(Part 1 of 3)



The word forgiveness suggests that the act of pardoning another is largely an external process, i.e., the process of being merciful to someone outside of self for something done to the self. While this does involve an inner shift on the part of the injured party, somehow the main focus seems to remain on the offending party. In reality, forgiveness is almost exclusively an inner process. It is really about facing reality, coming to terms with that which we dont control, and about forgiving ourselves for the judgments we now hold against ourselves.


First, lets take a look at the facing reality part of forgiveness. When someone reveals that he/she has the capacity to do something hurtful or even downright heinous, its a wake-up call. Its a directive to drop the rose-colored glasses and pay attention to exactly whats in front of us. Sometimes the offense were struggling with will arise from nothing more than understandable human limitation and can be appropriately viewed in the grand scheme of things, thus allowing forgiveness. At other times, whatever occurred can be indicative of very serious pathology. For example, we may be looking at a serious character disorder or perhaps an active addiction. Whatever the case, this person can do us serious harm, and we need to register this fact. This registering of reality will then allow us to understand that whatever this person did to us definitely was not our fault. We can release any question of our own culpability. Facing reality may be shocking and saddening, but it is liberating.


Now lets consider the powerlessness issue. Nobody wants to feel powerless. Its too terrorizing to face. In fact, human beings will do almost anything to avoid this feeling. One of the things we do to avoid feeling powerless is to pretend that we are culpable regarding something that has happened because it gives us a false sense of control. It allows us to say that there was a better option and that we just didnt choose it. This helps us feel less powerless and afraid of the fact that we dont have a palatable option.


Sometimes the truth is that we dont have any power in a given situation. We are without choice, and probably something bad is going to happen. Most likely were going to take a loss. We simply dont want to acknowledge all the feelings that come with that loss. Its better to just feel bad for a while about what is happening rather than pretend there was anything else to do and that were at fault for not doing it. Its better to feel powerless, sad, angry, and afraid for a little bit and get it over with instead of turning the situation into a convoluted blamefest on ourselves.


Forgiving another not only involves realizing that our power is limited as our life unfolds, but also involves realizing that we are powerless to change our past. Unequivocally, our past can never be changed. However, we do have the power to grieve over our losses so that whatever weve suffered does not go unnoticed and disrespected. We can honor all that weve been through. We can support ourselves in hindsight and validate our painful experiences. We can embrace our sadness, anger, fear, and helplessness. Then we can start creating a better reality in our present to make up for lost time.


Lets move on to forgiving ourselves for judgments that we hold against ourselves. The very word forgiveness implies letting an offending party off the hook. It implies a release of our anger for someone who has hurt or abused us. The reality is, however, that the crux of forgiveness for others lies in our ability to forgive ourselves.


Typically, when someone wrongs us, we form a judgment against ourselves. We say to ourselves it couldnt have happened if we were good enough, lovable enough, or smart enough. We concoct all kinds of self-loathing stories and lodge all kinds of judgments against ourselves. Sometimes these judgments arent even within our realm of awareness, but theyre there nonetheless. Perhaps we can only experience them as feelings of hurt. Whatever the case, its these judgments against us that stand in the way of letting go and forgiving. Essentially, our focus is on the wrong person. We are focusing outwardly on another when we should be focusing inwardly on ourselves.


What are some of the things we need to forgive ourselves when someone does us wrong? We need to forgive ourselves for:


  needing to be seen

  needing to be heard and understood

  needing/wanting to be close to another

  not having full knowledge or control of our needs

  wanting to feel special

  wanting to feel wanted

  wanting to be seen as a good person

  wanting to feel all the things we never got to feel as a child

  wanting to be chosen

  overestimating a loved ones abilities

  getting compulsive about someone

  inadvertently scaring a loved one with too much need

  being too nave and innocent

  knowing better and still making faulty choices

  trusting where we should not have trusted

  assessing another and/or the situation at hand inaccurately

  projecting our own positive qualities onto another (as though that person possessed them)

  needing another to be more able and more mature then he or she actually is

  not having perfect control over all our impulses; occasionally being driven by inner yearnings

  being human (with inherent limitations and foibles)

  holding impossible standards for ourselves

  finally having to say no; for having to set boundaries with a loved one

  adoring someone very deeply

  loving the way a loved one needs us

  allowing ourselves to be physically or emotionally beaten

  putting up with someone who has been harmful for a long time

  setting ourselves up for defeat

  thinking love could cure all

  putting a great deal of effort into someone who cant even begin to see it

  offering higher ways of being to someone who cant begin to understand or digest it

  thinking that we could save another from his/her own sadness and isolation

  allowing ourselves to be shamed

  wanting to feel loved and worthy and validated


The list is endless, but hopefully you get the idea. The key to forgiving others is all about letting ourselves off the hook not the offending party.