The need to be able to forgive...
Forgiveness and understanding
A lot is said about forgiveness, especially in religious settings, but why is it so important? If you are not religious you may think it is ok to carry on resenting and even hating people that do not meet your expectations, or have different moral or ethical stances to yourself; people that have wronged you. Also there is the issue of forgiving yourself for past mistakes, or for continuing to make the same mistakes…
I write this as an observer and someone with many flaws. Grudges, resentment and disappointment are well known to me. They give me a sick feeling in my stomach, and I feel anxiety just thinking about it.
What is so great about forgiveness?
There is plenty of science to support the health benefits of being able to forgive. “Psychologically, when people reported higher levels of forgiveness, they also tended to report better health habits and decreased depression, anxiety, and anger levels. Even in betrayed couples, greater levels of forgiveness were associated with more satisfied relationships, a stronger parenting alliance, and children's perceptions of parenting functioning. Physiologically, higher reported levels of forgiveness were associated with lower white blood cell count and hematocrit levels. White blood cells are an integral part of fighting off diseases and infections. Together, these results highlight the importance of forgiveness - not for the other person, but for you.” writes Rubin Khoddam
in Psychology Today back in 2014. In other words, your stress levels lower and your immune system functions better, affecting all your overall health.
What forgiveness is NOT!
Some people think that by forgiving, they are saying that what happened was acceptable, the behaviour was OK. That is not so. It is not about accepting a wrongdoing, it is accepting that it happened, and that the person who did the act is another human who is flawed.
Why are some people so flawed!
Why do I make the same mistakes? I am not going to get into the theology or moral stances. I simply want to explain that the subconscious runs 90% or more of our actions, by the feelings and thoughts that we react to automatically. I will give you the trite example of how people learn to drive. At first every single action is considered and consciously executed - but we learn through pattern, and the subconscious then reads the situations without the conscious mind needing to engage. When we have learnt to drive and are familiar with our vehicle we do it while being able to listen to the radio, have a conversation and have a 5 year old kick us from the back seat, and still navigate our way to school and back safely. (I am glad that I switched to an automatic though, as it is one less thing for the mind to manage). I know this doesn’t explain wrong actions, but bear with me…
Through my work I have learnt how the subconscious mind forms beliefs about ourselves and how life/the world works at a very early age. Because these beliefs are formed from a child or infant perspective, they are not necessarily true. They just feel true because of patterns we have experienced. When the mind holds these beliefs as true, it finds ways and sees the patterns all through your life, confirming and establishing it more firmly. I know someone who has no trust for others, and believes that everyone will lie and let him down somehow. To the point that he behaves in the same way. He sabotages relationships before the painful thing happens to him from someone else. The mind is trying to protect him and keep him safe and he wonders why all his relationships fail. He won’t seek help because this belief is so embedded that he thinks this is how life works. He is full of anger and resentment as well as distrust and jealousy.
If you looked deeper into it you would find a very hurt little boy whose parents acted in the same way due to their own childhood hurts. It becomes generational.
Look at your own examples of regrets or resentments, where do you beat yourself up? How do you disappoint yourself? Then look at your relationships and how you feel about life, how you truly feel about yourself. Do you believe you are enough as you are? Do you accept yourself with all the faults that you judge yourself on? Look at how your childhood was? Even with the best will and best parenting, as a dependent child all our needs have to be met in a healthy way in order to feel good enough, and accept ourselves, and it often isn’t.
So you might be yelling “Yes, Becky, but the thing that I did was so BAD!” or “the thing that the other person did was so BAD” “I just can’t forgive that THING” So let’s go back to my comment about our subconscious controlling so much of our actions. A situation makes us respond with a feeling. The feeling creates a thought, and the thought leads to an action. It is that simple. In order to break free from making those actions we need to respond differently to the same situations. People talk about ‘triggers’ and then make it their excuse. Even my 9 year old does this!
You can change.
You can respond differently if you can change your perspective. That is part of the work I do with my clients that want to change their behaviours. Change the perspective that has been running sabotaging behaviours, by looking at and feeling the childhood perspectives and recognising that the conclusions you came to as a very small person were false, although valid as a child they are no longer valid as an adult.
So love your inner child, be kind and understanding. Have compassion! Forgive yourself and forgive others. As Jesus said, on the cross “Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) You don't fully know what someone else has gone through - and even if you do, you do not know the conclusions that they came to.
What then is forgiveness? Oprah Winfrey is quoted to say “Forgiveness is giving up hoping that the past could be different”. But I think it is more. For me it is understanding that our actions are caused not just by conscious decisions, but by feelings that may be caused by childhood beliefs and hurts. And there ends regrets and resentments.
If you are struggling and want to resolve your feelings and behaviours, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can book an online video call to chat here: https://beckyboothappointments.as.me/virtualcoffee