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Issue 12

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In this issue ~~

* Reclaiming Your Power: Forgiveness and Guilt

* Forgiveness

* Guilt and Self-Forgiveness

* Action Challenge

* Wise Words

* Bookshelf

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Reclaiming Your Power: Forgiveness and Guilt

In this issue, we're going to look at a couple of significant, although perhaps uncomfortable issues. While forgiveness and guilt are matters that need to be faced by everyone, as creative people, we need to be especially conscious of how withholding forgiveness and hanging onto guilt rob us of energy that we could use more creatively elsewhere.

 

*Forgiveness

As difficult as it can be, forgiveness is imperative if we want to move our lives forward. The myth about forgiveness is that it's something you do for the other person. By the end of this article you will see that it is, in fact, something you do for yourself.

So if forgiveness is such a good thing, why is it so hard to do? Why would we refuse to forgive? For one thing, we may be holding out for vindication -- for an apology that may never come -- or for revenge. I find that when someone is willing to admit that they hurt me, forgiving is easy. But if they repeat the injury or refuse to acknowledge it, I want to hurt them back. We may enjoy the feeling of righteous anger, which can make us feel strong and powerful. Or we may want to punish the other person by withholding our forgiveness. But illogically, we often withhold forgiveness from someone we're not even in communication with. So who are we really punishing?

Refusing to forgive keeps us connected to that person and anchored to the past. When you hold onto the anger, hurt or resentment, you tend to play out in your head either the scene where you were wronged, or more likely, a scene of revenge or vindication. And that takes some of your energy, every day. By forgiving, we can reclaim the energy that is going into playing out this scene over and over and release ourselves from that past. Also, we tend to be least forgiving about qualities we find hard to forgive in ourselves. We can use forgiveness of another as an opportunity to see where we might be doing the same thing to other people and change that behavior in ourselves.

So how do you forgive? Do you just say, "I forgive you"? Yes, sometimes that works. But more often, there are a few steps you need to take first. There are numerous processes available from books and teachers, and I will share with you the process that works for me.

~ First, realize and acknowledge what you're doing -- that you're holding onto old anger, hurt, resentment, and perhaps trying to punish someone, feel sorry for yourself or create an excuse not to move forward in your life. These are hard things to admit, but important to the process and to your growth.

~ Express your feelings. Often, we hold onto negative feelings because we don't feel heard. If possible and appropriate, talk it out calmly with the other person. Let them know how you feel and why. If this doesn't feel right or the person is not accessible, you can still have a conversation with them in meditation or your imagination; it will still have impact. You can also write an "anger letter" that you don't send, or express your feelings to a trusted friend or a counselor, so that you feel heard.

~ Look at the situation from the other person's point of view. Why would they have chosen to hurt you? You may be surprised at some of the insights that can surface with this step that will make forgiveness much easier. Also, there may be times when it's difficult to forgive what someone did, particularly in cases of serious abuse, but it is usually possible to understand and forgive why they did it -- we're all flawed humans doing the best we can at the time.

~ Be willing to let go. This step is important to all types of healing. We may do tons of work in therapy or workshops, but to truly be done with it, we must at some point actively choose to let go and put it behind us. Be honest about this one. If you're not ready to truly let go, you may need to repeat the earlier steps (or the whole process) a few times first.

~ Forgive. This may be as simple as saying, "I forgive you," or you may want to perform some sort of actual or meditative ritual of release. Perhaps light a candle, write "I forgive so-and-so for doing such-and-such" on a piece of paper, see yourself releasing them, then tear up the paper and burn it. Or literally or meditatively draw a line, step over it and say, "I forgive; I am done with this." Or create a ritual of your own.

~ And finally, visualize taking back your energy from that person and situation. Feel released, renewed and revitalized.

Once you've done this process, if you later find yourself feeling angry or running the scene of revenge again, stop and change your thoughts. Or do the process again until you feel clear. You may have to go through it a few times to truly forgive and let it go. And whether you choose to continue a relationship with that person or not, the act of forgiving will free you both.

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*Guilt and Self-Forgiveness

What if you're the person who has committed the wrong? There are times when you don't mean to hurt someone, but you do. And there are times when, in the heat of anger or hurt, you deliberately lash out. It happens. Or as you become more conscious, you may look back regretfully on past behavior that seemed all right at the time but no longer does. And you feel bad. You feel guilty.

Understand that guilt is often a "substitute" for a feeling you don't think you should have or that feels too uncomfortable or painful. You may be angry at someone who died, or an aging parent or small child, and don't feel you have a right to feel that way. Or you may have deliberately hurt someone you love, and that's too painful or shameful to admit. But like withholding forgiveness, holding onto guilt keeps you imprisoned in the past. As painful as it may be, there's value in dealing with feelings of guilt.

Some ways you can handle guilt:

~ As always, give yourself permission to feel the feelings. If you're feeling a feeling, it's the right feeling, no matter what anybody tells you or told you. You may not choose to act on it, but it's certainly okay ­ and beneficial ­ to allow yourself to feel it. If you find yourself feeling shamed -- which may very well happen if you've hurt someone -- it doesn't mean you're a bad person. You're just someone who's committed a hurtful act; in other words, you're human.

Very often with guilt, the feeling that you really want to get to is called "remorse," to truly feel sorry (or sorrow) for what you said or did. This is not about blame, but about taking responsibility and owning it. The Random House Webster's College Dictionary defines remorse as "deep and painful regret for wrongdoing; pity, compassion; from remordiere, to bite again." Yes, remorse can be painful, but once you get through it, you can truly release your guilt. So as bad as it may feel, stick with it until you get through to the other side.

~ Forgive yourself. Do the forgiveness process for yourself. Look at why you hurt, take responsibility for it, and forgive yourself.

~ If appropriate, you may want to apologize to the other person and ask them for their forgiveness. Be careful of the temptation to turn the tables to make them feel sorry for you and soften your own pain. Feel the remorse and give them the space to express their feelings.

~ If you're feeling guilty over past behavior, acknowledge it, forgive yourself, and make the commitment to change the behavior from that point on ­ certainly a more productive use of your energy than punishing yourself through eternity!

So take a few moments today to see where you need to forgive and where you need to release guilt. And remember, nothing is unforgivable. If you can't forgive the "what," you can always forgive "why." And that goes for yourself, too. The past is over, and the best thing you can do for yourself and those you interact with is to let it go, reclaim the energy that kept the anger and guilt in place, and redirect that energy into a more positive future.

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Action Challenge

Identify one person who you need to forgive and start the process above. It doesn't have to be the hardest one; you can start with the easiest and build your forgiveness "muscle."

 

Wise Words

"Never does the human soul appear so strong and noble as when it forgoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury."

~ E.H. Chapin

"Once you become detached from things, they don't own you any longer."

~ Wayne W. Dyer, Staying on the Path

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Bookshelf

(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)

xForgiveness: A Bold Choice for a Peaceful Heart . . . Robin Casarjian

xForgive for Good . . . Fred Luskin

To Forgive Is Human: How to Put Your Past in the Past . . . Michael E. McCullough, Steven Sandage, Everett L. Worthington

Forgiveness: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Get on With Your Life . . . Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon

The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don't Know How . . . Lewis B. Smedes

Beyond Shame and Pain: Forgiving Yourself and Others . . . John Michael Berecz

The Choosing to Forgive Workbook . . . Les Carter, Frank Minirth

Healing Life's Hurts: Healing Memories Through Five Stages of Forgiveness . . . Dennis Linn, Matthew Linn, Sheila Linn

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© 1999 - 2011 Sharon Good. All rights reserved.

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