Excerpt from Unconditional Forgiveness

by Mary Hayes Grieco

There are many reasons we may be reluctant to forgive someone or something. Let’s explore a few common ones.

I need to protect myself from getting hurt again.

No one wants to be a doormat, subjected to the serial wrong behavior of another person. So we keep our anger alive as a means of protection, a wall around our hearts that will prevent us from trusting someone and then being sorely disappointed again in the future. Unfortunately, that wall keeps everything out, even good things like joy, abundance, and the love of others. Even worse, it keeps out Nature’s vitality and stops the healthy flow of communication between our personal self and our Higher Self, or soul. Doubly unfortunate is the fact that the wall itself is ineffective, because we are actually more vulnerable to similar offenses until our wounds are fully healed. It is counterintuitive for our egos to forgive someone, but if we do it anyway, we will discover that life is better without the wall.

But don’t I have a right to be angry? Especially when what the other person did was wrong and unjust?

You absolutely have the right to be angry at an unjust person or situation. Anger is a natural response to injustice, and good, healthy anger floods us with adrenaline, courage, and will. It pushes us to step forward and set things right. It is good to speak and act upon healthy anger in a responsible way when we feel righteous indignation. Sometimes we have to draw the line with someone and use some power and heat—whether it’s taking him or her to court for cheating us, fighting for a fair deal in a child custody case, or firmly telling a person to get out, now! But anger is meant to be a temporary state, not a permanent one. It is the doorway to the house of wholeness and power; it is not the house itself. You can’t live in a doorway; you have to walk through it into a new attitude of peaceful resolve and choose what you will and will not allow from people in your life.

I don’t want to forgive the person because I know that I am right.

Maybe you are in the right. Maybe you are standing on the higher moral ground in this situation, and the other person is clearly wrong. You feel that someone ought to hold the person accountable, and so you are doing your best to bear witness to this injustice—afraid that if you don’t, no one will, and that person will get away with it. Something inside you doesn’t want an injustice to be allowed to stand, unchallenged and unrectified. So you remain attached to being right, but that attachment causes you to suffer. You are the one who is obsessed, and you are the one who is losing sleep over someone else’s actions—therefore, you are the one who will have stress-related health problems. Meanwhile, the villain in this story might be peacefully unconcerned about his wrongdoing and blissfully unaware of your rage—and he is sleeping just fine at night!

There are laws of justice in society, and it’s nice when things unfold fairly, according to your sensibilities of what is fair. But you don’t have control over that. At times, you need to forgive a grossly unfair situation so that you can sleep at night, and turn that person and situation over to a higher judge and law than you can see. You need to take yourself off the job of being the judge of another person and focus instead on your own integrity and your own life’s purpose. Let the other person sort it all out with a Higher Power at some point. You need to move on. As Marianne Williamson has put it, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”

What if the offense is ongoing? How do I forgive him if he’s going to do that same annoying thing again tomorrow?

Sometimes we must interact with people who behave in a hurtful or offensive way every day. You may not be in a position right now to leave your spouse, your teenager, or your boss. But if you forgive people like this for the load of things that are piled up inside you from the past, you will be less reactive in the present and can let go of your stressful response to them more swiftly each new time the same thing happens. Eventually, you will attain a degree of detachment and even a sense of humor about someone’s annoying behaviors. This does not mean that we are excused from good communication with our family members or coworkers. We must lobby for what we think is right and healthy, if we are able. Very often, after we have forgiven someone, our voices are empowered and our communication abilities are heightened, because we are able to approach the person with goodwill and no judgments. This enables him or her to better hear what we are saying. Ultimately, if we are involved with someone who is dysfunctional, we must decide for ourselves where the boundary is and make the painful choice to allow the relationship to continue, or not. If we stay, we stay knowing it is our choice to do so. If we leave, we will do ourselves a huge favor if we leave in a state of acceptance and forgiveness.

If I forgive him do I have to tell him about it? Do I have to enter the relationship again?

