“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
– Lewis B. Smedes
Sometimes in life we have the experience of being hurt by someone else. This hurt is often the result of perceived dishonesty, betrayal, disappointment, etc. When dealing with strong negative emotions that cause hurt and pain, it can be easy to get wrapped up in them. One powerful way from which we can escape that emotional suffering is through forgiveness.
One of the most important (and sometimes one of the most difficult) ways that we can extend our forgiveness is towards ourselves. We all have had errors in our thinking which have led to mistakes in our actions. Many of us still hold our wrongdoings against ourselves. We feel guilt for our actions and their effects. However, guilt is a wasted emotion. There is never a reason to feel guilty about anything. ANYTHING. Let me explain…
Guilt blocks forgiveness. You cannot forgive yourself and feel guilty at the same time. Just as you cannot hold a loving thought and a fearful thought at the same time.
When you stay stuck in guilt long enough, it can transform into shame. This means that you move from feeling guilty about your actions to shameful about the person you are. If guilt becomes an emotion that defines you, then you may start to believe that you’re no longer a good person that made a mistake. Instead, you have become a bad person who can do nothing right. It only serves your ego to stay stuck in guilt. It does not honor the divine nature of the loving spirit that you really are. Guilt keeps you from fully loving yourself and from being able to truly forgive.
What is important is the acknowledgement of the error. The realization that you may have acted in a way that was not loving is all you need to make a different choice the next time. As we grow, so do the choices that we make. Reflection of our past mistakes can help us understand that we were acting under a more limited consciousness than what we currently have in our present state of awareness. In the moment of our mistake, we acted/reacted as best as our consciousness would allow. Understanding this concept can save us from a lot of self-inflicted guilt and shame.
Just as we should not judge others for their actions, we also should not be so harsh in judgement of ourselves. When we recognize an error in someone’s thinking, we should send that person love. And if it is us who has made the error, we should send love to ourselves.
You may be saying, “But this person intentionally tried to hurt me! How can I forgive him/her? How can I love him/her?” In these situations, I try to always remember the saying, “Hurt people, hurt people.” Only a person that is suffering through a lot of emotional pain could intentionally try and inflict hurt upon another. A person who is full in love would not seriously entertain the thought of trying to hurt someone else. When you come across a person who is in the midst of such hurt and pain, compassion for them is a helpful and loving response.
Some people also hold the notion that forgiving means that you’re allowing acceptance and approval of the mistake that was made. That’s not at all what forgiveness does. Forgiveness allows you to release the anger/frustration/blame/hurt that you have been holding so that you can return to the peace and love that is of your natural state. A lack of forgiveness does not hurt the trespassers, it only affects the one holding the animosity in their heart.
I have found that prayer can be effective in fostering forgiveness. I heard Marianne Williamson mention the practice of praying for your enemies for 30 days straight and it is something that I recommend to my friends when they are having difficulty forgiving someone. Embarking on such an honest devotion towards forgiveness can help to create new peaceful circumstances and new loving perceptions. I recommend praying for peace in the relationship, forgiveness in your heart, and well-being for him/her.
When we can allow ourselves to forgive, then we can move into a space of sincere love for the person we felt we were betrayed or hurt by. Forgiveness is a tool that allows us to shift our perception from fear to love. It allows us to see past the human imperfections and see the perfection in each divine soul. And if we all exercised forgiveness and allowed love to guide our perceptions, imagine all the beauty we would see in ourselves, in each other and on our planet.