Forgiveness of Self and Others
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Attorney, Author, Therapist, Podcaster, Motivational Speaker, Media Commentator AND Creator of the Getting Past Your Breakup Program, the world's most successful "healing after a breakup" program. Go to Program Resources(above) to find out more about the program.
Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019)
Backstory to this post: I tend to re-run this after someone in the Facebook Group asks about forgiving their ex. That means I run it A LOT.
Forgiving Yourself and Others
Copyright © 2019 Getting Past Your Breakup Productions LLC All Rights Reserved
Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. ~ August Wilson
Forgiveness of others starts after we do our grief work and our Relationship Inventory in Getting Past Your Breakup (GPYB) 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. True – 100 percent forgiveness – of someone who has hurt you deeply is a myth. I was very comforted to read in Women Who Run With Wolves (full excerpt below): 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.
It usually doesn’t happen. You forgive as much as you can as soon as you can and then you just accept the rest. My ex-husband went to his grave not ever apologizing to his kids – yet admitting – on his deathbed – that he was wrong. He admitted it to his brother. I have been enraged that he would a) drop that in his brother’s lap and b) not even have the decency to scrawl it out on a napkin: Dear Boys: I was wrong. Love you, Dad.
Nope. True asshole to the end. I forgave him for what he did to ME long ago. I never truly forgave him for what he did to my kids. When he got sick there was still a lot of anger in me about what he did to my kids. When he passed without an apology KNOWING he was wrong, I have taken back the amount of forgiveness I previously had. My boys deserved an opportunity to ask him what the hell and they sure as hell deserved an apology – a DIRECT apology. It never came.
I will never forgive my birth mother entirely for the pain she inflicted on me and my siblings. I am trying to forgive her to the point where I can see straight when I think about her, but that is for me, not her. I am trying to forgive my birth cousins who held from me the existence of my older brother.
Why would they do that to me? The wound is fresh – he popped up 2 years ago. But I may go to my grave feeling betrayed. I hope I can forgive one day. For my sake, not for theirs. I feel robbed…absolutely robbed…of my relationship with my brothers. I was the only sister they all have and my younger brothers had to deal with my mother not speaking to me so I couldn’t truly be in their lives after she flaked out. My older brother found me after I was emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted and full of grief. I missed all those years with him – when my mother knew he was looking for family and my cousins knew he existed. I was ROBBED by people who had no right to rob me. He and Michael would have been thick as thieves. I would have had a brother, he would have had a sister. Other people who had NO RIGHT to keep that information from me kept it from me. I lost 20 years with a brother I wanted to know all my life. And I’m physically and emotionally exhausted now. I’m angry to the point of being cross-eyed and I am trying – every single day – to let it go. I’m emotionally spent and I can’t even spend a lot of time with this. I feel rage when I think about it It’s a long process.
Other than that, life is too short to not forgive everyone else. They’re not even that important. I have to live my life and have my peace of mind.
Part of that is accepting that I may never forgive my ex-husband and my birth mother for being the self-centered, self-serving asswipes they are or were. She’s alive. He’s dead. She will outlive me. Heaven doesn’t want her and hell is afraid she’ll take over.
As GPYB mentions several times, 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, honestly, I’m not just trying to be an ahole attorney, 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. Go to GPYB, go to the workbook, do the work on NC and move on!
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 roller coaster 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.
Forgiving Yourself Is A Different Story
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.
Gandhi 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. See Mean Lady Talking Podcast Episode 5 (Shouda Woulda Coulda).
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. The part of your journey NOW, after you forgive yourself that you didn’t know that you didn’t know, is to keep growing and changing, keep your side of the street clean and live your best life – honest, open, willing, changing and daring to dream.
At every GPYB Women’s Retreat we read part of WWRWW, this forgiveness excerpt is almost always on the agenda. I will be running a very special group in the fall where we read WWRWW. I have wanted to do this group for years, and am happy to be doing it. Sign up for our newsletter on the first page of the gettingpastyourbreakup.com website or on the Resources page above or the button below.
WWRWW is the only book that possesses a special place on my table and is highlighted in every color of the rainbow. I have a hardcover first edition and if my house was on fire, I’d be carrying my husband and cat’s ashes in one arm and this book in the other.
These are excerpts from Women Who Run With Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I urge you to buy this wonderful book.
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 surrender. 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 restitution 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 restitution. Forgiveness is the culmination of all foregoing, forbearing 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. ~from Women Who Run With Wolves
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HOW TO USE THE BOOKS AND THIS WORKBOOK TO DO THE WORK
GPYB is a program that was developed in the 1990s and continues to evolve as new studies and research come out in neuroscience and other disciplines that inform this incredibly effective program, which is the MOST SUCCESSFUL BREAKUP PROGRAM IN THE WORLD, but it is successful ONLY if you do it as it's supposed to be done:
These are the Tools:
1. The GPYB book: Getting Past Your Breakup: How to Turn a Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened to You (Available wherever books are sold).
2. The GBOT book: Getting Back Out There: Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After The Big Breakup (Available wherever books are sold).
3. The Workbook: Getting Past Your Past: The Definitive Workbook to Health, Healing and Happiness Available for instant download HERE
4. Advanced Affirmations: Power! Affirmations Booklet Available for instant download HERE
5. The GPYB Blog Posts: https://gettingpastyourbreakup.com/all-posts
6. The GPYP YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/gettingpastyourpast
7. The MLT podcast https://www.meanladytalking.com
8. The FB groups and pages
If you do not yet have the books, you can start the program with the workbook which is available for INSTANT DOWNLOAD (see link above in red).
