“How can I forgive my parents when they were so abusive to me when I was growing up?”
“How can I forgive my spouse for cheating on me?”
“How can I forgive my best friend for abandoning me?”
“How can I face and forgive unforgiving abusers and manipulators?”
“How can I forgive myself when others do not forgive me and throw my past in my face every chance they get?”
These are some of the questions about forgiveness my clients have asked me over the 37 years that I have been a counselor.
We have all been told that forgiveness is good for the soul, and it is. Yet forgiveness cannot be forced. We cannot will ourselves to forgive, because if we try to deny the anger, blame and judgment that may still be there, it is likely to come out at some point. So how do we reach forgiveness?
Forgiveness toward others is the natural outcome of forgiving ourselves and of taking loving care of ourselves. When we judge ourselves, we will have a tendency to project that judgment onto others, no matter how much we tell ourselves that we have forgiven them.
Let’s start with the first statement, “How can I forgive my parents when they were so abusive to me when I was growing up?” My experience is that as long as you continue to treat yourself in the abusive ways your parents may have treated you, you cannot reach forgiveness. It is your lack of self-care that perpetuates the anger toward others.
As adults, we each have a wonderful opportunity to learn to treat ourselves with the love, respect, caring and understanding that we may have lacked as children. When we don’t do this, the past becomes the present as we continue to abuse ourselves in the ways we may have been abused, and then continue to blame others for how we end up feeling as a result of our lack of self-care.
“How can I forgive my spouse for cheating on me?” You will not be able to forgive a spouse until you fully take responsibility for your participation in the relationship issues that may have contributed to the infidelity. There are always ways you did not listen to yourself or honor yourself that put you in the position of being betrayed. As you look deeply within and discover how you might have betrayed yourself and learn to forgive yourself, you may reach forgiveness for your spouse, even if you end up leaving the relationship.
“How can I forgive my best friend for abandoning me?” The world tends to mirror to us whatever is happening in our own inner system. When we feel abandoned by someone, there is a good possibility that we have abandoned ourselves – that we have failed to attend to our own feelings and needs and have failed to be a loving advocate for ourselves. Once again, you will discover that if you learn how to take loving care of yourself, you will find your anger toward others gradually disappearing.
“How can I face and forgive unforgiving abusers and manipulators?” Others’ behavior actually has little to do with whether we choose to be judgmental or accepting and forgiving. When we learn to be compassionate rather than judgmental toward the wounded, manipulative side of ourselves, we will naturally be compassionate toward others’ wounded, manipulative behavior. Once again, forgiveness is the natural outgrowth of doing our inner work, of moving out of self-judgment and into self-compassion.
“How can I forgive myself when others do not forgive me and throw my past in my face every chance they get?” You will stay stuck in anger and judgment, and in feeling like a victim, as long as you make others responsible for whether or not you forgive yourself. Others’ forgiveness has nothing to do with your own decision to judge or forgive yourself.
When you learn to move out of judgment and into compassion – first for yourself and then for others – you will find yourself forgiving yourself and others. Forgiveness is the natural outgrowth of compassion.