“Inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past, and is therefore the means for correcting our misperceptions.” Gerald G. Jampolsky
I think there is a reason this is a highly plagiarized quote. When you really understand and truly accept it, the results can be astounding. I know of what I speak. I have spent the better part of my life balking at forgiveness. In my mind it meant somehow letting the perpetrator off the hook and in some way condoning or at least turning a blind eye to their actions. Naturally I wasn’t willing to do that. Who would?
I struggled for years, getting repeated messages about how you must forgive in order to move on. How I would never be a whole person if I couldn’t forgive. The pressure to do so was causing me stress, and yet I couldn’t resolve myself to do it. It felt like it went against all my principles.
Then, through a whole lot of self-exploration and good old fashioned grunt work aided by some amazing people, I came to realize forgiveness is entirely something else. Here are two of my favourite versions of Jampolsky’s thoughts:
“When you forgive someone you are making a promise not to hold the unchangeable past against your present self.” Marc Chernoff
“Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could be any different. It’s accepting the past for what it was and using this time to help yourself move forward.” Oprah Winfrey
I finally realized that in the end the past was holding me captive. I was allowing it to keep me mired in bad experiences, empty promises, and hopes that would never be fulfilled. And the only person suffering for it was me. So I have done a lot of work to let go of all of that, and that has been helpful. I was making progress until I hit the mirror.
For most of us the most difficult person to forgive is the one in the mirror. All of us have done things we regret, things we may even think are unforgivable. The problem is it’s hard to really love someone you can’t forgive. Think about it. If your spouse did something you considered unforgiveable would you still love them in the same way? Probably not.
The thing is, you can leave your spouse. You can’t leave yourself. Well at least you can’t literally but you certainly can emotionally and spiritually, and this is exactly what we do when we cannot accept ourselves for who we are – with all our warts and bad hair and ugly thoughts. We rent a van and vacate our hearts.
I have spent the better part of my life having essentially left myself. I have compartmentalized, blamed, and avoided. I thought I was avoiding my past but what I was really avoiding was me. The real me. The one who experienced things no child should experience. The one who thought she should have been able to change the situation even when she was a powerless child. The one who ran from everyone and everything until she ran out of gas.
Don’t worry. My story takes a very happy turn here, for I am so incredibly fortunate to have met just the right people when my tank started to run out. They have lifted me, held space for me, and given me the courage to forgive the only person who really matters – me. It has taken me so very long to get here, but it is absolutely worth every step of the journey.
As Brené Brown says, you can’t love someone else any more than you love yourself. If you can’t love yourself unconditionally, then how will you ever love someone else in that way? Brown says that pretty much every parent she’s ever spoken to bristles at this concept in a mama bear “don’t tell me I don’t unconditionally love my children” kind of way. I did too, at first.
Now I realize she’s right in the sense that if you are not fully present emotionally and spiritually for yourself, then you can’t be for anyone else. In my blaming and avoidance game there was no way I could give my all to the people I love with my tank steadily emptying, having vacated my own heart.
I am a work in progress as, I believe, we all are. I am slowing putting the pieces of myself back together, accepting that they are a part of me, and working on loving them all.
“Do you leave your deaths on the battlefield of life, or do you have the strength and the courage to give them your love and bring them back?” Edward Frenkel
I will have to be better than all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, because I plan on putting this Humpty back together again. For I believe that if I do I will lead a very peaceful and happy life no matter what storms are breaking around me. I wish you the courage to do the same.