To be able to forgive we must first meet the legitimate needs of the parts of us that don’t want to forgive.
High Ideals and Gut Feelings
Our ideals about forgiveness are not likely to connect with us at a gut level where a lot of our forgiving needs to happen. We need to fully accept our gut feelings about those we want to forgive before we can move into genuine forgiveness. Acceptance of our feelings may mean that we need to go through a process of releasing those feelings before we can move on.
Sometimes we need to do more than just release the feelings, we may need to honour them too. It may be that we really need to listen to our gut feelings and take them into account. Our gut feelings may be offering us some basic wisdom about a person or situation. If we have a feeling in our belly to not trust someone, then that may very well be right. We need to take that feeling on board or we could be blocked in our attempts to forgive. It may just mean that we can forgive the person but need to see real evidence of a change in them before we will trust them again.
When not to reconcile
It is better not to attempt reconciliation with someone who we have a bad feeling about. We override such a feeling at our peril. If we override our feelings, by trying to push ourselves into forgiving someone before we are really ready, we risking being harmed by them again. Also we could be damaging our relationship with ourselves by not trusting our own feelings. We need to combine the wisdom of our high ideals with the wisdom of our gut feelings in order to truly forgive.
Brow beating ourselves into ‘forgiving’ someone before we have really dealt with the underlying emotions that we feel about them is not genuine forgiveness, it is false forgiveness. We are also then likely to reconcile with someone who may well hurt us again. This would not benefit us, or the person we are trying to forgive. If we re-establish a relationship with someone who is very likely to cause us further harm (and who has not shown genuine remorse or genuine change in behaviour or attitudes) that has more to do with foolishness than forgiveness. True forgiveness brings freedom, lightness and happiness; false forgiveness brings enmeshment, dependency and usually more misery.
Forgiveness cannot be hurried
Sometimes we are in a hurry to forgive because we hope that will take away the pain or distress we are feeling. Sometimes we are in a hurry to forgive because we want to get away from the rage, hate and anger churning inside us. Sometimes we are in a hurry to forgive because we cannot bear any kind of conflict. This is all understandable, but it is not helpful. It important not to rush the process if we are to genuinely forgive and not recreate the same or similar circumstances all over again – possibly with the same person.
Forgiving ourselves for not wanting to forgive
As we learn to reconcile our high ideals with our gut feelings we become more reconciled with ourselves. We may have assumed that the part of us which does not want to forgive is ‘bad’. The logic goes, “Forgiveness is good, so the part of me which does not want to forgive must be bad.” This is fundamentally faulty logic as we cannot become more forgiving by being judgmental and blaming towards ourselves. An exercise in self blame and self judgement, by assuming that part of us is bad, does not lead us to becoming more forgiving. It just leads to us being split within ourselves and feeling guilty because we are not as forgiving as we ‘should’ be.
We need to explore the part of us which is not ready to forgive, and uncover its legitimate needs so that we can respond to them. It may be that we are actually ready to forgive, but not ready to re-establish a relationship with the other person. In some cases we may need to categorically commit ourselves to not having anything more to do with the person unless we see very definite signs of change in their attitude and behaviour. We may need to make this kind of commitment to ourselves before we can forgive them and before we can forgive ourselves for getting into the situation in the first place.
We need to explain to our gut level self the benefits of forgiveness in terms to which it can relate. Many of have heard of the benefits of forgiveness in terms of fit being good thing to do, a merciful thing to do, a compassionate thing to do, and so on. We may have been told that we will have a better place in heaven or earn good karma from forgiving. This is all very well, but it is unlikely to have much effect if part of us is holding a grudge or feeling resentful.
Forgiveness: What’s in it for me?
Our gut level may want to know that if forgiveness is so great then what is in it for us? It is vitally important to understand that we are the person who benefits the most when we forgive. Yet, we need to know why this is true and not just hold it as an idea in our heads. If we are not truly aware of the benefits we gain by forgiving a part of us may hold out and refuse to forgive. This can cause us to become divided within ourselves if we feel we ‘should’ forgive, but simply cannot. Of course we then need to forgive ourselves our inability to forgive! But while we are all in knots inside about it, and cannot even look at the issue, then there is little chance of that happening.
There is a way we can reach the parts of us which resist forgiving and help those parts be more ready to forgive. There is no need to rely on some far away ideal or the promise of an eventual distant heavenly state to justify forgiveness. There is no point in trying to convince ourselves to forgive when we are not ready yet, and it is not necessary to do so anyway. Once we clearly see the benefits which forgiveness brings, we will do it because we genuinely want to even at a gut level. The gut level part of us and the high-minded idealistic part of us will come more into alignment and forgiveness will become much more natural and easy.
We need to know that, at a basic level, forgiveness serves us and benefits us. We need to know why we benefit from being more forgiving.