Forgiveness of Self and Others

Forgiveness of others starts after we do our grief work and our Relationship Inventory and our examination of the relationship and feel the spectrum of emotions. It does not start right away. Forgiveness of others is the end, rather than the beginning, of the process.

Acceptance is the END of a long search for peace. You cannot begin to accept “it’s over” right away, especially if you are coming out of a longtime relationship and had plans for the future. People attempt, using the words of misguided philosophers or on the advice of a misguided or misinformed therapist, or advice from friends who have your best interest at heart but don’t understand the process, to forgive and accept before they are anywhere NEAR experiencing all the emotions.

While acceptance and forgiveness are vital to your healing, its place in your recovery is toward the middle and end, NOT in the beginning or early stage. What is an “early” stage? Well, like a good lawyer, my answer will be “it depends.”

But it absolutely DOES depend on where you are (are you going through a prolonged divorce? did your partner leave you for another? are you still in contact?). If you’re still in contact, you could have broken up a year ago, but the unnecessary contact (meaning not having to do with children or work-related if you work together – meaning any communication or contact that is not strictly business and business-like) is keeping you at square one. If your ex has moved close by and you see him or her, you are most likely going to be early in the process for a while.

If you’ve had a long relationship and don’t know what it’s like to be with anyone else, you will be early in the process a while. If you’ve been betrayed or cheated upon or coming out of an abusive situation where you might have PTSD or other trauma, you will be early in the process a while. Each situation is different, but a few months, in most situations is still very early and much too early to jump to forgiveness. You have to feel your anger, your pain and your broken trust. You have to grieve your secondary losses and the hopes and dreams of a future.

Other secondary losses could be your ex’s friends and family or the place where you lived or the pets you shared. You may have secondary losses as you had to depart with things that had meaning. You have to feel rage and deep devastation first. Your rollercoaster of emotions will not just magically disappear because you’ve decide to forgive. In fact, suppressing your emotions to jump to forgiveness will be a surefire way to NOT heal. Ever.

However, it is very important to start on self-forgiveness. This process of moving on and healing our hurt cannot possibly happen if we are holding our own feet to the fire. We didn’t know that we didn’t know. We didn’t do as well as we should have/could have. Okay. What have you learned? If you are working on your stuff and doing your inventories, you are learning a lot about you. Ghandi said to be the change you want to see in the world. If you are working on your stuff and actively trying to be a better person, you are contributing to the good of all. Many never admit their mistakes, never come face to face with their shortcomings and never try to change them. If you are doing the work, you not only deserve self-forgiveness but you must have it. Guilt and regret will keep you forever stuck. Guilt is not good for anything except as a clue as to what we cannot live with in ourselves. That’s it. Use it for good, not for smacking yourself over the head. Self forgiveness has to come early in the process because otherwise we become mired or not convinced of our worthiness to have a good life and be happy. There is no sense in doing this work if you don’t think you deserve to have a good life and be happy.

This is hard work. But, there is a huge payoff for doing it as there is in any endeavor that is hard work. That payoff is contentment. If you don’t feel you deserve that, the work is going to be impossible.

Forgive yourself. Vow to be completely honest about your behavior in the relationship that led to its demise either through journaling or when you get to the Relationship Inventory. Vow to learn from your mistakes and then even if you have not done the Inventory yet, LET GO OF ALL GUILT AND REGRET. There is no other use for it. Let it go. You can look at the red flags you defiantly refused to acknowledge. You can look at the warning shots your lover, when the love was new, shot across your bow that you ignored.

You can look at the ridiculous and inappropriate things they did when love was new but you were so caught up in the freshness of the relationship you decided to let it slide. You can look at all these things and LEARN from them and vow not to do it again long before you get to the formal Relationship Inventory but you learn from it, vow not to repeat it and MOVE ON.

You don’t beat yourself up and watch your negative self-talk about the things you did wrong. Now about forgiving others…sometimes it is very hard and other times people are forcing themselves to forgive when they’re simply not ready. But if you’re stuck in not wanting to forgive and that not-wanting-to-forgive is keeping you from moving on, here is one of the best things I’ve read on forgiveness. And remember, forgiveness can be (and should be) done in stages. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can forgive little bits at a time. And, AGAIN, the forgiveness is for YOU and your healing. Not for anyone else.

