Forgive a Little: People You Know, People You Don't

By Noelle Sterne
Forgive a Little: People You Know, People You Don't

Why do you need forgiveness to reach your Dream? When you're not forgiving, you're angry and tight. You're holding onto old hurts and hugging your rightness around you like a parka against the stinging winds of change. Your arms are crossed and your mind is crossing out possibilities.

If you think about it, what we can't forgive is really who we can't forgive: nonrelatives, our parents, our partners, and ourselves. We're going to look at each of these in turn-and do something about them.

Why? Because they're impeding your progress toward your Dream.

Why again? Because you're expending your energy keeping your resentments warm, lamenting, bemoaning, crying, cursing, kvetching. You have little left over for actively pursuing what you want to do ...

Consider a few principles that apply to everyone and everything we should forgive. Of all the writings in forgiveness in many disciplines, I've chosen these because they mean the most to me. I've applied them many times, and continue to rely on them (more or less successfully—I too have my personal story, with hundreds of pages).

Six Universal Principles of Forgiveness

1. It's okay to get angry.
You are entitled to feel anger at the other person's wrongdoing. You are entitled to burst out with disappointment, shock, rage. Those emotions are cathartic and healthy.

But here's the big BUT. Too often we hang onto these emotions. We never seem to express them enough. Any slight reminder starts us off again. They become our chronic reaction, hardening in us like coal.

This is the unhealthy part that translates so often into physical symptoms and full-blown illnesses. As many publications now attest, individuals who hold longstanding resentments are at greater risk of cancer than others who let out their pent-up feelings and let them go. Louise Hay suggests enlightening correspondences between emotional causes and physical illnesses; for example, abscesses develop from fermenting thoughts over hurts, arthritis results from criticism and resentment, bursitis is associated with repressed anger, glaucoma with resolute unforgiveness, and malignant growths of all kinds with rehearsing old hurts and building resentment.

Go ahead. Express your anger.

2. It's not okay to cling to your anger.
Express—Yes. Ruminate, obsess, linger, cultivate, replay, grind away—No. This is the stuff of disease, depression and decrepitude.

Maybe you're thinking this sounds too much like an indiscriminate, unfounded generalization, but not only mainstream medicine finally recognizes the destructiveness of anger. Look around. Generally the most sour, frail people are those harboring the most held-to resentments and blame, sometimes for generations.

Look at your own anger. You've probably stayed stuck in it for too long, hardly noticing it because it's gone underground, buried beneath your daily goings-on. You can be sure that anger is siphoning off your energy, enthusiasm and hope. It's plugging up your joy in living now and tainting your outlook for tomorrow. It's obstructing your ability to marshal positive energy and emotions toward your life Dream. If you want to continue to live with this malevolent outcome, fine. Stop right here. If you want to free yourself, continue.

3. They needed to do that.
This statement about whoever you're so mad at is the first real step in forgiving others. The declaration may go against all apparent logic and the rage in your stomach. You may have been in the fury habit for so long that it feels natural. We need discipline, self control and determination to start changing that habit of mind.

How? Reframe your accusations and condemnations in the perspective of the statement above, impossible as it may seem at first. You'll get used to the idea that the culprit's misdeeds or terrible actions weren't entirely personal, aimed specifically and maliciously at you ...

4. It was the best that they could do at that moment.
This is a hard one, especially because their action resulted in hurt to you. When you realize that they needed to do it, for their own convoluted, unforgiving, transferential reasons, you can also take in this principle.

To do so doesn't mean we're condoning or excusing them. Rather, we realize that at the moment of the unforgivable action their level of maturity allowed them to act in the best way they knew how. This is another way of saying that they weren't aiming their entire quiver of poison arrows only at you.

In fact, they could have acted no differently. As horrible as the action may have seemed to you, given where they were in their development and how they handled the circumstances, they were doing the very best they could. Even with good intentions, like, for example, most parents have, they may not be equipped to respond, advise or support our Dreams, much less our daily highs and lows.

5. What was done simply "missed the mark."
The sin you feel was perpetrated upon you can be seen another way, reframed. In Jesus' original language, Aramaic, the word for "sin" also meant an error or mistake. From this standpoint, a sin is not irrevocable, to be pushed in our faces at the Last Judgment. It is simply a mistake and requires correction.

Author and Unity minister Eric Butterworth writes that sin is only "missing the mark." As we forgive others their mistakes, we also forgive ourselves. How? Jesus said, "Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Lk 6:37). Jampolsky comments on these commands with great wisdom:

Whenever I see someone else as guilty, I am reinforcing my own sense of guilt and unworthiness. I cannot forgive myself unless I am willing to forgive others. It does not matter what I think anyone has done to me in the past or what I think I may have done. Only through forgiveness can my release from guilt and fear be complete ...

6. Continued resentment and blame, especially if not faced, hurt only yourself.
Hugging the other person's wrong to you only glues it closer. Dr. Fred Luskin, co-founder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, paints a graphic picture: "By carrying around these hurts, you are letting the person who harmed you continue to inflict new bruises. You are renting space to him in your head."

Luskin's first book is called Forgive for Good. This title not only refers to time but our own health and well-being. The subtitle is A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. Since we create our own realities, what we concentrate on grows, or, as in the Law of Attraction, what we focus on is what we get.

Noelle Sterne is the author of Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams. Noelle has conducted a coaching, consulting and editing practice for over 28 years. She is also a spiritual counselor. Visit Noelle at trustyourlifenow.com