Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness
Like acceptance and compassion, the ability to forgive ourselves and others can free us from what Romantic poet William Blake called “mind-forged manacles” – in this case, feelings such as anger, hatred, resentment, guilt, shame, and victimization. Liberation from these feelings through forgiveness can help us be more available in the present moment and more adaptable to its ever-changing conditions.
Forgiveness, however is sometimes difficult to achieve.
Some obstacles to forgiving are easy to understand. Forgiveness is hardest when there is ongoing harm. Before we can offer forgiveness, we must be safe; before we can ask to be forgiven, we must stop doing harm. Forgiveness is also challenging when injuries haven’t healed. Unhealed wounds can lock us into a pattern of attracting others who hurt us again, or they can imprison us in a self-protective shell that keeps out not only potential harm, but also healing.
But for many of us, the chief impediment to forgiveness is unwillingness. Our culture glorifies an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” tradition that spans millennia. Forgiveness – forgiving others, seeking forgiveness, even forgiving ourselves – is seen as weakness. If we have been hurt, we may feel, we should punish those who harmed us, and if we cannot, we should at least punish them in our hearts. If we have harmed others, we may feel that we should punish ourselves, hoping that self-punishment will prevent us from harming again.
Releasing ourselves from these vengeful emotions through forgiveness may seem unfamiliar and unsafe. But actually, refusing to forgive ourselves doesn’t guarantee we will not harm again, nor does refusing to forgive others punish those who have harmed us. Withholding forgiveness merely uses up energy that could be put to more life-affirming purposes.
Forgiving my father for our lifelong estrangement began with a dream I had several years after his death and concluded when I realized, finally, that I was no longer afflicted by what had been damaging in our relationship. I could then regard him with compassion, understand how his difficulties and limitations had shaped him, and forgive him for his part in our conflicts – and myself, for mine.
The most helpful tool I’ve encountered for fostering forgiveness is a Buddhist meditation popularized by psychologist and teacher Jack Kornfield. Within the safety of the meditation, it instructs us first to feel the pain of keeping our hearts closed and then offers gentle steps for opening them just enough to ask for forgiveness from those we have harmed, to forgive ourselves, and to forgive those who have harmed us. Cautioning that forgiveness may come slowly and cannot be forced, the meditation encourages a gradual letting go of the burdens of unforgiven acts, with each iteration lightening our load just a little, like a sigh of relief.
What to do:
- Forgive and self-forgive. To break free of the burden of what Romantic poet William Blake called “mind-forged manacles” such as anger, hatred, resentment, guilt, shame, and victimization, practice slowly forgiving yourself and others with Jack Kornfield’s Forgiveness Mediation. For more on forgiveness and self-forgiveness, see the “Forgiveness” chapter in my book Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas.
COMING NEXT – Part III: Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude
The Under Toad and the UnBalancer
The Balancer/ReBalancer Tag Team
A Mini-Lesson on Mini Self-Care
Gyroscopes and Personal Flywheels
Hanging in the Balance
Balancing the Books
How to Design an Experiment
Build Your Resilience in 6 Steps
How to Rebalance Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps
How to Boost Connections and Support
Handling Change, Part I: Radical Acceptance and Self-Compassion
Handling Change, Part II: Forgiveness and Self-Forgiveness
Handling Change, Part III: Creative Approach and Experimental Attitude
Three Ways to Mix Mindfulness into Your Life
NOTE: Paths to Wholeness is now available at the following Boston-area bookstores and libraries:
Cabot Street Books & Cards, 272 Cabot Street, Beverly, MA 01915
The Bookshop, 40 West Street, Beverly Farms, MA 01915
Boston Public Library (main branch)
Brookline Public Library (main branch)
NOBLE Public Libraries (Beverly Farms and Salem)
MVLC Public Libraries (Hamilton-Wenham)
Please let me know if you find it in other locations!
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)