I recently wrote a post on How To Forgive Those Who Have Hurt You, and it quickly became one of the most popular posts on the entire site. Holding on to grudges is one of the most painful things we can do to ourselves, and yet, it can be hard to let go. That post dealt exclusively with forgiving others, and I did my best to explain how forgiving someone has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you. But what about if you’re the one who has done something “wrong”? What if you’re the one who needs to be forgiven?
What forgiveness really is
Forgiveness is a complex subject, because it’s kind of a blanket term. It’s not an emotional state in and of itself. You cannot actually feel forgiveness. You can let go of blame, judgment, anger or guilt. You can get into the feeling of appreciation, compassion or love. Forgiveness is simply the term we use to describe those shifts. So, when we’re trying to forgive someone or ourselves, we are actually trying to release what could be one of several different states of emotion, caused by a variety of beliefs. At its core, what you’re always trying to do is to feel better about a certain situation that you are currently using as an excuse to feel bad. Period.
Asking others to forgive you
I’m going to make a controversial statement: You do not need to ever ask others to forgive you. You may want to, and I’ll discuss that in a minute, but you never need to. Let me explain:
When you’re asking someone else to forgive you, you are asking them to give you permission to feel better. And it’s not that this can’t work to some degree, but when we do this, we are giving away our power over how we feel. We are saying, “If YOU will say it’s ok, I guess then I can feel ok.”
When someone forgives us and we actually do feel better, we don’t actually feel better because they’ve forgiven us. It’s because we are using the fact that they’ve absolved us of our guilt as an excuse to feel better. This is an important distinction. In order to actually feel better, WE have to allow ourselves to do so. Someone else can’t MAKE us feel better. We can use their words or actions as an excuse to change how we feel, just as we can choose to be offended or hurt by someone else, but when it comes right down to it, it’s still our choice, our doing, our power.
So, even if you’ve “hurt” someone else, there’s never any NEED to ask for or receive their forgiveness. This is especially important to remember if the person you were hoping to get forgiveness from has died or simply refuses to give it to you. You are the one holding on to those horrible feelings and you are the only one who can release them. You don’t need anyone else for that.
If you’re having trouble with the idea of having been wronged and wanting to be asked for forgiveness, please read the original post on forgiving others.
You may still want to ask for forgiveness as a way of repairing a relationship, but that’s another story altogether.
You did a bad thing vs. “you are bad”
So, you’ve done something wrong. Let’s say that you said something truly hurtful to someone you love, and you deeply regret it. You feel like the most awful person in the world and you just can’t stop beating up on yourself. The first step towards healing is to make the distinction between having done something that you regret and actually being a bad person.
There’s a big difference in terms of vibration between thinking “I have done a bad thing” and “I am bad.” One allows for redemption, while the other condemns you as broken, possibly permanently so. People don’t do “bad” things because they are bad. No matter how horrible, we always have a valid reason for everything we do. Those reasons may not be rational or logical, but they are valid for each and every one of us in that moment (and yes, this includes murder and other atrocities). You didn’t say something hurtful to your friend because you’re mean. You said it because something that came just before that comment triggered an insecurity in you, and one of your defensive mechanisms kicked in.
Let’s say that you are insecure about your weight. You believe that you’re not good enough, and your weight has become as symbol of that. You’re shopping with your friend and she, without even realizing what she’s about to step into, makes a comment about how a certain style of jeans isn’t flattering on you. But because of your insecurity, instead of hearing “That style of jeans doesn’t show off your wonderful body”, you’re convinced that what she really meant was, “Your ass is so fat that when you sit on the beach, Greenpeace volunteers haul you back into the ocean and yell ‘Live Shamu! Live!’” One of your biggest fears (the fear that you’re not good enough) is triggered and you lash out in order to defend yourself. Before you even know what happened, you whip around, stare your friend directly in the eye and say “Yeah, well, your cankles would make Miss Piggy weep!” Now, your friend, who was simply trying to be helpful, is going to feel like you just punched her in the gut, completely unprovoked, while you will actually be feeling a bit better, having shifted out of that fear (defensiveness feels better than fear). At least until the guilt sets in.
