Early on in this series I said forgiveness is a misunderstood reality, which is true. Many people have warped understandings of what forgiveness is because, honestly, it’s not talked about very much – other than maybe in church or preschool. And too often, instead of freedom from guilt, forgiveness gets turned into a guilt trip in and of itself. As in, “it’s not nice to not forgive.” Or, “if you don’t ask for forgiveness, God won’t love you.”
But, as we’ve learned throughout the “Fall Into Forgiveness” series, forgiveness is so much better than that! It’s an ever-present reality you can step into at any time. It’s more like a road trip than a guilt trip. It’s pure freedom!
Yet, forgiveness is not only misunderstood; sometimes it’s missed altogether. Many people go their entire lives without giving much thought to forgiveness or even experiencing it. Because, well, who needs it?
This is an easy mental trap to fall into. It’s easy to think you could go through life without forgiving yourself or others and still be just fine. But the reality is, you aren’t fine unless you are free.
Remember, forgiveness is letting go of guilt and animosity so you can freely live the life you were meant to live. If you are stuck in emotions of guilt, self-hatred, resentment, anger or bitterness, you are not free. And you definitely aren’t living your best life!
These emotions, while not bad, are not meant to be carried around all day, everyday. Emotions are like seasons. You pass through each one for a brief time, knowing another season is on its way and knowing you will see the current season again.
Just like fall teaches us to let go – we hold emotions long enough to learn from them, then we let them go. And we have to let them go. We have to make room for the plethora of emotions available to us at any given time.
What would joy be without grief? What would excitement be without boredom? We need to experience the full range of emotions so we can not only appreciate them, but also be more in tune with what each one has to teach us.
Guilt is not bad. It helps us understand the difference between right and wrong. Or, as Brene Brown defined it in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t):
“Guilt is holding an action or behavior up against our ethics, values and beliefs. We evaluate that behavior (like cheating) and feel guilt when the behavior is inconsistent with who we want to be.”
And while guilt may be helpful in this way, it is still heavy. So, if we’re constantly in a state of guilt, we’re only going to be weighed down. We’re not learning; we’re just wallowing. We’re not blossoming into our best, truest selves; we’re stuck.
The same is true of anger, resentment, bitterness or any other form of animosity – it’s heavy and unhealthy when carried for too long. In fact, chronic anger can increase our risk of conditions such as coronary disease, obesity, depression, and high blood pressure. It can also lower our immune system, leaving us susceptible to all kinds of illnesses.
However, like guilt, there is a positive side to anger. It helps us learn from our experiences and release the tension those experiences caused us. Anger is a natural response, not a character flaw. It’s what we do with the anger that makes all the difference.
So, how can we actually learn from our guilt and anger? Quite simply, we must practice mindfulness. The next time you are feeling one of these emotions, stop and observe the situation that caused the emotion. Try not to judge yourself or the other person(s) involved. Try to see the situation and your related emotions from a neutral place.
Seeing from a neutral place does not mean you are excusing bad behavior. It simply means you are trying to understand the situation from a place beyond your pain. Or, as Albert Einstein once said:
“You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”
A few mindful questions to ask yourself are: What was each person’s role in this situation? Were there factors beyond my control? Was there a missing piece to the story I couldn’t possibly have known at that time? Was the pain I experienced a matter of bad intentions or mere oversight? Could I approach a situation like this differently next time? Do I need to set a boundary? Is there something deeper, like shame, I’m burying behind my guilt or anger?
These questions will help you process your emotions and, as a result, begin to let go of your attachment to them. And we all know what letting go of emotional baggage is, right? It’s forgiveness.
Of course, this begs the question: if prolonged guilt and anger are bad for you, is it possible ongoing forgiveness – this act of letting go – could be good for you? Absolutely!
When it comes to health specifically, forgiveness has been shown to have the opposite effect of anger. For example, being a forgiving person improves mental health, cardiovascular health, blood pressure, and is even linked to living longer. Yes, it’s that powerful!
So, who needs forgiveness? Turns out, it’s everyone!
Next week, we are going to wrap up this series by learning a few more techniques we can use to forgive both ourselves and others. Subscribe here and I’ll email you when the next post becomes available.