We all struggle with forgiveness because we do not fully understand it. Forgiveness is not something we do for others. It’s about us processing our pain and understanding the hurts that we internalize resulting from experiences that we have judged as negative.
Life is, you will remember, just a series of experiences that we judge through our filters. We judge these experiences as positive or negative. I have learned through my own life that most people do not intend to cause us pain. But people in pain spill their pain onto others.
At times we encounter people who are acting out their negative, hurtful behaviors, abuses, and low self-value. They may be lying, cheating, withholding information, taking us for granted, being selfish, or punishing … the list goes on. Some of this is modeled behavior (behavior we learn from observing others), some are related to upbringing and values that they have learned within their family structures, and life experiences.
We may also feel hurt by others for our own reasons. If we have been tormented or abused, we may have ongoing trust issues. We may be inordinately hard on others because we learned to be hard on ourselves.
Often, when we are going through hurtful experiences, our pain is not as clear-cut as we think it is. There are many variables at play when it comes to others causing us pain. Other people, you will remember from earlier in this book, are mirrors that reflect ourselves to us in many ways.
We need to learn to take accountability when others cause us pain, and when we perceive and judge others as the cause of our pain, happiness, or healing. By this, I mean that we need to learn how to look at ourselves in our many contexts and settings with clarity and compassion. For example, I know myself as a daughter in front of my mother, a friend among my friends, a sister in front of my brother, an aunt with my nieces, a student in front of my teachers, and a therapist in front of my patients.
Everything and everyone outside of myself is constantly revealing sides of myself to me— my likes, my dislikes, my strengths, my ego, and my challenges. A math exam might show me my shortcomings in that area, an English exam might reveal how much calmer and collected I am in that milieu.
Everyone and everything we interact with reveals something about ourselves to us. Often, when we talk about forgiveness, it’s about people. We get hurt, and our hurts are, for the most part, people-related. When I say there is a mirror between ourselves and others, I mean that we are judging them through our own filters. Your issues from growing up, your schemas, or the maps in your head about how things need to or should be … it’s all at play.
When someone aligns with the way we feel things need to be, we feel a level of comfort. We feel comfortable with them and may even feel comfortable enough to like them. When someone doesn’t match up to our version of the way things should be, we often feel uncomfortable or distrustful. We may not like them or trust them. We might judge them negatively or reject them completely.
Sometimes we need to take a step back from our initial impressions and reactions and explore what our feelings are really about. We’ve all heard the term chemistry. Chemistry has nothing to do with chemistry — it’s all about familiarity. Though you may not recognize it at the moment, the person with whom you feel an instant connection may be just like your father, sister, mother, mentor, brother, or friend.
We often repeat patterns but fail to recognize those patterns until later in the game. There is a mirror in each and every person that comes to you. If, for example, I walk by you wearing the same scent your Aunt Matilda used to wear, you may instantly like or dislike me (depending on how you feel about Aunt Matilda). If Aunt Matilda used to whack you with a stick, you just might hate me by association. If she was sweet and kind and used to bake your favorite cookies and take you to the park to play, you might have an instant like for me without my earning such a bond with you. You might judge me as kind and caring without knowing a single thing about me.
We make a lot of judgments without knowing who, why, or how. What’s this got to do with forgiveness? Good question!
We go through a lot of pain and hurt caused by other people. But most people do not intentionally cause others harm. They behave the way they behave as a consequence of their experiences and upbringing. We often have conflicting ideas about what is right and wrong. We often do not relate to the way others see the world, and we cause each other pain, sometimes out of ignorance, other times out of our own fears and insecurities.
When we are children, we are in a place of high self-esteem. We are also in a place of innocence and ignorance. We believe in the good. But as we grow and experience hurts, they strip us of our innocence. We learn that others can hurt us and that we can fall down and hurt ourselves. We learn through experiencing pain that is safe, happy, and secure picture of the world might not be an accurate one.
Likewise, with people we start out on a positive front, trusting and hopeful, and through ongoing experiences, we begin to see different sides of one another. These experiences can cause us conflict, pain, disagreements, disappointments, and hurts.
It is important to look deeply into the mirror and see what the mirror is showing and teaching you, not only about the other person but about yourself. Learned beliefs about yourself that are not necessarily true, with reinforcement, can feel true.
For example, if I were dating someone for five years and it was an abusive relationship, I would not only need to forgive them for the hurt they caused, I would also need to forgive myself. I would have to forgive my partner for causing me harm and would have to forgive myself for putting up with it longer than necessary. I would have to forgive myself for loving the other person more than I loved myself. I would have to forgive myself for believing that this person would change when they had been consistently causing me harm. I have to forgive myself for not loving myself enough to walk away from something hurtful and harmful. I have to forgive myself for putting their needs ahead of my own. I have to forgive myself for not seeing the truth. And I have to forgive myself for staying in a situation that lowered my sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
One of Canada’s highest-rated clinical psychologists, Dr. Monica Vermani is a public speaker, teacher, and author in the field of mental health and wellness. In her private practice, Dr. Vermani provides a multi-faceted treatment approach in treating adolescents and adults suffering from trauma/abuse, mood, anxiety, substance addictions, and other related conditions and disorders, as well as family and couples therapy. She employs a dynamic range of techniques and evidence-based treatment modalities, including psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, (CBT), Mindfulness Meditation, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming (EMDR). Dr. Vermani believes that good mental health doesn’t just happen, that it deserves the same time, attention, understanding, and effort as our physical wellbeing. To that end, Dr. Vermani’s latest book, A Deeper Wellness, and its companion online A Deeper Wellness Life Lessons mental health program provide the tools to create a deep, authentic sense of wellness and wellbeing. Drawing from her 25 years of clinical practice, she takes readers through the same tried and true multi-disciplinary approach to treatment that has been successful in creating incremental, meaningful change for hundreds of patients and groups.
By Dr. Monica Vermani, author of A Deeper Wellness
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