“I never give people second chances,” I proudly used to say. “Once they cross me, they are dead to me!” I thought I was so cool by stating this. Now I realize there was absolutely nothing cool about such foolishness. I grew up believing that to forgive was to be weak. I thought I was strong by giving people the silent treatment and ignoring them. When I felt hurt by anyone, I made sure they knew. It wasn’t until I started to work on myself and studied with amazing mentors that I realized the only person I was hurting for so many years, was myself. The people who had “hurt” me had probably long forgotten, while I was still ruminating on the experience.
All of us have been deeply hurt at one point or another in our lives. I am sure there are a few people we can think of right away who we are unable to forgive. Perhaps they lied to us, or abused our trust. Or perhaps it was something even more serious such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse. We can justify our anger and give several reasons why this person is “unforgivable.” We believe we can get back at them by “hating” them for life. They shall never receive our forgiveness. But who is really suffering? In her transformational book, You Can Heal Your Life, author Louise Hay says “being unwilling to forgive is a terrible thing to do to ourselves. Bitterness is like swallowing a teaspoon of poison every day. It accumulates and harms us. It’s impossible to be healthy and free when we keep ourselves bound to the past.” I know several people very close to me who have the mentality of “I shall never forgive” and constantly bring up all the stories of how they were betrayed or hurt. As they speak of their story, they either get really angry or start crying. They are re-living the situation time and time again. They are stuck in the past and refuse to move on.
Most of us feel that if we forgive people, we are excusing their behavior. This is not the case. What we are really doing is freeing ourselves from the prison we created. It never feels good to be bitter, resentful, angry or vengeful. Best-selling author Marianne Williamson says “holding on to judgment, blame, attack, defense, victimization, and so forth are absolutely attacks on yourself.” We are truly not hurting anyone but ourselves by holding on to our grudges. We believe we are being powerful and strong, but we are actually being very weak. Forgiveness is not something we do for other people. We do it for ourselves to get well and move on. In his amazing book, Love is Letting Go of Fear, Dr. Gerald Jampolsky says “forgiveness does not mean assuming a position of superiority and putting up with or tolerating behavior in another person that we do not like. Forgiveness means correcting our misperception that the other person harmed us.” Many people do not like to hear this, but nothing anyone ever does to us matters; what matters is how we choose to react to it. When we are wronged by someone, we have choices. We can decide to learn a powerful lesson, forgive and move on, or we can decide to never forgive and in turn hurt ourselves and drink the poison. The choice is ours. Marianne Williamson continues by saying that “nothing anyone has ever done to you has permanent effects unless you hold on to it permanently.” Rather than upset us, this should makes us feel good. We can break free and let it go. We can start feeling good again and bless those that wronged us.
One of my favorite quotes from Louise Hay is “one of our biggest spiritual lessons is to understand that ‘everyone’ is doing the best they can at any given moment. People can only do so much with the understanding, awareness, and knowledge that they have.” Something that really helps me on a day to day basis is that when someone mistreats me, I realize that only someone who is in a great deal of pain could possibly want to hurt another human being. So if someone is rude to me, rather than take it personally, I realize that person is hurting inside. The greater level of violence, the more they are hurting and the more they are in deep pain. Famous Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh said “whenever another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help.” I know many people in my life who are perceived as not very nice and have all had very tough childhoods. I am not excusing their behavior; I am simply understanding their behavior for my own personal growth.
I am not suggesting this is easy. I have personally battled with “forgiveness” issues all my life. But I do know that I am a much happier person than I was a few years ago. This is because I now (more often than not) choose love over fear. I am “for-giving” love, not hate. Issues still come up, and I am still challenged, but I know the choice is mine. I am not a victim of circumstances; I create my own reality.
I also want to make it very clear that forgiving someone does not have to be in person, holding hands and singing Kumbaiah. You can write them a letter you never send or you can practice a forgiveness meditation in the comfort of your own home. They never have to know. Remember, this is mainly for you. You will know you have forgiven when you can think of them with no ill feelings and wish them well.
Never underestimate the power of forgiveness. There is an extraordinary story about a man named Dr. Hew Len, who healed a ward of mentally ill criminals. Dr. Len was assigned to one of the most intense mental hospitals in Hawaii; most of the patients were serious criminals who had committed crimes such as murder or rape. The staff was frightened of the patients since there were constant attacks among the patients and toward the staff. Turnover was very high. Once Dr. Len came on board, he requested the files for each patient and would close himself in his office. He would hardly request to see the patients; he was more interested in seeing their files. Eventually, a few patients became less aggressive. Other patients stopped attacking the staff. Staff started to stick around since the environment was becoming progressively better. Ultimately, most of the patients were cured and discharged. The hospital closed a few years later. So what was Dr. Len’s secret? He would grab each file one at a time, place his hand on the file and say a simple Hawaiian prayer called Ho’oponopono that goes “I love You, I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank You.”
Yup, that’s it. That’s all it took. I am going to say it again, never underestimate the power of prayer or the power of forgiveness.
Are you ready to forgive and set yourself free?
Sending you lots of love and positive energy,
Connie Costa is a Writer, Inspirational Speaker & Life-Coach
She leads transformational events and retreats in Beverly Hills, Ojai & Italy