The workbook will help guide you through the program.
Reading through the workbook will familiarize you with the program concepts and terminology. The workbook goes more in-depth about OBSERVATION which is a very important part of this program. Don't skip over observation. So right away, start reading about observation. Also read the Journaling chapter in the book and workbook and start journaling.
Start reading the first book, Getting Past Your Breakup. You do not have to start at page 1 and go forward. BUT, you should read about the Roadmap to Healing so you understand how the different parts of the program work together. It's about BALANCE - working the bad stuff out (grief, contact, etc.) and working the GOOD stuff in (self-care, affirmations, building a new life).
If contact is an issue, go to the No Contact chapter in the book and this workbook. Watch the NC videos and listen to the NC Mean Lady Talking podcasts on the GPYP YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/user/gettingpastyourpast You can also listen to the Mean Lady Talking podcast on major podcast providers. Go to the MLT Home page https://www.meanladytalking.com and scroll down to see a list of podcast providers. Read No Contact articles on the GPYB website.
Even though you may be JUST off a breakup and a long way from dating, get Getting Back Out There – the 2 books work together and you need to read GBOT material LONG before you are ready to date. If you are serious about this program, you MUST get both books FROM THE BEGINNING.
Read these most important chapters in the book and workbook and do the exercises EVERY SINGLE DAY: Observation, Journaling, Affirmations (including Gratitude Lists and Self-Care.) Start doing affirmations ASAP. Make sure you are journaling every day. Make sure you are starting Gratitude Lists and Self-Care
If you have children, read Chapter 5 in Getting Past Your Breakup and Chapter 7 in Getting Back Out There.
Review the blog posts on Getting Past Your Breakup. If you have questions, there have been over 2500 articles written since 2004. Because of copyright infringers, only a handful is available at any one time. If there is a TOPIC you want a post on, please email email@example.com with the subject line: Requested Post
Review the GPYP YouTube videos and the Mean Lady Talking podcasts at https://www.meanladytalking.com. These materials will help you become comfortable with working through the books and workbook.
Review the Boundaries material in both books and this workbook.
Re-read Chapter One in GPYB: The Roadmap to Healing about balancing grief and self-care. Design a self-care regiment.
Read the Grief Chapter in GPYB a few times. Go to the Grief chapter in this workbook and start working through the exercises.
Review the PODCAST episodes and the YOUTUBE videos on grief and loss.
When you have a solid foundation of NC, affirmations, journaling and self-care and are not falling apart in grief, or being driven crazy with obsession, you can start the Relationship Inventory. This is usually after 8-12 weeks, but it can take much longer. It’s okay if you’re not ready at 8 weeks or even at 12 weeks. For some people, it can take months or even a full year before you’re ready to do the Relationship Inventory. Do it only when you are ready.
Now it’s time to really start applying GBOT. Again – this is NOT a book for when you’re READY to date. It’s a book to GET you ready for a healthy relationship LONG before you are ready to date. The two books are guidebooks and should be used as such. They should be opened every day while you’re going through this process.
As you work through your Relationship Inventory in GPYB, open GBOT to Chapter 4, The Standards and Compatibility Inventory. As some issues, problems, red flags, etc., come up in Relationship Inventory START THIS. Out of all the things you’re going to work on between the two books and the workbook, this is one of the MOST important. It is IMPORTANT to do the 2 things together.
As you work through your Relationship Inventory, pull out the worksheets in this workbook for the Standards and Compatibility Inventory and the You/Me list. These things work together. Use the "Getting Back Out There" exercises in the workbook (the S&C and the You/Me List) as you work on your relationship inventory. If you don't do this, you could forget a lot of things that need to be on one or the other. This work is hard sometimes - especially when you're dating - to "STAY FAITHFUL" to the work. Doing these pieces of work together HELPS greatly when you're out there again.
Read Chapters 8, 9, 10 and Epilogue in GBOT. These chapters are about what kind of relationship and what kind of partner you want. If you don’t figure this out LONG before you are ready to date, you will fail again. Start to formulate what kind of partner you want NOW. Journal about what your “3 a.m. person” looks like.
Write Commitment Statements as instructed in the Affirmation chapter of this workbook and/or the Affirmation Booklet. Commit to leaving any potential mate the minute they exhibit “Not Acceptable” behavior or are missing a “Must Have.” Use the Power! Affirmations booklet to advance your affirmation practice.
While reading these chapters, journal about Accept It, Change It or Leave, Communication Issues and Habits and Lifestyles. Think about what you do and do not want in a partner. Continue the commitment statements.
Review Chapters 8 and 9 in GBOT, “The Early Relationship” and the “Couples Inventory” and journal about what is healthy and what is not. Think about your previous relationships and what you do and do not want.
Continue to review the GBOT chapters every week, at least once a week. Keep asking yourself what kind of partner you want and need. Keep reviewing healthy and unhealthy communication patterns.
Finish your Relationship Inventory and Your Letter and Letting Go Ritual.
Open the Life Inventory/Mother Inventory/Father Inventory in GPYB....with the idea of what you want - it's time to think about what you've had as far as relationships go and the influence of early caregivers (or absence caregivers).
When you’ve done the Life and Parent Inventories, it’s time to return to GBOT and do the Sexual Inventory if you need to.
If you are ready to work on Overdeveloped Defense Mechanisms, go to the Overdeveloped Defense Mechanism chapter in this workbook.
Now is the time to read the Real Love Chapter in GPYB and the first 3 chapters of GBOT. Good luck!