Forgiveness is difficult to do. I mean to really forgive, not just spout the words, “I forgive you.” The barrier to achieving total forgiveness is resentment. Resentment can pop up at the least provocation, stir up a ton of old emotion, and effectively squelch any hope of true forgiveness. The belief is if I forgive that person or situation, then I condone their behavior. It took me a long time to accept the fact the longer I held onto that belief, the longer I was keeping myself from truly moving forward. I kept arguing with myself that they/situation did not deserve to be forgiven. My righteous indignation kept true freedom at bay. Something had to change.
Many years ago, I took a workshop with forgiveness as one of the topics. I approached one of the exercises on the freedom of forgiveness with mild ambivalence. I’m an easy-going, open-minded type of person, so I honestly didn’t think this exercise would be a big deal. Quick, easy, to the point, something to do to kill time before lunch.
After receiving the exercise instructions, I took out a piece of paper and wrote on the top, “I forgive so-and-so for whatever.” No problem. The items on my list were deep and insightful: “I forgive my workshop instructor for making me do this stupid exercise.”
After an eternity, she said that we now had to come up with 100 more people and events to forgive.
WHAT? I was not amused.
I went back to my list, grumbling all the way. At first, I could not think of a single thing. I wanted to bolt out the door, but the instructor, no doubt seeing me eyeing the door, stood directly in front of it. How rude!
Seeing no other alternative than to become introspective and face my emotions head-on, I picked up my pen and began to write.
“I forgive my first-grade teacher for making me tie up my long hair because she said I looked like a tramp.”
My pen sprang to life.
“I forgive what’s-her-name in the second grade for calling me stupid.”
My pen took on a life of its own.
“I forgive my sister for dying.”
My writing became frantic.
“I forgive all past boyfriends for hurting me.”
Where is all this coming from?
In total, I wrote down 267 items. The only reason I stopped: it was time for lunch.
I thought the exercise was a tremendous way to release past attachments and emotions of other people.
It was, indeed, a freeing experience. I was not prepared, however, for the next step.
Back in the room, we had to pull out yet more paper and my trusted (and now overworked) pen. The list became, “I forgive myself for whatever.” This was by far the hardest thing I ever had to do.
I had to confront those feelings of being “awful” for the choices I had made.
Those feelings of stupidity for the things I have said and done. Those feelings of shame, embarrassment, and fear. As I began my list, I felt emotions I had squashed down so deep inside me that they burst forth, finally seizing an opportunity to be free. The aching pit in my stomach, the tears brimming in my eyes and my hand visibly shaking were solid proof of the energy shifting.
I was overcome by the extent of my emotional release, yet aware of the lightness I was experiencing because of that. I ended the exercises knowing I would be repeating these many times in my life.
The healing had begun.
My all-time favorite quote on forgiveness comes from the always insightful Maya Angelou. “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”