In the moment that you made this defensive comment, you had a very valid reason for it: You subconsciously felt attacked and you fought back. Again, our reasons are very rarely rational (most fears aren’t). But because you’re not consciously aware of this fear, you see your friend running off in tears and you then crumble into a heap of self loathing. How could you have said such a hurtful thing? Where the hell did that even come from? I guarantee, that every time you said or did something that you consider to be “awful”, you were triggered in some way just before the incident happened.
The point here is that when you understand your motivation for doing “bad” things, you can make the distinction between having done something hurtful and being an evil person.
You are not a bad person. You did something you regret, but at the time, you had a valid reason (valid to you). Use the incident to help you find that trigger and the underlying belief it’s connected to and release that belief. The more often you do this, the less triggers you’ll have, the less you’ll be “hurt” by others, and the more you’ll be able to react consciously (the way you actually want to).
Our subconscious reactions
Let’s face it: Most of our reactions are subconscious. We react before we even think about it. And even when we do take a moment, we are often seemingly driven by emotional forces we can’t control. In the moment, we often don’t really feel like we have much of a choice. And sure, one could argue that we ALWAYS have a choice, and I would agree, only not when we’re talking about the moment of reaction.
We have a choice to look at our thoughts, beliefs and emotions and decide that we don’t like where we’re heading. We can choose to think differently, shift our beliefs and therefore cause ourselves to act differently, even when we have no time to think about it. We have the choice to become self-aware, to understand what drives us and to change those driving forces if we don’t like how they make us feel.
We sometimes have the choice to control our reactions in the moment, IF the trigger that set us off was mild. But if the trigger was a strong one, our subconscious causes us to defend ourselves well before our conscious mind can even begin to get involved. In the moment of offense, you almost certainly didn’t consciously choose to react the way you did. Knowing this can help you to finally let yourself off the hook and work towards forgiveness and healing.
Now, I know that a lot of you are going to be reading this and thinking, “Melody’s saying that we don’t have to take responsibility for our actions. She’s saying we don’t have a choice.” And just to be clear, I’m not saying that at all. In fact, by understanding how our actions and reactions truly come about, we are in a position to not only take full responsibility but also to change our future reactions (instead of just trying to control them with willpower).
There’s a big difference between saying “I realize now how my beliefs caused me to say those hurtful things. I see that in that moment my subconscious felt it had no choice but to defend me. But knowing this, I can now change my beliefs and therefore my behavior and react the way I actually want to in the future” and “I now have carte blanche to do whatever the hell I want. If I hurt someone, it wasn’t my fault because I had no choice.”
The first statement leads to greater self-awareness and a more conscious, authentic and ultimately happier life. The second statement is made by a person who is stuck in extreme powerlessness, looking for a way out of that and has found a way to justify lashing out at others. Anyone actually reading this post, however, is most likely working on increasing self-awareness and is therefore not at great risk of getting stuck in this kind of mindset. Remember that I tailor my articles to a specific audience and that my blog is unlikely to appeal to or even be found by someone who will read this and proclaim, “You mean I can kill as many people as I want and not feel guilty about it?” You know… just so we’re clear.
The key is self-awareness
Truly forgiving yourself (and others) necessitates a shift in how you perceive yourself and your actions. The first question you want to ask yourself is: “Why did I really do that?” It means paying attention to what triggered you and how you felt in those moments. It means digging around in your subconscious and facing your fears. It means learning to see yourself the way that Who You Really Are sees you. You are perfect. On your journey, you sometimes do imperfect things, but as I said, you will always have a valid reason for them in that moment. When you become aware of those reasons, you’ll begin to see that even though you may have preferred to react in a different way, it actually made perfect sense for you to do or say what you did, given the beliefs you hold, even if those beliefs are totally wacked. And when you see how in that moment, given what you now know about yourself, you didn’t really have much of a choice but to react the way you did, because from the point of view of your subconscious, what you did was actually the best possible option, you can let go of the need to punish yourself. You can let go of the idea that you are broken or damaged or beyond repair. You can take full responsibility and feel the empowerment that comes with finally knowing how to ensure that in the future, you’ll be able to react authentically, instead of from a place of fear. You can see yourself with acceptance, compassion, and love. And you can finally forgive yourself.