As I walk around the streets of my neighbourhood I can’t help but notice the “Toronto vs Everybody” sweatshirts. While it’s meant to convey hometown pride…it totally misses the mark for me.
I’m sooooo DONE with the polarity and binaries of this world. Why is it always a fight? Just like the language we use to talk about “fighting” cancer can get in the way of our healing, this divisive language can get in the way of creating true community and belonging.
And if we want to come together in our neighbourhoods, our online communities, with our families and friends we need to find (and celebrate) common ground and often, that begins with forgiveness. So today, we’re diving into forgiveness – why it’s hard and how you can start to heal.
I’m sure you’ve heard all the clichés…
- To err is human, to forgive divine
- Forgive but never forget
- Forgiveness is for you, not them
But none of that makes it any easier to let go of the hurt. And whether forgiveness comes with layers of dogma or personal experiences of withholding or having forgiveness withheld from you, I think it’s something we all struggle with from time to time.
Let’s break it down.
If you look at the roots of the word “forgive” it comes from Old English meaning “to give completely” (I love that – literally ‘for giving’) or “to give up the desire or power to punish”. I am also DONE with how we focus on punishment too (don’t get me started on America’s prison industrial complex). We know that leading with love helps more than judging people. And it can be as simple as shifting our language from “Why did you do that?” to “What happened to you?”
So this definition of “to give up the desire or power to punish” is pretty juicy, right? It’s not about condoning what happened or becoming besties, it’s simply saying ‘Can you stop wishing that the other person suffers as much as you did? Can you stop punishing them (or hoping for karma to kick in) for screwing up? Can you stop punishing yourself for screwing up?’
“Forgive” also has roots in an old Germanic word meaning “forward” so perhaps when we let go of the desire to punish we can finally begin to move forward.
Why forgiveness is difficult
“Peace is the ego’s greatest enemy. Because war is the guarantee of its survival. The ego becomes strong in strife. The last thing the ego wants to do is forgive.”A Course In Miracles
Whenever something negative happens in our life, our ego goes on high alert. Its job, of course, is to keep us alive by maintaining the status quo (I think of the ego like a bodyguard protecting my heart). So when something goes wrong our egos get LOUD. Scrappy. Bitchy. Critical. And sometimes the moments that require our forgiveness really were a threat to our survival (like a car accident for example) so the ego feels justified in its outrage.
The ego is our inner fierce warrior that comes out swinging and wants revenge or punishment. It demands justice or consequences. The ego says, “If you hurt me…watch the F out!” And conversely, it’s also the ego who quietly retreats and subconsciously puts up sky-high walls and stuffs us back into our familiar suit of armour in an effort to protect us from being hurt again.
Sometimes we can get caught up in the thought of “if only ‘X’ had happened differently…” that we end up holding onto the pain longer than we need to. And sometimes the pain feels so deep and so overwhelming that it feels like it’s part of who we are.
The ego theorizes that if we’re always on high alert and always keep people at arm’s length then maybe we’ll last longer on this journey called life. This is why so many people struggle with trust after a bad breakup. They hurt us deeply and we carry that forward. It feels scary to let someone in again because we want to avoid that pain.
It wants us to stay separate and safe so it focuses on us vs them, me vs you, right vs wrong, good vs bad, intelligence vs ignorance, and all the other polarities that come with life on Earth. And the more we focus on what separates us, the further and further that divide becomes which makes it harder and harder to forgive. The gap that forgiveness bridges between us and them feels way too big to cross, so… why bother? Easier to just stay angry and stuck…right?
Here’s the thing, the ego isn’t concerned with our happiness, peace, or fulfillment – its one job is our (and its own) survival. But there comes a time when survival just isn’t enough anymore and the weight of carrying around all our past pain (not to mention that suit of armour) is too much. We’re exhausted and just want to set that sh*t down.
‘Ahhh, welcome m’love, come on in here…’ says our heart.
There IS another way.
The heart is “for-giving”. Compassion is its default. And forgiveness is second nature to the heart. The heart is where we transmute our darkness (our pain, betrayal, anger, hurt, outrage) back into light through the power of love.
