Embracing the Opportunity to Heal
Has your recovery plateaued, or are you feeling a bit unsettled? If so, look at your lingering resentments and ask yourself, “how long have I held onto these?”
I asked myself this exact same question and discovered that I was holding onto some long-term resentments (check out my blog, Recognizing Resentment: A Common Obstacle to Healing, for more insights). To overcome these, I found the antidote to be forgiveness. I also found my recovery depended on it!
I’d like to dispel the common misunderstandings and fears surrounding forgiveness, and then address what it really means to forgive, how to go about it, and why it matters to us.
What Forgiveness ISN’T
Forgiveness is often misunderstood. People often fear that forgiveness is about letting someone off the hook. But rather, it is letting you off the hook.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation. One doesn’t have to return to the same relationship or accept the same harmful behaviors from an offender. Forgiveness doesn’t make excuses for other people’s improper behavior. And forgiveness doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to feel angry first.
Anger and forgiveness are not necessarily opposing forces; they work together over time. You allow yourself to feel the anger, and then forgiveness begins to release the energetic attachment to that which you resent.
… and What Forgiveness IS
Forgiveness means we create true separation from those who hurt us, and we restore proper boundaries, including a proper restoration of our SELVES.
This is a process of releasing the grip of concentrated intense negative emotions.
We do this by making a decision to forgive and then convert resentment to compassion.
Before you contemplate your own forgiveness story, it’s important to have a greater understanding of resentment and why it’s so important to forgive.
Resentment and Why We Need to Forgive
When we passively avoid forgiving or intentionally refuse to forgive, we are giving energy to and keeping alive the very thing that is harming us. Resentments bind us to the energy of anger and hate, as well as to the person we are condemning.
In essence, we chain ourselves to misery.
This is very destructive, and, many times, much worse on our mental and physical health than the original issue that caused the resentment in the first place.
Forgive the So-Called “Unforgivable”
Many of us have been abused sexually, physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, and so on. It might seem like some things we’ve experienced are practically “deserving” of withholding forgiveness because they felt so horrible, so unforgivable. But, in the end, harboring resentment now does not change anything in the past. As Eckhart Tolle wisely advised, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.”
Regarding the major traumas that many of us have faced, forgiveness is vitally important for our mental health. However, trauma is a very delicate matter, which I’m not addressing here in totality. In cases of trauma, there are additional healing processes to work through in order to restore mental health. In those cases, forgiveness is still essential but not the totality of the work involved.
If prisoners, widowers of war crimes, and parents of murdered children can forgive those who inflicted their suffering, perhaps we too can forgive the worst assaults committed against us.
Recovery: Paving the Way to Forgiveness
In recovery, we learn that our resentments (and other gripping emotions such as anger or fear, for example) are tied to beliefs and memories that may not be as straightforward as we originally perceived or might not be nearly as important as they once were.
Also, with new awareness, we’re encouraged to look at our role in conflicts. Often we realize that the very thing we’re resenting is similar to something we have done to someone else. Eye-opener!
Before recovery, it’s unlikely we’d be open to this introspection. In fact, many people never seek out this kind of self-review. This is one of the many reasons why recovery gives us an exciting, liberating, new lease on life.
Forgiveness is not an emotion per se. It is a decision made by your whole self after your true emotional work has been done for the most part.
So we must process thoughtfully and carefully, and not forgive before we’re ready, or we can inadvertently repeat the same patterns that led to the resentment in the first place.
But do not delay either.
Recovery is an extraordinary time of self-reflection, new understandings, and healing. We are in a prime condition for converting our resentments.
So, how do we convert the resentments?
Through compassion. Through love. To others and to ourselves. Everything in recovery is about renewal through love and compassion.
So far I’ve focused on forgiving what others have done to us. But what about things we’ve done that have harmed ourselves or others?
When faced with guilt or shame about our own past actions, forgiving ourselves is as important as it is to forgive others!
I polled a group of women in recovery and asked the following question:
Is it harder to forgive yourself or harder to forgive another? And WHY?
The results of this survey were overwhelmingly in favor that forgiving yourself is much harder than forgiving others.
For those who found it more difficult to forgive others, the primary reason was due to an unforgivable act.
For those who found it more difficult to forgive themselves, the reasons included:
- Lingering guilt and regrets
- Imposing higher standards or expectations on themselves (being self-
- Difficulty offering compassion to themselves
- Seeing their past action(s) as a lapse in judgement and feeling
- Responsible for the outcome
In the case of regretting our own actions, resentment is not what we’re struggling with, but rather shame or guilt.
The risks of clinging to these negative feelings and surrounding beliefs are just as serious as those associated with resentment, and the antidote is exactly the same: forgiveness.
If you need to, reach out to a coach, mentor, or therapist to cultivate forgiveness, so that you can set yourself free finally. Take the time you need to work through this journey.
Even if you did unloveable things, you are entitled to forgive yourself! Maybe THIS is your forgiveness story?!
Free Yourself with Forgiveness
As I’ve shared, the opportunities for immense physical, mental, and spiritual healing are in our reach when we forgive. In recovery, it’s practically knocking on our door, so let’s awaken to the possibilities and answer the invitation.Our recovery depends on forgiveness. Remember, the alternative—gripping onto resentments—depletes our energy, holds us hostage, and keeps us trapped. It can also be the “loose floorboard” that causes us to relapse. And, most importantly, even beyond addictive behaviors, it’s impossible to be truly happy and resentful at the same time.
What is your forgiveness story?
What resentments towards others, OR anger, blame, or shame towards yourself can you convert to forgiveness?
What has to happen before you’re ready to forgive?
Find the right time to step into your power, offer forgiveness, and liberate yourself!