The Thanksgiving holiday with my family had me thinking a lot about the roles of gratitude and forgiveness.
It was several years ago when I began to forgive my father. I had just started studying personal growth and I heard a lot about gratitude and how it could help me on my journey. I found it difficult to truly believe.
My dad had left when I was two, and while he’s always been a part of my life, truly and wholeheartedly forgiving him didn’t feel authentic.
What I learned was that if I tried forgiving him—without feeling the pain, hurt, and anger I had felt when he had left—it didn’t feel true for me. Instead, I was just using gratitude as a coverup for what I was really feeling. There was a little girl inside of me that wanted to scream “holy hell” for what I believed he had put me through.
I remember the first time I allowed myself to really feel that anger, and more specifically, the rage I had toward my dad. It felt like it would never stop. In truth, I have no idea how long it took in that first time. All I know is, after I really felt it and took time to express it, I felt better.
Feeling my anger and rage gave me access to something I truly hadn’t had access to previously: how much him leaving us had hurt me. I knew it had caused me pain, but prior to this, all I could access was just how angry I was at him.
Over the next several years, my pain and hurt would come to the surface, over and over again. Every time I would see him. Every time I would begin a new relationship. Every time I would let someone treat me in a way that didn’t feel good just to be loved.
This wasn’t only about where he had left me, but where I had left me.
Sometimes it would creep up on me—many times after a date that didn’t go well or a presentation that could have been better.
I remember so many times, as I would do this work, there was a part of me that didn’t truly want to forgive him, as I felt forgiving him meant letting him off the hook. But, I finally learned that forgiving him was for me. It was so I could feel better. It was so I could let go. It was so I could be free.
And it was when I was really able to do this, and I stayed committed to it over time, that gratitude for him and how he showed up became authentic and true for me.
I’m happy to say today that I have truly forgiven him.
I no longer look at him hoping he will acknowledge the pain I experienced. Instead, I feel genuine love for him and the way he showed up. This was all for me—all so that I would never leave myself, all so that I could attract the love that I truly deserved and desired, and all so that I could help others who have also been abandoned in some way to heal.
So, how do we forgive a loved one so we can experience true gratitude for how they showed up for us?
1. Start where you are.
Do a check-in to see what is coming up for you. If you’re given a practice that tells you to forgive that person, and all you feel is anger, go toward the anger. Identify the emotions you are feeling.
2. Give yourself time and space to express, and actually feel, that emotion.
For example, if you’re angry, you’re going to want to give yourself time and space to express that anger. For me, when I was initially letting go of the anger I had toward my dad, I used my voice and body, including screaming, punching, or kicking the air, to express my hurt. If this doesn’t resonate with you, though, find what does. You can do anything from ripping up paper to screaming into or punching a pillow.
And, if you find you’re feeling sad or upset, take time to talk with the little boy or little girl that lives inside of you and ask them what they’re upset about. For me, when I was connecting with my little girl, she would say, “I’m upset that he left me. Why did he have to leave me?”
Whatever she would share with me, I would say that out loud over and over, until I didn’t feel the need to say it anymore. So, in the above example, I might say over and over, while staying connected to my body and what I was feeling, “I’m upset that he left me. I’m upset that he left me. I’m upset that he left me. Why did he have to leave me?” Sometimes, this would be the last time that this came up for me. At other times, though, she might have the same feeling another time.
As I honored what I was feeling, many times, I felt myself getting lighter and lighter, and over time, I found myself less focused on my dad and the pain he had caused me. It took a lot of anger and communication with my little girl to get there and to truly forgive him. I can tell you from working with hundreds of women, that this communication piece is so valuable as, many times, it’s the voice we didn’t have in that moment that keeps recreating the pattern over and over. And, as you begin to honor your feelings, so do others.
Sometimes a confined amount of time can help, and at other times, you just need to know that you have as much time as you need to feel what is coming up for you. It’s important to check-in with yourself and see what you need from each moment.
Important to note: It could take several times of doing the first two steps, before you can move on to true gratitude.
3. Once you’ve felt what comes up for you, then move into feeling the gratitude.
In the above example with my dad, I felt my heart open to him. I felt my walls down coming down, and I was finally able to see and truly take in the good in him and how he had showed up. I accepted that all of this was for me. I took in just how much he loved me for him to show up this way, even though our true selves would never dare to hurt another being. And, I took in how his actions had helped me to love and heal myself, fully and completely.
The picture I see and really feel in my body, when I tune into this gratitude, is him with this bright light behind him—like the sun. And, he is smiling, because, he, too, knows this is exactly what I needed to remember the truth of who I am. And, for that, I am eternally grateful.
What has your experience been with gratitude and forgiveness? I’d love to know. Please comment below and share your thoughts.
Author: Deborah Acker
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Nicole Cameron
Social editor: Cat Monkman