Why the Path to Forgiveness Isn't Always Straight & Narrow
I’ve held grudges ever since I can remember. Since childhood, I never understood why I was expected to simply "move past" a hurtful incident. Growing up in a strict Christian home, I was repeatedly told that I needed to quickly forgive others because “Jesus had forgiven me”. This pressure to always readily “forgive” others without processing my emotional responses to pain, has led me to contemplate what forgiveness means to me, and what it doesn’t. Learning to let go of hurt, is also one of my biggest karmic lessons in this lifetime. It makes sense why I've chosen to write about it.
Now years later at age 39, and as an avid practitioner and lover of alchemy and hermeticism, I often hear the term “forgiveness” proclaimed heavily throughout the spiritual community. I've heard and read many explanations of what forgiveness is and why it's so important. Despite hearing many world-renowned spiritual teachers and gurus share their opinions about forgiveness based on their experiences and reflections, I've chosen to contemplate this topic for myself. When we quickly adopt someone else's ideas about forgiveness (or any topic for that matter), we miss an opportunity to decide what it means and what the process requires of ourselves, as unique individuals. As a result, some people in the spiritual community try to follow advice about forgiveness out of a desire to appear “spiritually mature” or "advanced". They often ignore their true emotional needs for the sake of appearing to have moved on. This often causes recurring problems within a relationship and deep-seated hostility that festers as feelings are ignored and suppressed.
I rarely use the word “forgiveness”. I find it vague and often associate it with the idea of a “one size fits all” journey for a process that varies based on our needs, emotional responses, and how we relate to others in a relationship.
There isn't one simple formula to forgive or let go of hurt. It's a process that takes shape based on the unique dynamics of each situation. The process I go through to “forgive” one person, may be different from the steps I take to “forgive” someone else. The process I go through in response to one type of pain, may be different from how I process a different type of offense. As spiritual beings living in a third dimensional world, we have the power and autonomy to decide and define the terms and conditions needed to process and release pain as it is best for us in each individual situation. All too often, people who have experienced trauma and disrespect in a relationship, re-enter the relationship without processing their emotions and re-evaluating their needs. This is often a result of feeling pressured to forgive before they are ready to.
The most important aspect of forgiveness is learning from an experience that’s caused pain, and
releasing any suffering from it that might hold you back on your path. True forgiveness brings freedom; not obligation. When I hear the word “forgiveness”, I recall memories of my youth when a playmate might physically hurt me and I was asked by an adult to accept a hug, along with a forced verbal apology, and go back to things as if nothing happened.
This does not at all describe what forgiveness truly is, yet many people are under the impression that in order to forgive, your relationship must immediately return to how things were before. This results in undue pressure to ignore our intuition which may actually steer us away from a relationship, or lead us to alter our expectations and boundaries.
It’s all about doing what’s best for you, from a place of genuine self-love. You are not obligated to ignore red flags or overlook important issues that need to be addressed, for the sake of being “nice” or “spiritually mature”. You are only obligated to practice self-love and make decisions based on that love.
When an offense is committed against us, there are times when the experience grants us the ease of maintaining the same standards, boundaries and relationship goals as before. Perhaps the offense committed doesn’t warrant a full-on re-evaluation of how we prioritize the relationship, or the boundaries already in place. However, some cases call for this type of reflection in order to protect our energy and our well-being. Sometimes, a necessary part of forgiving someone includes a major adjustment in how we view our relationship with them, or making a decision to temporarily pause or permanently end the connection. We have the power to determine the terms and conditions of our forgiveness.
To forgive someone, you don’t have to “kiss and make up”. You don’t have to trust them immediately or ever. You don’t have to carry on with them as if nothing ever happened. Decide what your needs are as you move forward. As long as your goal is to release all suffering, you are on a path of forgiveness.
It’s for this reason that I prefer to refer to forgiveness as “letting go”, since the letting go of suffering is the most energetically impactful aspect of forgiveness - it's what we really want when we set out to forgive. The act of letting go requires us to do whatever work is necessary to put our self-love first as we follow our own intuitive guidance. There’s absolutely no timeline and no pressure to do this for the other person, but for our own growth, learning and healing.
At the end of our path of letting go, we don't always find a completely restored relationship. It's nice when it works out that way, but sometimes the lesson on our path is how to develop the strength to release our attachment to someone who drains our energy through a repeated pattern of toxic behavior. This type of "forgiveness" journey is just as valuable and worthwhile as any other.
My karmic life lesson of learning to let go of offenses from others is always a work in progress. During a planetary retrograde, I find myself revisiting past situations as I reflect on how I've grown and transformed. I continue to gain deeper insight into the lessons these painful experiences have taught me, and continue to teach me. As a result of my growing sense of self-love, I grow more comfortable each day with the boundaries I’ve put in place to protect my energy. My peace grows, and with time, I begin to consider hurtful situations from the past as lessons that have finally become complete. I patiently allow this process to unfold; I take my time. My one and only motivation is to be my best self. While my way of forgiving may or may not meet the approval of world-renowned gurus and spiritualists, it works for me.
Here's an affirmation that helps me to let go / forgive: "I commit to allowing myself the time and freedom to process, learn from and let go of all suffering caused by myself and others."
I wish you peace, joy and many blessings!