I have been talking to my clients a lot about forgiveness recently. And as I have done so, I’ve had several different ideas kicking around in my brain. One is this comment from researcher Susannah Fox about the idea of forgiving people in advance. The other is this quote that Anne Lamott has used in her writing:
I have noticed that people tend to resist me initially when I talk about forgiveness. I think that this resistance comes from a mi
sunderstanding of what it means to forgive–and who forgiveness is for.
Here’s how I think about forgiveness. If I really dig into this, it could take me many, many pages (and since I’m writing to you every day, let’s keep it short and sweet), so instead I’ll summarize a few of the key things I think forgiveness is and is not.
Forgiveness isn’t a sign of weakness. Forgiveness isn’t a concession that doing harm is acceptable. Forgiveness isn’t a free pass for bad behavior. Forgiveness does not remove accountability for behavior. Forgiveness isn’t an “eraser” for the responsibility to correct harm.
Forgiveness is first and foremost something that we do for ourselves. Forgiveness is the space that acknowledges that everyone (especially us) is going to make mistakes. Forgiveness is an extension of compassion and grace. Forgiveness is the space for communication and building deeper connections with one another. Forgiveness is the glue that holds relationships together. Forgiveness is a critical human skill.
I don’t know about you, but often, when I find myself in a position where I need to forgive others, I face some initial struggle. I want forgiveness to be initiated by their blinding recognition that I have been hurt by their words or actions. But I have to ask myself: did I communicate that I was hurt? And: do I want to put my own emotional state in someone else’s hands? Choosing to forgive others makes space for me to be more in control of my feelings and experiences. It means that, even if someone hurts me, I can choose how that hurt affects me in the long run.
Now, here we get to one of the big challenges. For me, for most of my clients, and I’m guessing for you, forgiving someone else is a piece of cake compared to forgiving myself. I make just as many mistakes as the next person (maybe a few more), and my standards for extending forgiveness to myself are way tougher. This is actually something that I am actively working to correct, using many of the mindfulness and self-compassion tools that I share in the Balance Roundup posts. My favorite exercise to stretch my forgiveness muscles is a lovingkindness meditation practice, which reminds me that we are all connected. Here is a sample of a lovingkindness meditation:
How About You?
What comes to mind for you when I say “forgiveness?” Is it something you actively practice, or something that you struggle with? Who is easier to forgive, yourself or others? What are your best forgiveness practices?