Forgiveness…it sounds like a hard word.
In my own life I have struggled with forgiveness especially with those who have hurt me. I felt as though my heart could not reopen to them or to myself. Recalling my anger towards a woman I dated for awhile, I was hurt by her decision to end the relationship. For months after this I was recalling all of the ill will I had regarding this person. I thought of all the reasons she was wrong, distasteful, and a horrible person. My mind obsessed about the ways in which I was so much better off and how this past lover would be miserable without me. Maintaining the anger or the hostile energy towards this woman took a lot of work. I had to rebuild the case for my anger over and over again.
Forgiveness may mean allowing someone back in that we have kept out for a long time. It may mean letting ourselves feel something that we don’t want to feel.
Without forgiveness there could be no allowance for human frailty. We would keep moving on, searching for perfect connections with mythical partners who would never hurt or disappoint. In that sense, forgiveness should be thought of not only as a discrete event but also as a way of being. – Robert Karen Phd
While I was feeling the hostility, there was a kind of joyous glee in the painful thoughts I had about this person. I couldn’t wait to see her fail. I was nowhere close to forgiveness.
The truth; my anger and hostility was really masking my capacity to be with one of my core vulnerabilities. That vulnerability is the fear that I’m not loveable. When someone I loved, told me they never really loved me, it cut to the deepest place in my internal world. Instead of feeling into that tender spot, I created a world in my head that kept me safe.
This is why all of this pain can be both a blessing and a curse. The curse is that it sucks to have a broken heart or be wounded by someone we love. The blessing is that it can help us gain access to a part of ourselves that we have been putting away.
“By learning how to attend to, befriend, and surrender to the energies of grief, despair, and fear, we create the conditions for something new to arise in ourselves and in the world. We discover an unexpected gateway to healing and transformation. We release ourselves from the strangled grip of pain into an amazing alchemy by which grief, despair, and fear are transmuted to gratitude, faith, and joy.” – Miriam Greenspan
Forgiveness helps with loss. As I moved through all of the stages of grief over the months of getting over this relationship I started to find a new opening.
It was very slight at first but there was the first inkling of forgiveness. It wasn’t easy to feel. I had become so committed to my hostility. Then slowly I began to feel into the deep fear that something was wrong with me and that nobody would love me. It was painful to experience this sensitive part of myself. It felt overwhelming at times.
As I began to relate to this part, I started to notice how much it had affected my behavior in numerous relationships in my past. My capacity to be fully open and connected to others was limited because of my fear that I would be hurt. In seeing this I started to develop a greater capacity to be in relationship with, not only new lovers, but everyone in my life. I didn’t see people as possible contributors to my story on being un-loveable but participants in finding joy and happiness.
When I was finally able to move toward forgiveness I was able to do it with a real sense of gratitude for this person in my life.
I still notice thoughts of hostility and anger. Forgiveness is never a perfect process. I also feel grateful for the pain that helped me discover a deeper capacity for connection.
Is there someone in your life whom you are continually building a case against? Is there a way to be with the hurt they may have caused and allow it in? Feeling the pain may be the start of a way out and a way into something much better.
Bryce Mathern, LPC, is a therapist in the Denver/Boulder area who works with men on developing deeper intimacy in their relationships.