There is no love without Forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love – Bryant H. McGill
Let’s face it, there wouldn’t be too many people who would willingly do an archeological dig inside their own brains, looking for sticky, messy, or even painful emotions. Why would we? It’s unpleasant and at times distressing work and if we’ve not tended house for a while, we’re afraid of being swamped by the build up. But clean we must for our own wellbeing, our relationships and our world.
I was recently forced into one of those dark corners by an old email that somehow re-emerged in my most recent emails folder. The email consisted of two messages between myself and someone close to me whom I’ll call Jenny. In this open and honest email exchange, Jenny and I expressed our sadness at the difficulties our relationship endured over the years. In my email, I asked for Jenny to forgive me for not being the kind of support person she needed in our earlier years . As I read this old exchange, I was pleased that I was able to be empathetic and understand life from her perspective and also glad that I was able to be humble enough to explore the world of forgiveness. However, something in that exchange, really jarred me. There was a sharp stab in this act of seeking forgiveness. It was unpleasant and I tried to escape it but I knew enough about emotions that I had to face it head on. What I realised was that for most of my life, I’ve blindly accepted blame for anything and everything that goes wrong in my personal and professional relationships. I’d developed a distorted view around faults and problems and made them my own. Even world problems. Somehow, I “should” have been a stronger woman, vocal, activist, a better friend, or been more compassionate etc. etc. In this particular relationship with Jenny, there was a third person who really was responsible for providing the support that she needed, and that was her mother. Being still quite young and naive myself at the time, I did not have the capacity to provide any emotional support for others, let alone myself. So can I ask forgiveness for something that was not within my conscious mind, and was not my responsibility?
After much digging, scratching and processing, I realised that the answer was yes. As I read these emails again, I realised that forgiveness has two sides. We offer the hand of forgiveness to those we’ve hurt because whether or not we were aware of what we were doing, the bottom line is that someone ended up experiencing pain as a result of our words and/or actions.
And that’s where the other equally critical side of forgiveness comes in. We must also forgive ourselves. More often than not, we operate from our unconscious mind, that is, our thoughts are generated by automatic programs or beliefs that we formed as children. Those beliefs and thoughts that cause pain and conflict, are often associated with past hurts, often from our childhood, so it’s no wonder we unconsciously pass on our pain to others.
The jarring feelings from this old email told me that I had to look at why I was always accepting blame and unable to forgive myself. What distorted thoughts and programs were operating here? Those familiar with my work will know that I have a little monster called the “Mental Monster”, that part of my brain that messes with my mental state. He’s the beast who is always attempting to undermine my sense of self-worth. If someone feels a sense of worthiness, then they’ll retain this sense even when they make mistakes. Where there is a lack of self-love, any mistakes we make are not seen as just poor choices, as in, “Oh, I made a poor choice there”, instead low self-worth says, “Oh, I’m just a bad and useless person”. We would never say this to a friend or a child. If we need to correct the behaviour of a child, we don’t say, “You’re stupid for speaking badly to me”, we say, “I don’t like your behaviour and the way you spoke to me”. There is a huge difference.
So what did I learn from this email from the past? That it’s never too late to correct past mistakes. Even if others don’t forgive us, we know that we are now conscious enough to know that we would never repeat our old behaviours. We can be thankful that the difficult situation offered us a chance to grow and learn valuable lessons.
You may ask about the role other people play in challenging relationships and about their responsibility in the situation. Well, when we truly value ourselves, think with an aware mind, and open heart, and can honestly see that the other person also played a part in a failed relationship, then through self-love, we acknowledge that it was not all our doing and again, bring in compassion for all concerned. From this position, we are then able to wish for the other person that they too may grow in awareness, forgive ourselves for our part, and wish for them the same awareness we have achieved. This should truly be our greatest wish for everyone.
So what happened to my relationship with Jenny? After spending years gathering knowledge and insights and sharing them with her, she found the process of looking at old wounds too painful and preferred to let things be as they are. I had an incentive to look at my thoughts because mine had made me physically sick. We never truly regained what we’d lost. While I was able to apologise for my part and bring forgiveness into my side of the relationship, sadly, Jenny felt too much pain when she tried to delve into her own beliefs. At least I knew I’d done what I could to bring some healing to the situation. Today, we are civil and friendly enough when we meet, but the closeness we once had has disappeared. Being an optimist, I still believe that one day, Jenny may have enough insights to realise that she is more than her thoughts, heal old wounds, befriend me again and be free of the chains that bind her. We can change our thoughts and therefore our lives, and while it’s not always easy, the will to do a little digging and repair work can restore some of our most precious relationships, and that is truly worth the effort.