December 10, 2013

Letting Go of the Belief that We Need to Forgive & Move On. ~ Jennifer Twardowski

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Many of us in the self-help and personal development arena may be familiar with this quote. I’d actually go so far as to say it’s almost become a belief in the field. The problem is that it’s not just any belief, but, truly, a limiting belief.

“What? How can that be a limiting belief?” I can hear you thinking. “There’s so much truth in that!”

But hear me out.

There is a very strong truth in the concept that if we continue to hold onto our resentments and hurt feelings towards others it will negatively affect us. However, this idea is not completely true—or at least not in the way that many of us interpret the quote. When we are frustrated and angry with someone, we may think of this quote and tell ourselves, “I just have to accept this pain, push it away and forgive.”

Telling ourselves, “I must forgive,” isn’t a magical cure that automatically provides us with inner peace.

A problem that comes from telling ourselves to “just forgive” is that we never truly forgive. Instead, we just stuff our feelings deep down and never express or acknowledge the internal pain we truly feel. It becomes unconscious, buried deep within our shadow. Because it’s not dealt with, it continues to surface throughout our lives in ways that hurt us by keeping us separate from real, genuine love and intimacy.

And then, without too much of a surprise, because we internally tell and treat ourselves this way, we treat others this way as well. If someone else is suffering, we tell them something like, “Well, you’re only going to continue to hurt yourself by not forgiving,” or, “You need to forgive and move on.” The problem is that we never give ourselves or others the key ingredients all of us need to heal: compassion and pure understanding.

So what should we do instead? Here are three things we can do to avoid simply “stuffing” our painful emotions deep inside us and to be more compassionate with ourselves:

Accept our wounds for what they truly are. Fully acknowledge the fact that we have been hurt. No matter how big or small that event may have been by society’s standards, acknowledge and accept that it was significant for us. We can be gentle and accepting of our emotions; we felt that way for a reason—don’t push them away.

Be compassionate with our own emotions and the emotions of others. How we treat others is a direct correlation to how we treat ourselves. The more accepting and compassionate we are with ourselves, then the more accepting and compassionate we are with others. If we find ourselves responding to someone’s pain by saying something like, “You need to let this go and move on,” we are just pushing our own internal limited beliefs onto them rather than giving them (and ourselves) what they truly need: a loving and compassionate space.

Give to others compassion, understanding, and a loving space. Many of us are so hardwired to react according to the belief that we must “forgive and move on” that we have no idea how to hold a compassionate, understanding and loving space.  It can be a completely foreign concept to us!

So what can we do to provide a loving space? Here are some ideas: Listen (instead of responding or giving advice); provide a safe, judgment-free atmosphere; acknowledge that we understand and empathize with their pain; apologize (whether we were involved or not—we are all interconnected, so it does matter); reassure them that their pain is valid and they do deserve compassion and acknowledge how difficult it is.

Next time we are trying to forgive and we catch ourselves thinking, “You need to forgive because by holding onto anger you are only hurting yourself,” we can choose to stop, accept our emotions and focus on being compassionate and patient with ourselves and others.

Be more compassionate towards yourself and others today!

Think of a time recently where you were hurt by someone or something. Acknowledge and accept your pain. Be willing to share it with a close friend, mentor or therapist to simply hold the space for you.

Then, reflect on a time when you may not have been quite as compassionate towards someone as you could have been. Imagine what you could do differently if the situation came up again.

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 Assistant Editor: Lauren Savory/Editor: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: Provided by Nicola Hoffman

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Jennifer Twardowski