Forgiveness: Let's Just Call it "Letting Go"
By Kingsley Gallup, MA, LISAC
It tugs at the heart, boggles the mind and puts the spirit to the test. It’s called forgiveness. But what exactly is it? While the concept conjures up many decidedly unappealing connotations, could it be that forgiveness is simply letting go?
Forgiveness is at the heart of recovery, and mastering it the essence of renewal. And many of us can't put it off any longer. Our ill will has become chronic. We have been inviting resentment into our hearts through our unrealistic expectations. And resentment is nothing short of bondage. It drains our life force. Forgiveness can replenish it.
Today we have choices. We can cling to the past, to a childlike ego state and the security of an unforgiving spirit. Or we can let go. These are the choices of the functional adult. After all, are we victims or volunteers?
Perhaps we never felt powerful early in life, and we aren't about to relinquish that power now, however real or perceived it may be. Perhaps our resentments make us feel one-up and better-than. Perhaps we fear looking others in the eye, as this would mean coming face-to-face with the truth of who we are.
So why forgive? Why risk the pain of exposure? Why give away our perceived power? Because as good as the payoffs of not forgiving may have been, the perks of forgiving are far better! Forgiveness releases healing power. It frees us from the burden of hurt and anger. It calls us to confront humanity and fallibility and, in so doing, allows us to live in peace and change for the better. It liberates all that energy we previously expended on resentment. It opens the door to intimacy. Forgiveness is about remembering and letting go (Claudia Black).
Since we can't give away what we haven't experienced, forgiving oneself is step one. We learn to release sorrow and regret. We love ourselves through our misdeeds. We confront our past and work out resentment. We become open to the belief that we can change. The path of self-forgiveness is paved with trust in ourselves, our humanity, and our higher power. It is a spiritual self-healing of the heart that comes by calming self-rejection, quieting our sense of failure, and lightening the burden of guilt (Messina & Messina).
Some of us have bought into the myth that that self-forgiveness is selfish - just some socially acceptable way of letting ourselves off the hook by avoiding responsibility. If so, it's no wonder we hesitate to forgive others who have wronged us! Why would we ever want to let them off the hook? Truth is, self-forgiveness is an act of integrity. It is how we maintain character. It's how we live ethically and free from hypocrisy.
Without self-forgiveness, our wounds never heal. We risk unresolved hurt, pain and suffering. We fear making mistakes or having past ones revealed. Our lingering shame fuels self-pity, indifference, stuffed emotions, self-destructive behaviors, hostility, distance from others, and resistance to chance. Forgiving oneself is about letting go of shame - some carried, some our own.
What we believe about ourselves dictates how we interpret our world. Think about the concept of loving our neighbors as ourselves. What exactly are we offering our neighbors? Love and forgiveness? Or hostility and condemnation? Only from a place of authentic self-love can we love our neighbors as we truly wish to do.
Each of us yearns for the freedom of letting go. But we need to do the footwork. It's time to take a step. After all, "If you want something you've never had before, you've got to do something you've never done before" (Drina Reed). The time is now. Let go.