I know that sounds kinda esoteric, but the heart is where we finally let go.
The ego talks us out of forgiveness. I’ll forgive you BUT… Or I’ll forgive you this time however… there are conditions and strings attached. It’s not “giving completely”. It’s grudgingly done because it’s the “right” thing to do, it’s what “good people” do, or it’s the moral high ground we’re “supposed” to take.
But the heart has this magic; it doesn’t invalidate what happened, it doesn’t pretend that it wasn’t painful or real, the heart breaks so that more light can come in. The heart shatters so that we realize our capacity for love was greater than we ever imagined.
If “to forgive is divine” then whenever we practice forgiveness we align with the divine spark inside all of us. The more we’re able to let go, quiet the ego and forgive, the more we become a clear channel of Love.
Because GUS (God/Goddess Universe Source) isn’t up there debating whether or not we’re worthy of forgiveness (or if we crossed some cosmic line this time) it extends ALL of us forgiveness without exception. GUS is love and love doesn’t discriminate, punish, or limit itself with conditions. Because we all deserve more love, not less.
The Divine also offers us a new perspective on our pain. When we learn to see things from the soul’s point of view we understand that things are not happening TO us but FOR us. Perhaps that bad breakup was exactly what needed to happen to clear the space for someone new to come in so you could experience a whole new and elevated version of love.
Practicing forgiveness doesn’t require us to shrug off bad behaviour, pretend it doesn’t hurt, or become a doormat for others to wipe their feet on. Forgiveness can look like letting go, accepting that it happened, wishing them well, AND not inviting them back into your life.
Forgiveness can come with loving firm boundaries because your happiness is important, your peace is worth protecting, and your joy and fulfillment matter.
Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself.
Raise your hand if you’re harder on yourself than you are on anybody else.✋ If you want to start practicing forgiveness and let go of the weight of the past why not start with you?
A great way to approach this is through the Hawaiian practice of Ho’ oponopono. It roughly translates as “to cause things to move back into balance” or “make things right”.
It’s made of 4 simple statements.
I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.
You can recite these statements over and over to cleanse the body of guilt, shame, negative thoughts, and haunting memories.
It begins with a heartfelt apology, “I’m sorry”. If there’s something specific you’d like to forgive yourself for you can add that too. For example, “I’m sorry I didn’t listen to my intuition when…”, or “I’m sorry I put my needs last.”
Next, you ask for forgiveness with humility. Take a second to breathe and connect with the wounded part of yourself then say, “Please forgive me”. We don’t assume there will be forgiveness right away – this is where repeating can come in handy. Eventually, you’ll feel yourself let go, unclench, and soften.
Next, we say, “Thank you”. We know that seeking and giving forgiveness brings us back into alignment with the Divine. We know that it strengthens our connection to the Divine and allows us to feel the presence of Love more deeply. So this thank you can be “thank you for forgiving me” or it can be “thank you” to the Divine for extending grace even if you or the other person can’t.
And finally, “I love you”. This is a gift to our subconscious and ourselves when we are forgiving ourselves. And when we’re seeking forgiveness from others it can help to think of it on a soul level – one soul to another. Because you may not automatically be feeling the love even if they did forgive you. “I love you” can be an acknowledgment of the divine spark within them or the inner child who simply wants to be loved. Because (I’ll say it again) we are all worthy of more love, not less.
If you’re struggling to forgive someone else…
Think of a person or situation you’d like to forgive. Something that’s happening now or happened in the past and you’ve been wrestling with it. What’s getting in the way of forgiveness? Can you see how the mutual accountability and interconnectedness and how to operate from a place of generosity (like Brené says, “What’s the most generous assumption we can make?”) because then we start to soften and love starts to flow – that’s how we release blame. It’s not about establishing right or wrong, it’s an exercise in compassion.
p.s. If you want to do some journaling around forgiveness (forgiving yourself or others) I invite you to check out the last time we talked about forgiveness and the freedom it brings where I share several journal prompts.