At every GPYB Women’s Retreat we read part of WWRWW, this is almost always on the agenda:

Excerpts from Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissas Pinkola Estes. From the chapter Marking Territory: The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness Four Stages of Forgiveness 1. to forego—to leave it alone 2. to forebear—to abstain from punishing 3. to forget—to aver from memory, to refuse to dwell 4. to forgive—to abandon the debt

To forego: To take a break from thinking about the person or the event for a while. It is not leaving something undone, but rather more like taking a vacation from it. This prevents us from being exhausted, allows us to strengthen in other ways, to have other happiness in our lives.

To forebear: This builds focus toward the time when one goes to the next steps. It does not mean to go blind or dead and lose self-protective vigilance. It means to give a bit of grace to the situation and see how that assists.

To forget: To let go, to loosen one’s hold, particularly on memory. To forget does not mean to make yourself brain dead. Conscious forgetting means letting go of the event, to not insist it stay in the foreground, but rather allow it to be relegated to the background. To move off stage. We practice conscious forgetting by refusing to summon up fiery materials, we refuse to recollect. It means not to haul up certain materials and turn them over rand over again. Conscious forgetting means willfully dropping the practice of obsessing, intentionally outdistancing and losing sight of it. This kind of forgetting does not erase memory, it lays the emotion surrounding the memory to rest.

To Forgive: There are many ways and portions to forgiving a person, a community, a nation for an offense. It is important to remember that a “final” forgiveness is not surrendor. It is a conscious decision to cease to harbor resentment, which includes forgiving a debt and giving up one’s resolve to retaliate. You are the one that decides when to forgive and what ritual to use to mark the event. You decide what debt you will now say needs not be paid further. Some choose blanket pardon: releasing a person from any restitituion now or ever. Others choose to call a halt to redress in process, abandoning the debt, saying whatever is done is done, and the payback is now enough. Another kind of pardon is to release a person without his having made any emotional or other sort of restititution. Forgiveness is the culmination of all foregoing, forebearing and forgetting. It does not mean giving up ones’ protection, but one’s coldness.

Forgiveness is an act of creation. You can choose from any ways to do it. You can forgive for now, forgive til then, forgive til next time, forgive but give no more chances–it’s a whole new game if there’s another incident. You can forgive part, all, or half of the offense. You can devise a blanket forgiveness. You decide.

How does one know if one has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for rather than angry with. You tend to have nothing left to remember to say about it all. You understand the suffering that drove the offense to begin with . You prefer to stay outside the milieu. You are not waiting for anything. You are not wanting anything. There is no lariat snare around your ankle stretching from way back there to here. You are free to go. It may not have turned out to be a happily ever after, but most certainly there is now a fresh once upon a time waiting for you from this day forward.


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7 Responses to Forgiveness of Self and Others

  1. Luna says:

    Excellent article. I loved Singers question. It made me think and ponder. This is why this blog is so great. It allows you to gauge yourself and progress. This assists with keeping me on track. Its easy to get lost and confused in all the work. I will greatly benefit from remembering your words on this subject. I can see from my response to Singer that I’m on the right path with the forgiveness subject. Needed the lesson from this article though. Powerful message Susan..thank you.

  2. Luna says:

    Now, to self forgive! Not so easy but completely possible.

  3. singer14 says:

    Susan –

    Thank you so much for posting this. It really helped me to understand better. Like so many other things in life, forgiving appears is a process, not an event.

  4. jazzcanary says:

    Awesome! I loved the information from WWRWW!

  5. Vanessa4311 says:

    Loved this article! SO spot on! It’s been exactly 1 year since my separation from the BH. Exactly 1 year ago when he left me! He’s tried to reconcile with me and my mind is still made up! No More! Even though I refused to take him back it still does not wash away the battle to Forgive and my what a battle this is. There are days where I feel I have forgiven him and there are days I miss the memories and the guilt start to overcome me. I have learned to sit with ALL feelings very well this last year. Staying “still” has been the best advice you have given us Susan when in doubt and when the feelings are overbearing. Swallowing and forgiving offenses from the BH last 12 years of my life is not an easy task but it’s something that I have to do as I enter the new phase which is Divorce. My god, I get overwhelmed at the thought of going through the whole process but it’s gotta be done. Thank you for this article…it’s exactly the reminder that I needed. Hope all is well! Best wishes always and best of luck to all of you!

