Practicing forgiveness helps us leave the past behind and embrace our own strength & courage.
Like a southern gothic novel, there were entire branches of the family that "we don’t talk to" because of some argument that occurred at a country church sometime in the 1960s, 15-20 years before I was even born. I was shuttled to church every week and taught a weird lesson about forgiveness: we hold grudges, the Lord forgives.
I now understand the error of this thinking and this way of moving through the world. Holding on to past slights, anger, pain, arguments, and blame doesn’t do anything helpful for anyone. Instead, it causes wounds to fester and ooze out into all other aspects of relationships with others and with the self.
It became clear to me that even if one believes forgiveness is the Lord’s work, forgiveness does not occur without some active participation on our parts. Forgiveness has become incredibly human work, in my life and in my coaching practice.
Practicing forgiveness is an integral part of becoming whole and healing intergenerational trauma, along with simply being able to let go of pain and disappointment that arises from sharing a world with a great number of highly fallible humans. There are billions of us, so it makes sense to have some go-to help with the process.
Forgiveness takes courage, which means it begins in the heart like the root of the word "courage" itself.
By practicing forgiveness, you're gaining these 3 things:
- You can feel more whole, by yourself and within your relationships.
- You can find your inner strength and demonstrate your courage to be truly intimate with others.
- You can discover self-compassion, your authentic voice, and a sense of freedom.
Confront Your Fears Head On: Move Past Them by Taking Action.
We all feel fear. Some schools of thought believe we really only feel two basic emotions: fear and whatever we think fear’s opposite is (most often described as love).
All other emotions fall on a sort of spectrum of emotions that exist as tension between these poles. Fear serves a purpose and is deeply rooted in our survival as a species. Fear protects and helps keep us safe.
However, when fear begins to "protect" us in ways that withhold love, consideration, openness, communicative understanding, and kindness towards those we choose to depend on — the trustworthy companions in our lives — its methods of protection are outdated and need to be updated based on knowledge and a deeper understanding of both ourselves and our companions in this lifetime.
By companions here, I’m using a broad stroke term to mean every person in your life who you choose to trust and care for. This includes your spouse, family of origin, your children, and your friends.
Fear becomes problematic when you let it stop your progress or isolate you from the people you love and trust, and who love and trust you. In terms of interpersonal relationships, fear commonly shows up as avoidance, withdrawal, fighting, or a combination of all with a little resentment thrown in.
When we are making big decisions or feeling big feelings or wanting to ask for something to meet our needs or needing to share something we’re ashamed of or guilty over, it’s so easy to cave to the fear monster that tells us to run away or put up some smoke and mirrors or stick our fingers in our ears and hum "lalalalalala" really fast until maybe, just maybe, our inaction will work out in everyone’s favor.
Pro tip: it doesn’t.
When we don't confront our fears, and instead, either run away or do nothing but avoid the confrontation, we suffer. We suffer continuously, and that suffering overwhelms the banks of our river of self and will eventually flood us and those around us. Sometimes it drowns us all, and some or all of us cannot recover completely.
In the words of Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart, "Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look."
So, what sorts of actions do you take to boldly confront your own fears? Your own shame? Your own flaws, mistakes, and misdeeds? The stuff that really makes you feel like a piece of crap, you know?
I'm not sure I came up with a step-by-step procedure exactly, but here are a few specific steps you can practice that will at least get you moving towards conquering your fears and learning to lean on to the right people for support to get you through it all. You can also expect them to lean right back.
It’s by leaning on that person do we get our three rewards of feeling whole, being strong and courageous, and feeling free and self-compassionate:
1. Get to know what your fears really are, especially the BIG ones.
What do you fear most? What makes you feel most small and helpless?
Some examples are abandonment, not being loveable, dying suddenly and prematurely, that if the person you love knew the truth about you, they would disappear in a heartbeat, not being ______ enough, being alone, being ashamed of _____, not being loved, not having your basic needs met… the list of fears we humans experience is infinite.
Use practices like Tonglen meditation to give those fears space to be felt, heard, and acknowledged, and then transformed and released. Practice. Repeat.
2. Discern who in your life is truly worth trusting (and therefore loving) enough.
This is someone you want to share the true feelings around what’s real and alive inside you, so that you may also fully share in the other end of the spectrum with that person (or people) you choose.
We must disclose our pain to fully experience our joy and love without the burden of fear. This means that not everyone in your life will know you at this level, clearly. You must take your time and be careful about who you become truly emotionally and mentally intimate with so that you can rest in the sharing.
Sharing your fears makes you incredibly vulnerable. So you must be able to lean into your own faith that those you share fully with will hold your trust tenderly and with loving care. Choose wisely and choose from a place of love.
3. Find your voice.
Know that it may shake and stutter you in ways that you’re not used to at all and it will feel excruciatingly uncomfortable at first. Practice. Repeat.
Silence and hiding the fears from those closest to you creates a toxic mess inside yourself and inside your relationships.
4. Be gentle with yourself and with your loved ones.
Be kind. Stay calm. If emotions get too intense, just back off and rest and find peace again. Remember that it’s all practice and treat your own confrontation of your fear with the kind of compassion you would show a child learning a new skill.
For most of us, it is a new skill. And you’ll find as you practice that it’s usually a new skill for your loved ones too.
May each of our hearts and minds become open to actively practicing forgiveness, for the sake of our individual selves and the collective good.
Vicy Wilkinson is a Board Certified Transformational Life Coach, founder of Complete Life Coaching. To find out more, you can check out 13 Ways to Practice Forgiveness & Free Yourself from the Past for Kindle on Amazon.
This article was originally published at Complete Life Coaching. Reprinted with permission from the author.