to drag yourself out of your pity-pit and back into Happy Shiny Puppy Land. Notice, that if you know these steps, you can also help guide someone else through this process (for you helper types out there).
Step 1: Validate your right to feel bad
You have been wronged. That’s the situation. Particularly those of us who have studied LOA extensively will try to skip this step. “I should feel better”, we cry and so we reach for a better feeling before we’ve made peace with where we are now, keeping us stuck in our current situation. When you make peace with where you are, you are not judging the feeling or situation as good or bad. It’s where you are. But you have to accept that before you can move on and you do that by validating your feelings.
You are hurt and you have every right to be. Acknowledge that.
Step 2: Get mad – at them
If you’ve been hurt so badly that you’ve moved into depression, you’re most likely alternating between self-pity (“Why me?”) and anger at yourself (“I’m so stupid!”). When the anger comes, instead of squashing it, let it out and use it. I’ve written extensively about anger, so I won’t recap it all here, except to say that anger is a healing emotion and when you’re stuck in depression or self-blame, it’s the emotion that will get you out of there and back to feeling good. Anger is necessary. So, when you begin to feel the anger, ride that wave. Go with it. Let it out in a safe way, but let it out. And as you do, purposefully shift that anger away from yourself and towards someone or something else. You don’t have to do this to anyone’s face and you don’t have to act on the anger. Just let it out in the privacy of your own home.
When you blame someone other than yourself, you shift your focus to a more a more empowered vibration. It feels better to blame someone else than to blame yourself and so, to continue to move up the emotional scale, we have to shift from “I hate myself”, to “I hate them”. Get good and angry, let the anger out and continue to do so until you start to lose steam. At some point, the anger will run out.
Step 3: Figure out how you want to feel
You may think that you should’ve done this right at the start, but you’d be wrong. You don’t have access to the vibration of how you want to feel when you’re stuck in depression or anger. But once you’ve released those emotions, you can begin to see a bit more light. Remember that this is not an intellectual exercise – you have to actually be able to feel what it is that you want. So, once you’ve released anger, figure out how you want to feel about yourself, about this situation, and about the person that hurt you. Keep in mind that this is about you, not them. You are not exonerating them by feeling better. You are not excusing their behavior. You are choosing to feel better.
Examples of how you may want to feel:
- “I don’t want to hate this person anymore.”
- “I don’t want to be angry anymore.”
- “I don’t want to be sad anymore.”
- “I don’t want to feel afraid anymore.”
- “I want to breathe again.”
- “I want to feel free”
- “I want to feel secure.”
- “I want to feel safe.”
Keep it really general at this point. Don’t reach for “I want to forgive my asshole boyfriend and forget that he cheated on me with my best friend.” That’s too specific. Also, you don’t have to forget what he’s done, you just want to get to the point where you no longer focus on it or obsess about it. And, more importantly, you want to get to the point where you can feel good despite the fact that he’s still breathing the same air as the rest of humanity.
Step 4: Focus on that feeling
What would it feel like if you were already ok? What would it feel like if you were no longer angry? What would it feel like if your day wasn’t shaped by this issue? Visualize yourself being ok, being happy, going on with your life, going out with friends, being carefree. See yourself as healed, as whole, not as broken but brave. Keep working on your visualization until you can truly get into the feeling of being confident, whole, secure, safe, and easily able to focus on the positives. Then, use that visualization at least once a day, and every time you are reminded of the offense.
Forgiveness, in and of itself, is not really an emotion. To forgive simply means to choose to feel better, even if the other person is still alive and kicking and hasn’t been tarred and feathered for their offenses. It means to shift your perspective on a situation that you’re using as an excuse to feel awful, so that you can feel relief. It means putting yourself and how you feel first.
Are you holding on to anger or resentment that isn’t serving you? Are you ready to let it go? If not now, when?