This feels like a weird post to write.
I say that because I have only now just realized (at a newly-minted age 44), that the challenge I thought I was having with forgiving others is not the challenge I am actually having.
By that I mean – in a way, actions others take that affect me are literally none of my doing, and thus they require no further action on my part.
I have no choice about whether someone else does something or says something, or doesn’t do or say something.
Scenarios can range from whether or not my partner says “I love you” to whether or not my parrot, Pearl, decides to bite me.
I may have preferences (I prefer hearing “I love you” and not being bitten), and I may even try to influence the choices others make according to my preferences.
But ultimately, what they decide to say/do/don’t say/don’t do is totally not up to me.
Or, as one of my favorite mentors, Byron Katie, likes to say, “What others say and do is really none of my business.”
I find this sooooo interesting!
To further complicate matters, I can find myself embroiled in differences of opinion as far as whether those others made the “right” choices (interpreted here as: “the best choices for me”).
For instance, I might think Pearl’s choice to bite me is a very bad choice indeed – a choice that requires my eventual forgiveness.
Pearl, on the other hand, may think his choice to bite me is the perfect communication tool that produces no need for self-explanation – and certainly not for forgiveness!
Which brings me back to an earlier post about my efforts to relearn self-forgiveness.
Since forgiveness at its core is a self-loving act, and a choice that may or may not impact others but will always positively impact me, this realization essentially sends me to square one.
Here is an example.
Let’s say someone says they think I am very stupid or ugly (or both).
So now their words are out there, I have heard them, and I have choices:
- Option 1: I can let the words in, personalize them, believe them, and then suffer the hurt and anger they cause. Here, it feels like what I am really doing is taking their words and then turning around and saying them to myself!
- Option 2: I can see the words as an outward admission of how that other person sees the world, life, themselves, and (naturally) me, feel compassion towards them that that is the best they can see in me, and let it go….no further contemplation or action required.
- Option 3: I can let the words percolate nearby (but not inside) me, discover I disagree, and either just let them go or even speak out for myself, letting that other person know I am not on board with their perspective.
What complicates matters a bit (for me at least) tends to be my relationship with that other person.
Here is how this tends to unfold:
- Category 1 Person: It is a total stranger who says I am stupid and ugly. I think, “What do they know?” and go on about my day.
- Category 2 Person: It is a colleague or acquaintance who says I am stupid and ugly. I wonder how on earth they formulated that opinion (since we are a few degrees out from even casual friends or work peers) and then I let it go from there.
- Category 3 Person: Someone I love and treasure says I am stupid and ugly (family, close friend, boyfriend). Here it gets very tricky indeed!
I have actually experienced a certain number of situations in the last few years with Category 1 and 2 persons.
Because I feel more distant from these types of individuals, it is easier not to take their words personally (even if I still want to argue with them and change their minds).
But when it is Category 3 Person I am dealing with, the challenge amps up a notch or three.
Here, I think the reason is because I figure they DO know me, they ARE close to me, and thus perhaps their words and actions (or silence and inaction) may have some merit.
I have in the past assumed this means I need to forgive them.
But now I’m realizing this, too, is a matter for self-forgiveness.
When these times come, my mentor, Lynn, encourages me to look to see if there IS any merit to consider!
This is very difficult, of course, but if hearing a truly trusted loved one say I am stupid and ugly stings me, perhaps I do need to investigate further.
In other words, perhaps some part of me realizes they see something in me I don’t want to see, and that part of me agrees with them, and it stings because it wants me to see the whole truth about myself so I can work out the kinks on the road to my life goal of becoming the best possible me.
This is the hardest part of all, because now I have to honestly take what Lynn calls a “self-inventory” – to honestly and sincerely ask myself, “What about their words resonates and why? For instance, have you been acting or talking – towards yourself or others – in ugly or stupid ways lately?”)
Then I have to listen for my own raw and honest answer, and go from there.
Perhaps I will discover there is a very valid reason Category 3 Person said what they said.
Then, yes, it will sting, burn, bleed for a bit – but after the shock wears off, I can work on the issue, make any apologies I need to make, lock it away in memory so I don’t make the same oops again, forgive myself, and move on.
It is the “moving on” part that is so important to me – the carrot at the end of what sometimes feels like a very hard stick.
This is because I can’t very well achieve my life goal of being the best possible me if I refuse to learn a lesson, or I refuse to move on after a lesson has been offered, learned, and catalogued. I won’t learn very much or very fast that way!
And here I want to pause to mention a VERY important part of the whole self-forgiveness process that always really helps me.
One of my favorite authors, Brene Brown (“Daring Greatly” is her latest), talks about the importance of categorizing people who offer feedback.
She says this is very important at any level, but especially when you are in the public eye on any level, because in our culture today anyone at any time feels they can give any type of feedback to anybody they want.
In “Daring Greatly,” she talks about how when one of her TED talks went viral and garnered millions of hits, she got a lot of “you are stupid and ugly and fat and did I say stupid?” comments mixed in with the “you go girl’s!” She said some of the mean comments made her cry, but then they made her strong.
She decided she would only listen to feedback from those who had proved their worth to speak. She called these people the ones who were willing to get “in the ring” with her and live life, rather than just cheering or jeering from the sidelines.
Brene also taught herself to check out any bothersome feedback from the folks I call Category 1 and 2 Persons with someone from Category 3 before giving it any further thought.
My mentor, Lynn, says something similar – she reminds me to consider the credentials of the commentator before listening to their comments.
Forgiveness is a key element of becoming our best selves – I truly believe this. But without right understanding of what forgiveness is, who needs to offer it to whom, when it is required, and how to go about it, much of its power is lost.
So while it may be a difficult and thorny contemplation to wade through at times, I am keen to make the effort – and am grateful for Lynn, Brene, Byron Katie, and other powerful mentors who help me believe I can succeed.
Today’s Takeaway: How do you understand and approach the idea of “forgiving others?” Does it help and support you to feel like you have forgiven someone else? Do you work on forgiving yourself at the same time – first, or later? I’m so curious to know what you think on this topic!!