  6. WhoAmI says:

    Anger and forgiveness have been at the core of my grief work and I have become good friends with the many facets of anger. I think that being a “nice” person all of my life has left me with fourty years of suppressed rage I had no idea existed until my breakup.

    I remember at the beginning, my anger seemed to be all consuming. I didn’t like how it made me feel, I didn’t like the ugly thought and revenge fantasies and most of all I didn’t like how the anger kept me captivated in the past and seemingly tethered to the BH,when I so very much wanted to let go and move on.

    I tried everything from punching punching bags to forgiveness visualizing. They all help short term and were good for temporary relief. For me, the best long term help has been keeping the focus on me and learning as much as I can about the true nature of both anger and forgiveness. I had to realize that there are different kinds of anger, some healthy and some unhealthy, and I’m learning how to recognize 1) when I’m feeling angry, 2) what type of anger I’m feeling and 3) what healthy response is appropriate for the type of anger I’m experiencing. I’ve come to learn that healthy anger is a signal that my boundaries are being stepped on and that healthy anger is a sign that something must change. I don’t think that I would be anywhere near as angry at the BH if I had been aware and practicing healthy anger because I would have left at the healthy anger stage instead of allowing his to do worse and worse things to me. I’m okay with that though because I didn’t know better at the time and I find some peace in knowing that it won’t happen again because I know better.

    I’ve also come to see that betrayal is its own flavor of anger. It’s an offense that can only be dealt with by forgiveness. Of all the stuff I have read on the nature of forgiveness, Susan’s description above seems to be the most accurate for what I have experienced so far. I’ve let go in pieces, I spiral up and down levels (just like grief), I’ve had to actively put my angry thoughts aside and remind myself that he cannot hurt me anymore because I stopped allowing him to and that dwelling in the past keeps me tethered to that past if I allow myself to become consumed by angry thoughts.

    Building a new life has also helped me a lot. Each time I’m able to address or find new coping skills for a secondary loss, I find myself less and less inclined to be angry at what was done to me. I’m not at the final stage of total forgiveness which I’m being to suspect is really detachment but I’m getting there and I’m definitely in the final stages more often that slipping into the beginning stages.

  7. Coppergirl says:

    I think about the two greatest traumas in my life; betrayal by my grad advisor which led to the derailment of my research career, the end of a wonderful marriage, my having to go west. The second is Narcboy and his betrayal, not just of me but an entire program and the betrayal of a good many students. These seem to be more damaging than being non-raised by two abusive families. At least then, I knew I’d be free just by living long enough to become an adult. What happened to my career will affect me for good: the jobs I could get, the level of (necessary) intellectual challenge, future life as a retiree, and, as ones socioeconomic status has a lot to do with who one can/cannot attract, any and all future relationships and their quality.
    I now understand how my losses from this made me so vulnerable to the advances of Narcboy. There I was, new in a job, one I needed to pay off medical bills, keep from losing my farm, take care of my dad. In a town where the educated are resented, even hated. Less than a year post breast cancer, forced to face that totally alone, no peers whatsoever, emotionally and intellectually starved, sick of the advances of local dropout guys with multiple DUIs, missing half their teeth. Narcboy must’ve seen me coming a mile away.
    Susan, you are right; you cannot know everything. I felt unease, had no clue what hot/cold behavior meant, never having experienced it before. My Spidey senses were tingling yet I didn’t know why. Narcboy had been deceiving women for a long, long, time. The very morning I found out about the OW, by odd happenstance, Narcboy invited me to spend a weekend out of town with him. The possibility of an OW was furthest from my mind.
    I have learned, in both situations, to forgive myself. Grad students are truly powerless and since I wasn’t deceitful, I simply couldn’t fathom deceit. I may never be able to fully forgive these two and that’s OK. I am sadder, often situationally depressed, less trusting, yet wiser and stronger. I have (emotionally) thrown away my degreed field which needed to happen. Reading a scientific paper literally makes me sick. I focus on the natural world, art, literature, my own writing. I go to work, work hard, but my soul is somewhere else and for the next four years that’s how it must be. I work hard to help this very damaged community. Many adulate it’s mining and downhill skiing yet fail to see the human and environmental costs. The despair, min wage poverty, dangerous housing, drug abuse, domestic violence, denial. When karma comes calling, I’ll be in a good place. Those two boys (I refuse to call them men), not so much.

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