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how to forgive

The bitter feelings when we have been unfairly treated can linger sometimes for years. They drain and distract us every time the offending incident returns to mind. They can strain and destroy our relationships.It is easy to say “just get over it.” The ‘doing’ of getting over it when you believe you did not get a fair hearing, you were misunderstood, or wrongly accused and convicted, is more difficult. Often even more challenging is when the offense is recognized within our society as a serious or heinous crime, such as incest or rape, forgiveness may seem impossible, but learning how to forgive can help you heal.

The most inspiring story of forgiveness I’ve read is that of Corrie ten Boom. She was Dutch, a Christian, and she worked to help many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. She was arrested and interred in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Lecturing on forgiveness after the war, she met one of the guards responsible for the death of her sister and thousands of others. He asked her to forgive him and beyond all odds of what she thought possible, she did so.

Most of us do not have such serious crimes committed against us. My own story is unimportant, even trivial, but it gave me the opportunity to do battle with myself to forgive and, in retrospect, to examine the stages of my experience.

A Personal Story About Forgiveness

how to forgive someone

It began when a family member, once close to me, accused me of lying. I was completely taken aback, unsure I’d even heard the accusation accurately. I reassured my accuser that I had not lied, had not in any way misrepresented myself or my behavior.

The accusation was repeated and I defended myself a second time. In fact, I have a long standing commitment to being truthful and I was dumbfounded that someone who knew me for so long would even consider that I would lie. As the exchange grew more intense my sense of being violated gained the upper hand and what had begun as a simply shell-shocked reaction turned into an emotional explosion.

Over the next few months I made several attempts to resolve the matter with my accuser. What I wanted was a retraction and an apology. Each conversation was met with the reassertion that I lied and a refusal to discuss the matter further. The closest she came was to say, “Everyone lies and even if you didn’t in this case you are still a liar.” Sadly, that wasn’t enough for me and it was more than a year before we spoke again.

During that time and for months later my outrage did not abate. In fact, it grew. Each time I thought about the accusation I was shocked, violated, and victimized once more. I grew sick of my obsessive circular thinking. I stewed with anger and had no idea what to do about it.

stories of forgiveness

Examine Yourself & Your Actions

Every spiritual teaching and my friends agreed, “How did you contribute to the blowup?” I felt so unjustly treated it was impossible for many months to even consider that I was somehow responsible for the accusation. It felt like ‘blaming the victim’. Finally, I questioned myself: Had I lied? What was my part in this?My irrational reaction at being called a liar and, perhaps equally unreasonable, commitment to telling the truth came straight out of my childhood. As a child, I was mostly interested in not getting in trouble. If that meant telling the truth I had no problem with it. If it meant a lie, I went for that just as easily. Only as an adult did I commit myself wholeheartedly to being truthful and I carried a mountain of hidden shame about myself as a liar.

This insight did not help me forgive my accuser. It did, however,increase my shame and anger with myself. How could I have lost my temper? It was inexcusable. What difference did it make that someone called me a liar? I couldn’t prove my innocence. Why not just shrug it off? People will say what they say and believe as they choose.

why forgiveness is important

Then, a dear and wise friend pushed me through the most important and the smallest doughnut hole. Telling her how much I blamed myself and how I wished I had not gotten upset, her response was emphatic. “It is a good thing that you responded as you did. It was your life force rising in defense of itself. Yes, it was a childhood wound coming home to haunt, but you protected yourself and it is what you needed to do. Not only did you ‘do the best you could in the moment’, it was the right response. A moderate response was not appropriate. It would have left your child-self accused and unprotected.”

Her message was a bolt of welcome insight. Finally, I could forgive myself for my part in the destruction of a once intimate friendship. Forgiving myself, I took a giant leap closer to forgiving the perpetrator.

Refuse To Refuel Your Anger

Even as I forgave myself, the memories and pattern of angry thinking would resurface. These were the hungry ghosts of Buddhism, the strong irrational emotions that want to rule our lives. They came most often in wakefulness at night and it took every ounce of my will to refuse them entry to my thoughts. I knew they would only destroy my hard won truce from an emotional storm. ‘No, I won’t go there. I will think about something else.’ And I did.

let go of resentment

Find Compassion For The Other

No longer feeding my anger, I finally felt the stirrings of compassion for the woman who had attacked me. I realized how much pressure she was under in the weeks before her attack on me. She was with my father in the final stages of his dying process. She was exhausted from days at the hospital, planning for his care if he survived, and finally, planning his funeral when he did not. I was 2000 miles away and spared those painful final days. It was in compassion that I felt forgiveness enter my heart.

What Good Came From This Situation?

I can see the good that came into my life from the loss of a once close friend. The rupture of that relationship forced me to seek new friends, new relationships, and new openings with other people, some within my family, others not blood relatives. The changes have so enriched my life that I no longer regret the rupture and that has contributed to the healing for me.

Forgiveness Is The Natural Result Of Letting Go Of Our Idols Of Thinking

The idol of my thinking was that I should have risen above the situation. I should have been ‘more enlightened’. I wasn’t. Only with the help of a trusted friend was I able to let it go. There were also my beliefs about others, how they should behave and understand me. Forgiveness demanded those beliefs

resentment in relationships

get booted as well.The remnants of my resentment re-emerged many times. Over and over I forgave myself, refused to feel violated again, and remembered compassion.

As Corrie ten Boom noted in her own story, having forgiven another person doesn’t mean that we have mastered the skill for a lifetime. There will be another day, another injury, another offense and once again we will be faced with letting go of a grievance.

If you’re looking for holistic healers in Scottsdale contact Dr. Sandra Egli at Center of Intention.

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