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'Tis the Season for Forgiveness

Approaching the holidays with a wider lens.

“We forgive but not forgotten” —Nelson Mandela

This holiday season, when rituals and celebrations are plentiful, take the opportunity to look at past hurts with a wider lens.

Photo by Kenneth Silvestri
Source: Photo by Kenneth Silvestri

To begin with, it needs to be understood that forgiveness is not condoning or minimizing a hardship we have suffered. This is a major misconception. Forgiveness is first and foremost for oneself — to choose to live in the present and not allow past sadness to cause you unnecessary pain. When a grievance is embedded and shows no resolution, the “fight or flight” part of our nervous system becomes revved up. This part of our nervous system is great for reacting to a life-threatening situation but injurious to our mental and physical health. When it is overused, i.e. during the good and unfortunately the bad of family and friendship get-togethers, we can lose insight as to the meaning of the holiday season.

Don’t Be the Victim

When we have unresolved pain, there is a tendency to act the victim and create demands of others based on past hurts that we cannot change. However, we have a choice to change our framework and access the parasympathetic nervous system (the “calm down” part.) This can be accomplished by mindfully focusing on being grateful for the good in our world.

The first step towards forgiveness is to acknowledge what you feel so you can allow empathy for yourself, allowing you to produce a “non-denial” of feelings. When you are out of balance from a past concern that brought you pain and you lose perspective, this is the time to widen your lens and view what is presently the “wrong” that upsets you. While doing this you need to simultaneously accentuate your positive persona and avoid having it overtaken by your negative persona or “shadow side”. In this process, forgiveness is for you. It is a commitment to make peace with yourself, and inevitably with others. It is not about minimizing your hurt, it is about changing your grievance story.

Stop Reliving Your Pain

Forgiveness, from this standpoint, is not for use in reconciling with the person or thing that upset you. Instead, set a goal to let yourself go to a spiritual side that does not blame or hinder your well-being. It is a way to stop reliving your pain and unnecessary dwelling on the negative. By getting the right perspective on what is happening you will recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurtful feelings, thoughts, and physical upset you are experiencing now, not what offended or hurt you two minutes or even ten years ago.

Make Peace with the Suffering

Uncomplicated grief is easy to handle, i.e. you missed your movie, or the grocer was out of your favorite food. Complicated grief is when you credit your bitter bank and become a millionaire in bitterness. The tale of woe gets bigger and keeps you connected to negativity in the past. The gap between what you want and what you got is a paradox but also an important gauge as to your health. Since life can say no in so many ways, it is a natural part of nature’s inevitable sufferings that we encounter every day. We need to make peace with our afflictions.

Again, this is not to minimize your hurt but to realize that your grievance story may not be reality. Otherwise, it will produce those infamous damned if you do and damned if you don’t double binds. Think of what concerns you, take a deep breath, widen your perspective and create a loving image of your optimistic possibilities. This leads to having positive emotions as you now cope with confidence.

You Have Choices

During any future moments of feeling upset, remember that you can choose any view that you wish to see. Why not choose the life view that you want to live? This allows you to give up expecting things from those who will not give them to you, which only strengthens your being stuck with a grievance. If we cling to our hurts, we will live the pain. We cannot demand a return to desire but we can plan to get it in the present. Let go and soften yourself. You may become more vulnerable, but you will be more human.

Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person or the situation that hurt you power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty, and kindness around you. When you look inside your enemies you see their pain. When there is no revenge you are forgiving. It is your decision not to be defined by others who have hurt you and to remind yourself of the true meaning of this time of year which is to have peace, joy and forgiveness.