Forgiveness is a miraculous act that serves as a release valve that propels us forward into a new life after divorce. To forgive is to be truly free, to be unencumbered by the past. The problem or challenge with forgiveness is that it is very difficult and oftentimes near impossible for us to go there, especially if we are leaving an abusive relationship of some sort. How can we forgive really bad behavior? How can we forgive someone who has wronged or betrayed us?
There are two important elements of forgiveness: what it is and what it gives to us. Forgiveness is the ability to let go of blames, resentments, upsets and negative emotions we hold against a particular person. In order to achieve forgiveness, we go through a process that begins by separating the person who we are forgiving from their behavior. We do so because forgiveness does not mean that we condone someone’s bad behavior. We don’t.
Here’s an example:
I learn from my client that her mother was a highly abusive person, who both physically and emotionally abused her as a child. She hates her for that and many of the client’s reactive behaviors, deep wounds and present situation revolve around her relationship with her mother.
Separate the behavior from the person. The mother’s behavior was extremely bad and we do not forgive the behavior. How about the mother herself? Ask yourself: What kind of a person would abuse her kids?
The mother’s childhood was brutal. Abject poverty, abusive Father, abusive husband, little education, on and on. We need to look at her through a new set of eyes, those of empathy and compassion. See the inner child of the mother: a skinny, dirty, hungry, poorly dressed little girl with tears in her eyes. That is an image we can forgive.
We can conjure up great compassion and love for that wounded child and then begin to see that the wounded child is still very much alive within the mother. We experience a deep sense of sadness when thinking of how her life was wasted because she was so crippled by her experiences.
This realization does not absolve the behavior of the mother. The behavior was terrible. We do not forgive the behavior but we do forgive the mother who, because of her deep emotional woundedness, seemingly had no control over her actions.
What happens next is part two: what forgiveness gives to us
Forgiveness is a gift that we give ourselves because it allows us to break the emotional link that binds us to the person we are forgiving. An emotional link to our ex keeps us mentally, emotionally and spiritually tied to the person that we are seeking to divorce! We may have had a physical divorce but we are still tied to that person by a very taut rope. By remaining in blame, resentment or hatred, we keep ourselves locked to the pain that we are trying to escape. We cannot move forward into a new life under these conditions.
Here’s an example: Imagine I continue to be upset by the fact that my ex had an affair. It continues to bring up feelings of betrayal and rejection, and with those feelings comes the extra-added charge of unworthiness and being unlovable. How am I supposed to move into a new life with self-esteem, confidence and a sense of empowerment when I am dragging that weight around?
I need to ask myself these questions:
- Have I have truly accepted the end of my relationship?
- Am I living in what is versus what I think should be?
- Have I taken full responsibility for my life as it is now?
- Do I truly acknowledge that I have 100% responsibility for what was as well as what is?
- Otherwise, do I see that I remain a powerless victim?
- Do I see the gifts or lessons that I received as a result of all that I have experienced?
If you have gone through the process of acceptance, responsibility and acknowledgment of the lessons of your divorce, you then need to forgive. You need to separate the behavior from the person. You need to see the inner child that resides within your ex and bring forth your compassion and love.
What if the shoe was on the other foot:
- Would you want to be forgiven?
- Would you want to be released from your shame?
Here is a very important point that you need to get: Your resentments, blame and negative emotions have one target and one target alone: you. You are the one who suffers, you are one stuck in the past and you are the one who hurts. Not your ex. You. Conversely, you are the one who will benefit from forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a gift
Forgiveness is freedom. It feels light, not heavy and burdensome. It is a release from the past that has been running you. It contains gifts: it might mean that you can be more tolerant, nicer, self-aware, loving, nurturing and open to new possibilities in life. It is the gift of letting go of the negative mind chatter that plagues you everyday.
Remember, there is no need to verbally forgive this person. You need not write them a letter or have an in-person forgiveness conversation. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself and so if you write a letter, then save it or burn it. Forgiveness is an inner dialogue.
Here is the greatest gift of all: self-forgiveness
By forgiving someone else, you also forgive yourself. You can stop beating yourself up. You can see your own inner child who desperately needs your love and compassion, not your constant judgment and criticism. You can return to a state of wholeness. You can have the freedom and power to create your best life possible.