Forgiveness is also a heavily researched science. Instead of offering you lots of studies and links (you can find those yourself pretty readily), I wanted to offer you a perspective I have learned the hard way over and over again. You can’t think your way through forgiveness, you have to feel it.
Many people cognitively understand that forgiveness is good and good for your health. However, most of us struggle with what forgiveness really is and how to go about it when the offenses are so great that the pain rubs up against our very core issues of self worth and importance (and we all have those).
Start with the simple. Someone bumps into you on the street and says, “Sorry!” You usually respond with, “No problem.” or something like that. You offer forgiveness because the offense was so small and unintentional, it really had little impact on you and your self image.
Up the ante. A friend says something about you to a mutual acquaintance that is unflattering. This is a betrayal of trust. Let’s say the friend then learns you heard about it. The friend who values your relationship recognizes that asking for forgiveness is more important than losing your friendship and offers a heartfelt apology. Your feelings are a little bruised but the apology is sincere and you decide to forgive your friend. Now you will know if you actually forgave your friend if you do not think of this betrayal every time you see your friend or think of them. Letting it go means it does not contain any energy. You may not forget it, but the memory does not generate anxiety or negative emotions.
Let’s go all in. Someone hurts you emotionally or physically with intent. And just to drive it home, that person is a parent. This is the psychological jackpot. There are so many ways you can run with this you may never truly recover. The physical bruises may heal, the years may pass, however, the thought that someone who should love you, intentionally hurt you drives the nail right through our core shame issues around self worth and importance.
- “If my parent does not love me then maybe I really don’t deserve love. I am not worthy.”
- “If my parent does not care for me, then I must be unlovable. I cannot be loved.”
- “How can I trust anyone if I cannot trust my parent? I do not trust people.”
We may be able to understand our parents circumstances and perspectives cognitively. They may have never had loving parents. They may have been abused or neglected. They have their issues. However, that internal child within you is still in shock. “How could this happen?” As an adult you may know. That little child within you does not understand and perpetually lives in shock. This is also the case with trauma victims. They are stuck in the moment of the trauma reliving it as if time stopped.
These wounds run the deepest and are the hardest to heal. I believe (after endless years of study) that our little inner child does not want to let go of the trauma. They want their parent to come back and repair the damage. Make it right.
This is impossible.
Even if the parent does ask for forgiveness, it is the inner child who needs to offer forgiveness. Children are not well studied as far as forgiveness goes. We don’t really know how it works within them other than forgiveness seems to be more a function of the limbic system than the cortex. It is a feeling thing, not a thinking thing. You can think you have forgiven someone, but deep down there is a little child inside crying, afraid, and all alone.
The path to forgiveness might be found if that inner little child received the love and caring they desperately need. It is not too late. And, contrary to our desire, the only person who can give that little child the healing they need, is you. We have to find our inner, wise adult and have them love and honor that child. Hold them, love them, and tell them they are safe. Tell the child you are there and always will be. You are the only one who can truly make that promise. Other people are human and make mistakes and leave and die. Only you can be there forever and always for your inner child.
Remember, the physical body can be damaged, the soul can be fragmented, but the spirit can never be harmed. Once you recognize your spirit will continue on and is truly untouchable, you will become fearless. You will still have compassion, love, joy, sadness, and anger, but fear will stop driving you. When you find yourself in your fearless shoes (even if it only lasts a few minutes), forgive like your hair is on fire. Forgive every one you can think of who ever hurt you. Ask for forgiveness from every soul you every harmed. And most importantly, forgive yourself. Once you forgive yourself, your inner child can let go of the need to hold onto the trauma. Forgive yourself for not protecting yourself when you were too weak, too small, too afraid, too confused, too young, whatever…
When we are fearless in knowing we will be ok not matter what anyone does to us, we can be brave enough to be truly independent. Free. Free of the need for someone else to make us ok. That little child is wiser than we know. They will hold onto the trauma until we can learn that the only one who truly can heal us is ourselves. When we forgive ourselves, we can forgive freely because it all is about growing and learning. We may even dare to step into gratitude for the lessons learned from those who seemed like villains when in actuality were the souls who loved us enough to provide us with the hardest lessons life on Earth has to offer.
This is hard. I struggle with it. And I know it to be true. This is why I do the work I do.