“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.
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Somehow in our society it has become commonplace to think that someone who shows their emotions is weak and someone who is stoic and seemingly unbothered by life’s challenges is strong. However, that idea couldn’t be more wrong. The exact opposite is true. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in a given moment, it is then that we are actually displaying our true strength.
As men, we are often taught that being emotional and being in touch with our feelings is a sign of weakness. They say, “It is only proper for girls to be vulnerable. Men aren’t supposed to have negative emotions outside of anger. Men are definitely not supposed to express those negative emotions. And there is absolutely no excuse for a man to ever cry.” But as a human-being, we all have emotions. Positive and negative. Our emotions are meant to be felt and expressed. With this understanding, we can move from a place of letting our ego be in control, to really letting our soul shine through.
One of the most important things that we can do is to teach our children and our youth how to express their feelings. So many times we tell our kids to “Suck it up” or “Stop crying and don’t be sad“. Such statements are often made by loving parents who do not want to see their children hurt and in pain. The error is that we are teaching our children to deny their feelings. We are teaching them that they should not feel any type of sadness or hurt. Instead, what we should be teaching our youth is how to feel their emotions and let them pass as they naturally will. What ends up happening is that instead of learning how to feel their emotions, children start to build up walls to protect themselves from feeling much at all. These walls often carry into their adult lives and create unnecessary struggles for them in the forms of trust issues, defensiveness, and sabotaging a good thing in the fear of being hurt by it. By guiding our children through the right way to deal with their feelings, we can help them establish strong emotional grounding that will support them as they grow into adults.
I’ve found that one of my biggest challenges has been opening up my heart again and expressing those emotions that are deep inside. Sometimes it seems easier for me to pretend as though everything is okay, rather than to let someone know that I am actually upset or saddened by something. But as I am learning, I see that without feeling you are not truly alive. You have to be able to feel.
It is okay to have feelings of sadness, of heartbreak, of despair, of hopelessness and of other negative emotions at times. What is not okay is ignoring your feelings as if they don’t exist. When emotions are kept bottled up, it is unhealthy on many levels. Bottled up emotions often are the root of extreme expressions such as rage and tantrums. And they are also the cause of many physical dis-eases such as ulcers, cancers, etc.
Many people use different things to numb their pain instead of feeling it. Some of these things may include working a lot, eating in excess, drinking alcohol on a regular basis, excessive shopping, etc. All of these things are distractions that keep you from feeling those negative emotions that are deep within. The way to move past these extreme behaviors and addictions is to feel whatever pain you’re avoiding. Deal with those issues and allow all of those feelings to come up no matter how painful they may be. What you are not willing to deal with and face, you will not be able to heal. Don’t use your behaviors as an excuse to stay stuck in sadness, hurt, anger, etc.
It takes a vulnerably strong person to say that “I am sorry.” It takes a vulnerably strong person to say that “I was afraid.” It takes strength to show your heart. Much like with many things in life, the more you practice being vulnerable and living from your heartspace, the easier it will become to act from that place in more of life’s situations.
Being vulnerable doesn’t mean that you are being gullible or too free in sharing yourself. It simply means that you are willing to express your emotional truth in a given moment.
Being vulnerable is really just being open. Open to the good things and the bad things. Without one or the other, we wouldn’t be having a full life experience. An open heart may experience heartache but a closed heart cannot feel love. If you’re too busy worrying about protecting yourself from being hurt all the time, you may miss out on all of the love and joy that could come in the most unexpected of ways. I offer you to see vulnerability as one of your greatest strengths. You may find that you’re stronger than you had ever imagined.