Last year I learnt how to forgive. You might think that at 42 years of age forgiveness was something I probably should have already mastered but I’m not talking about schoolyard forgiveness. I’m talking about learning how to forgive the big things. The things that really hurt us.
I’d always thought forgiveness was over-rated. “I don’t forgive and I don’t forget” used to be my mantra. I didn’t understand how people who had suffered terrible pain or loss at someone else’s hands could forgive that person. Understand why they had committed the crime or injustice, sure. But forgive them? How could you do that? And why would you want to?
The thing is, Izebelle, the woman who taught me how to forgive, made a very compelling argument. She explained that when someone does something to upset you, you need to thank that person because they have helped you identify something in you, some wound, that you need to heal.
You need to do this so you can release the anger or upset within you in order to find balance again. We are all flawed; none of us are perfect. Forgiveness, Izebelle said, is about not taking on board the negative emotions – fear, jealousy, rage, evil and so on – of the other person. These things manifest in you as anger and bitterness, but left unresolved can lead to stress and even serious illness.
No one had ever explained it to me like that before. What she said immediately resonated as I recognised a lot of the anger and bitterness I felt was caused by unresolved issues from the past. People that had hurt me and that I could not forgive. Things that I had done that I could not forgive myself for. Things I could not let go of.
I’d also had a lot of personal experience with stress causing illness, including serious illness, and a lot of secondhand evidence, too, from within my family. Suddenly it all made sense to me: I could see why forgiving people would be a good thing to do. As my friend Joanna, who works in healing and wellbeing, put it when I shared my revelation: you don’t forgive them for them; you forgive them for you.
One of the first things I did when I first learnt about forgiveness was to finally forgive a manager that had bullied me ten years before. I had felt an ongoing hatred of this person and had never been able to let go of the pain she’d caused me. Yet now it was actually easy to forgive her as I realised I no longer wanted inside of me that bitterness, hatred, pain and anger. She could take it back, thank you very much. I forgave her and moved on.
Since then I’ve forgiven a number of other people, too, including myself. I realised late last year that if I still feel any anger over an event in my past it is probably a case of unresolved forgiveness. I try to identify the wound that needs healing and once I’ve done that, I thank the person, forgive and let go. “It’s in the past, let it go” is my new mantra.
Whenever it happens, I feel lighter; less burdened. Like I am literally carrying less baggage.
There have been other unexpected benefits, too. I recently met up with a friend in the foyer of the building where he works. It happens to be the same building that I worked in when I was bullied. For a very long time my memories of that workplace were tainted with such distress that I found it too painful to even walk past that building. He brought this up but I told him it was okay, I no longer feel that way.
Suddenly a flood of happy memories from my time in that workplace before I was bullied, things I had forgotten for over a decade, overcame me. I realised that releasing the painful memories had allowed the happy memories to be set free. I felt like I was reclaiming some of the lost fun, happiness and joy in my life.
And it felt divine.