How do you forgive someone? In the past it has not come easily, or naturally, for me. I have struggled with letting shit go. I used to perseverate and roll stuff around my brain. I would have imaginary arguments in imaginary scenarios, and by default, I would actually hurt my own feelings.
How is that even possible? That fact that I could have an argument in my imagination, and have hurt feelings about it, is hilarious. How ridiculous? It’s incredible how our imagination can conjure up the things it does, but it’s a complete waste of time and emotional energy to spend time conjuring up hurt feelings. It doesn’t serve us to imagine a scenario where someone says something hurtful. It doesn’t serve us when it’s real, let alone imaginary.
I used to work in exercise rehab. Many of my clients had complex and traumatic physical injuries, often complicated by a myriad of mental health diagnoses that led to challenging recoveries. I remember a client who was a perfectionist and would be incredibly hard on himself if he missed a workout or didn’t complete his rehab to his satisfaction – regardless of whether I (as his therapist) was happy with his progress. This reaction would cause a cascade of judgement, anxiety, depression, and paralysis in his rehabilitation journey.
This client, and many of my other client’s, would be so busy going around the hamster wheel of self judgement, that they couldn’t move forward. This was a reminder of a powerful lesson I had learned a few months prior, and I used it to help progress my client’s regularly. In those moments when my client’s were chastising themselves and feeling like failures for insignificant offenses, I suggested maybe they try forgiveness.
Forgive missing the workout, forgive not getting all the exercises done, forgive being busy, in pain, frustrated, overwhelmed, depressed… By being so focused on the past, and inconsequential behavior (because one workout is not the end of the world, I promise), they could not make positive decisions for the present. The past had jailed them.
This was not an easy lesson for me to learn. I used to beat myself up about everything. I held grudges against myself FOR YEARS! Asking myself, “How could you have done that?” “Why would you do something like that?” “What’s wrong with you?” Carrying years of guilt, shame, embarrassment…
I have a fast brain, and I can hurt my own feelings in record time. In the past, I have been a victim to my thoughts and emotions, rather than an observer. I am making the choice to learn and accept that maybe my feelings and emotions are liars…
So, one day I’m driving home from work, and I remembered a painful moment from my past. I was snaking up the hill through the beautiful golf course community we lived in, spring was blooming around me, and amongst this beauty I was sitting in my car feeling completely awful. Throughout the drive I had been turning over this past incident in my head. I was feeling incredibly guilty and embarrassed about something that had taken place no less than four years prior. I was feeling like a complete and utter piece of shit, worthless, unloveable, and generally like a horrible human being.
As I came around the last corner…I became an observer to my thoughts…FINALLY! I got thinking… “does anyone else judge me about this past incident? Is anyone else still hurt by it? Does anyone else think I’m a terrible human being? Is anyone else even still thinking about it?”
The answer was NO! So, why was I? Why was I still punishing myself?
As I climbed the hill and curved around that last bend, I remember having the epiphany, “I could forgive myself for this!” It was like the weight of the years of shame were lifted. I didn’t need to carry a burden that I had already apologized for, and had been given forgiveness.
I had been forgiven by all the people that mattered, except for myself. And when I gave myself permission to forgive myself, I felt liberated. What a novel concept.
Think of something from your past that makes you cringe. Go back in time and relive it. Think about how it made you feel. Who was there? What did you do? Why did you do it? Say that? What were the circumstances? Did you feel queasy, uneasy, and like you needed to hide under a rock? Did it make you feel unworthy of the love in your life and the people that love you? Did that moment make you feel worthless and like you were not enough? Live in that moment one last time…
Now let it fucking go! The past is in the past. You should certainly learn from your past, but you certainly SHOULD NOT be punished by it. Please think about this painful moment in your past and say these words, “I forgive you for doing that. I love you. I’m sorry for punishing you. And thank you for teaching me.” And then MOVE FORWARD.
You CAN NOT move forward with any speed, passion, or purpose if you are being held back by the anchors of guilt and shame. But YOU CAN become the most amazing, resourceful, beautiful, loving version of yourself, if you forgive, let go of your own judgement, and sail forward with the winds of love and abundance.
This is the only way to become your best self, to give your best self to those around you, and to show up and own this life. We all deserve that version of you, especially YOU.