How has my life been effected by unresolved anger or shame? This was one of the questions staring me in the face as my seat mate and I flipped through the packet we were given at The Energetics of Forgiveness, a workshop at the East Bay Community Space in Oakland.
As I silently thought about my answer, a distant memory of shame and resentment arrived. It wasn't just one memory, but a phase of my life, or most of my life if I'm honest with myself. From bossy friends in elementary school, to my unfair parents and overwhelmed professional leaders, I was transported back to the majority of my life when I would privately hold a grudge against those who brought me pain, whether they did so intentionally or not.
Eileen Barker and Michael Gelbert bring their unique backgrounds working in law and psychotherapy respectively to offer workbooks, literature, coaching and workshops in their work entitled The Path of Forgiveness. I was struck by how unique, yet logical it was to pair someone with expertise in the law with someone who has expertise with trauma healing to offer a body of work on forgiveness. As I worked through the exercises Eileen and Michael facilitated I was able to recognize how far I had come in my path of forgiveness of my parents and my partner and how much forgiveness has benefitted my relationships with them.
Contrary to what many of us believe, forgiving is not the same as condoning. In fact, I have never had someone I forgave continue to harm me in the same manner they once did. Yes, some of the people I have forgiven are still engaging in the same self-centered, out of control behavior which hurt me in the past, but I now own that holding on to that pain only makes my hurt worse. With the clarity of forgiveness and the commitment to upholding boundaries that protect my wellbeing, the same behavior from loved ones is so much less painful after forgiving them. Every 7-10 years my husband and I have a conflict in which we say or do things that seem...unforgivable. When I am able to let go of my own hurt, and understand the context in which he hurt me, I am able to let go of my pain. Where I once felt an obsessive anger, I now feel compassion.
Learning how to forgive those who have harmed you is a crucial skill in healthy relationship building. The culture of online dating often gets people in the mistaken notion that the path to a rewarding relationships is a quest of leaving no path unexplored in search of THE ONE. Many people think THE ONE will never do anything unforgivable. They believe that somewhere out there is a person who will uncover their own layers of shame and insecurity, and will instinctively know how to refrain from harmful actions. This is not the case. People in amazing relationships with moderate amounts of healthy conflicts are not universally able to avoid hurting their partners, but they know how to do the work to get through hurtful actions and teach one another how to better treat each other.
Feeling what it's like to see the whole of a person you love who has harmed you, and to truly forgive them, is an incredible experience. The energy and resilience I now have far surpasses any infinitesimal confidence from the righteousness I once felt by hanging on to resentment. It is impossible to know how good it feels to forgive someone, but as someone who has spent time as both a chronic grudge holder and a swift forgiver, I can tell you that the liberation that comes from forgiving someone is worth the emotional labor of getting there.
Ready to Do More of This Valuable Work?
You can book a free consultation and get lots of free and in-depth resources from The Path of Forgiveness
You can attend more workshops like this for the Learn to Love series at the East Bay Community Space in Oakland. They need volunteers (and reward them with free event tickets) and they are doing some really cool stuff.
You can book a complimentary coaching consultation with me if you are ready to bring rewarding friends and lovers into your life.