There is a difference between forgiveness, which is a private experience that you do to heal yourself, and reconciliation, in which two people rebuild a broken relationship, usually with the help of a third party. There may be a time during reconciliation in which you grant forgiveness in service to clearing the past offense and rebuilding trust and new agreements for the future. It is possible, however, to completely forgive yourself and the other without ever seeing or speaking to the person again. Just be clear about what you really want.

I don’t want to feel the pain from terrible times in my childhood.

Nobody wants to bring up old pain. Nobody wants to go to the dentist to have a cracked tooth pulled, either, but at some point, we tire of our chronic pain and take steps to resolve it, even if we have to face more intense pain for a short time while the dentist pulls the tooth. Forgiveness is like that. The truth is, you already have this terrible pain going on inside you, even if it is muffled by a few layers of denial or addiction. It is warping your life and dimming your happiness every single day, and it is causing you to stay small and live small. We tend to stay numb and keep childhood’s pain buried and swaddled up because (1) we do not have the resources around us to deal with it effectively, and (2) we are afraid to take the lid off the emotional equivalent of Pandora’s box. We fear that if we tap into our deep sorrow we will sink into a sea of depression and be incapacitated at work, or if we feel and express our honest rage we will break something, blow up a building, or do physical damage to a family member. Those things won’t happen if you decide to work through your issue with my Eight Steps method and if you have a good support person in attendance while you do it. It’s actually difficult to hold on to sadness and rage for very long, once we grant ourselves the full freedom to express it in a safe space. Our emotions come out completely in Step Two, and then we move along to the next steps until the process is complete and there is no more pain. Aah, relief. The wonders of modern emotional dentistry are impressive.

I don’t want to let go of my grief—this loss is so important that I can’t rush it.

Grief is an important, sacred process that slowly allows us to release the powerful energetic bond that we have with another person. It does take its time, and we need to allow ourselves to be with grief for a while. Grief comes in chunks and waves, releasing its memories and feelings in portions at a time, so our psyches can process the loss without becoming completely overwhelmed and incapacitated. I have found that the forgiveness process is supportive to the grieving process, allowing me to fully enter and “complete” each wave of grief as it comes along. It is a way of sifting our experiences and claiming the spiritual gifts of the lost one into our awareness, like jewels. Grief and forgiveness are both a process of incorporation, meaning to bring into the body the wisdom available from this relationship with a person who has had a big impact on us.

The person I need to forgive is dead. I’ve lost my chance to work this out.

You can forgive anyone who is causing you distress in your heart and mind, whether the person is dead or alive, near to you or far away. Forgiveness is an inside job, an internal, private experience that you can do for yourself at any point in time. It does not require the physical presence of someone, nor does it require verbal reconciliation. You are always in the driver’s seat when it comes to achieving inner peace. If you want to reconcile with someone after she is gone, you can send her unconditional love and a wish for goodwill between you—wherever she is—and she will receive it. Her body may be gone, but her soul is alive in God’s Universe, because the soul is energy, and energy is indestructible. You haven’t lost your chance.

I mostly want to forgive and feel better, but there’s a part of me that is refusing to do it. I’m fighting with myself about doing this.

We all have more than one voice inside us, and a number of “parts” or sub-selves that seem to have minds and lives of their own. In transpersonal psychology, we refer to these uncooperative parts of us as “subpersonalities,” and sometimes we have to work with our resistant subpersonalities before we are clear to move ahead and make a change.

I’m afraid to let go of this old story and move forward. It’s been a part of me for so long that I don’t know who I’ll be without it.

The experience of letting go of a big, long-held hurt is so lifechanging that you might fear it, because most of us fear the unknown. This deep and permanent healing of your formative wound is a death of sorts for the distressed ego, which has long identified with the wound and adapted its daily behaviors around it. But it is also the rebirth of your authentic soulful self into the present day, and the freedom to start anew. What do you want to do with a fresh start? Are you afraid of freedom and happiness? Many people cling to an issue for years because it is a familiar form of suffering. They unconsciously prefer that familiar pain to the fear of moving forward into unfamiliar territory, even if that new territory is love and happiness. Do you identify with your role in the old story: victim, hero, brave fighter, forgotten child? How about growing up at last and learning to identify with your resourceful and elegant soul, one day at a time?

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