03 Apr Forgiveness is like an onion (part 3)
As we peel back the layers of forgiveness, we come to recognise the significance of taking that step to forgive someone. For major acts of betrayal, there is a long trail of breadcrumbs that are left behind us. We scramble one by one to collect them down a long and dark path. Eventually, if we persist, we reach that big candy house. In this series of posts, we have explored how suffering is the root of many of our problems, whether they be with others or ourselves. Once we acknowledge our suffering and count ourselves as lucky to have a lesson so powerful that we can learn from, we can redirect our thinking and shine a spotlight on what actions we need to transform this suffering into opportunity. Setting an intention to forgive means we fully comprehend what forgiveness is and the multitude of benefits it brings to our lives.
A forgiving person isn’t a doormat, rather they have perspective on life beyond themselves. They understand that everyone has their own baggage and circumstances and sometimes others are viciously controlled by something bigger than themselves. Once you have compassion for others and understand the suffering that is controlling their thought patterns, can you move to a place of forgiveness. Here you find inner peace and acceptance for what is.
Layer 6 – Gain Perspective
Forgiveness = perspective. A Course in Miracles (a complete self-study spiritual thought system) teaches that forgiveness isn’t about you thinking that you are super spiritual and the other person is a jerk. It is about understanding that deep down – we are all innocent. At the core of everyone’s being, our intentions are good. No one goes about their day wanting to hurt the people they love or anyone for that matter. At some point in our lives, our thoughts get scrambled and our actions represent our experiences, background or pain that we have endured in our lifetime. This is where we begin to make mistakes. If you look at anyone who has committed a horrible crime, act of inhumanity or betrayal, it usually isn’t because they have set out to do wrong (in their eyes). If you really consider “why” – it is because of their disconnect from enough love and goodness . This person has lost their perception of the good in life and thus they are non-forgiving. This has consumed who they are and their grip on reality has drifted into some abyss and their action reflect the world that they have created in their mind, not the one we know to be true. As soon as you start seeing your mistakes and those of others with a little perspective – forgiveness seems a little easier.
Opening up your lense of perspective leads to a bigger picture of life. In order to gain some perspective on the situation, take the time to examine an event or person in a very unbiased and honest way. Reflect on their suffering and the chain of events that may have led to their exhibited behaviour. In my expereince, people often say, “you have a choice, to do good or to become a victim/hurt other.” I used to believe this too. But now I see it’s much bigger than this. People are in these negative patterns, they are stuck and they cant get out. Think that hamster running in a wheel. All it needs to do is duck to either side and it is free again. Yet, we watch them continuing to run and run and run. If we knew the answer to our problems, I think everyone would take it. But we are plunged into dark places, plagued with self-doubt, hatred for ourselves, feelings of unworthiness and so on. Sometimes, these feelings in our minds infiltrate our actions and we just can’t stop it. By blaming others for our actions, by becoming the victim, we have an excuse for our behaviour. The Dalai Lama recommends we spend some time seriously searching for a different perspective on the situation. If you try as you might to find some positive qualities and find that this person isn’t 100% as bad as you think, you are on your way to forgiveness. Additionally, but not in all situations, it may help to reflect on whether you are also responsible for the unfolding of events. There are many events and actions from a range of parties that contribute to a situation. A person with a wider perspective can see these. If we attempt to search for their own contribution to a problem, it allows a shift in focus that may help break through the narrow thinking that leads to destructive feelings of unfairness.
In my experience, I could not forgive my father for how he treated me, my sister and my mother my whole life. This was because I had no perspective. I could not see past myself. In my eyes, a father should love their children above all else. I should come first. There was no leway for me in this regard. When I read about perspective, I worked hard to look at my situation with my father in a non-biased way. His story started long before me. Having not being loved and abused as a child, he could certainly not love his children the way they needed or deserved later in life. He had no positive role models and nothing to go off. Once I understood this, I felt compassion for him. All of a sudden, in this moment, I was ready to forgive him. He lived his life in the only way he knew how…
The same realisation came to me when I considered my ex-boyfriends who had (in my eyes) hurt me and broken my heart. When I considered what led to how they interacted in a relationship, I began to see why this could be. When I reflected on their life situation or considered what could have happened that I didn’t understand, it made it clear why they behaved the way they did. This then opened my eyes up to the part I played in how these situations unfolded. My victim mentality, the baggage from my father and early life had a huge impact on my reactions to many events with both these men. I overreacted, threw fits of jealousy and rage, was insecure and demanding. All because of my past and failure to acknowledge it. There was a vicious cyclone of emotions at play. I too had played a big part in the undoing of both relationships. There were warning signs early in both. I could have made the choice to exit before I go hurt, but never did. Had I had seen past my insecurities about men and had a little more self-worth, I could have avoided the pain that followed.
Layer 7 – Be grateful for the lessons you have learned
An act of betrayal is a hard thing to forgive, unless you can see the good in it. Flipping from seeing these experiences as negative, to seeing them as a stepping stone to greater things is key. When we make the effort to find that the act which has made you angry and sad has also given you opportunities which otherwise might not have been possible, the door to forgiveness opens. The act of struggling during these hard times ultimately results in our strength. It can be helpful to remind yourself of this positive angle many times. No, this doesn’t mean adopting some form of “fake positivity.” It means looking at your suffering from a reflective perspective – What has it taught you? How can you use it to ignite positive change in your life? There is no denying that finding the positive in every obstacle you encounter takes significant practice. But once you can achieve this you achieve ‘Cognitive Intervention,’ a strategy which allows you to challenge the anger generating thoughts and replace them with well reasoned positive thoughts and attitudes.
Here you develop a cautious attitude towards feeling of hatred, anger or overwhelming sadness. Having persepctive and gratitude assists you to generate inner contentment. This intervention practice brings calmness to the mind and prevents anger from rising in the first place. When a situation does arrive, counteract your negative mindset with positive action – be kind and compassionate to the person who has wronged you through taking a different perspective and being grateful for the opportunity as a means to grow as a person.
When I reflected upon those who I believed had wronged me from this place of gratitude. So many doors began to open. Without all these “negative”(I now see them as positive) experiences in my life, I wouldn’t be who I am today with the life that I have. Although I have felt betrayed, at the end of the day I have still met my husband Matt. I’m happily married, I have a great life, good friend etc. It didn’t all go wrong for me. Sure, I battle emotional demons all the time, but through mindset interventions, books and lifestyle, I can combat this. As soon as I flipped the situation and considered my so called “enemies” as my greatest teachers and took up the opportunity to practice skills in compassion, tolerance and patience – I realised that all is not lost. I know that my experiences with these men improves how I am as a wife and future mother.
Imagine if we went through life never encountering an enemy or any form of obstacle… It’s these struggles that shapes who we are. Our enemies test us, and provide resistance which leads to necessary growth.
I hope that in this series of posts, I have convinced you of the benefits of forgiveness. In my upcoming post (the last one!) we will explore exactly how you can go about forgiving others and my experiences with forgiving the three men in my life.