Thursday, June 17, 2010

The power of forgiveness and releasing resentment

Today's Consciousness Cleanse is about forgiveness. Debbie Ford says that forgiveness involves "releasing the invisible ties to those who have left you, betrayed you, disappointed you or hurt you" and that if you don't "cut the cords of resentment you continue to be imprisoned by" those people and situations you've presumably been trying to get away from. Hmm, that sounds familiar. I wrote recently about being connected energetically to old, unhealthy relationships and how important it is to cut those cords in order to be truly free. My post was mainly about ex-spouses/lovers but the same principle applies to all old relationships where you were hurt in some way.

One place where this kind of forgiveness and detachment might be useful is with our parents. In some ways, it's easy to detach from an old relationship with someone who isn't around us anymore - like an ex-spouse. Out of sight, out of mind does work in many cases. But what if you still have a relationship with someone who has hurt you or disappointed you? Unless you had really exceptional parents they probably did both at one time or another. No matter how much you love your Mom and Dad, you may find that you're carrying some sort of resentment towards them for something. Unless you release that resentment it has a negative effect on you. It poisons you, your relationship with your parents and maybe even your relationship with your own kids or spouse.

For the longest time, my Mom could get a rise out of me for what seemed like the littlest things. She would make some random comment and I would fly off the handle and get angry. She'd get defensive, I'd get angrier and our relationship suffered. I didn't realize until fairly recently that I was holding a tremendous amount of resentment towards her for things I thought I had long forgotten. But the truth was that although I may have (for the most part) forgotten things, I hadn't forgiven her. That's why I would jump to anger with seemingly little provocation.

Some of the things I was still pissed about were really small. Like the fact that she "wasn't available" to come with me to buy a prom dress until my step-mom offered to go with me. Then she was suddenly available. Seriously, I was still pissed about that 25 years later. Some of the things were pretty big like the fact that when she and my Dad got divorced she moved out of the house while my brothers and I were away at summer camp. Even though we knew she was leaving, it was pretty crappy of her to do it that way. It took me over 20 years to realize that I was angry about it and another 10 or so years to have the courage to actually tell her that I was angry about it. Looking back I feel silly for having held onto that resentment for so long. It was poison for me and everyone around me. And there was no reason for it. When I finally told my Mom that I was upset about those things - big and small - she apologized. I know she was doing the best she could at the time. I still think what she did was wrong. But I forgive her. No amount of telling myself that I shouldn't be angry for what happened so long ago could ever set me free. It wasn't until I accepted the fact that I was angry and truly forgave her that I could be free of the resentment and its effect on my life.

You may be in a situation where you can't talk to the person who has hurt you. Your parents may have passed away. It may be dangerous to talk to an abusive ex. The Cleanse for today recommends that we write a letter detailing all of the pain and hurt we've experienced and in the letter ask our highest selves for release from the prison of resentment. I think that's a great idea for situations where you can't actually confront the person who has hurt you.

If you're not comfortable writing things down or it just doesn't work for you, you can achieve the release another way. Try sitting quietly, with one hand on your heart and one hand on your lower abdomen. Tell yourself your story of hurt and pain as if you were telling a good friend. You can do it out loud or silently, whatever you're comfortable with. I don't think you have to dig deep into the details unless you want to and feel ok doing so. Talk about why you were hurt or disappointed. Don't let your internal critic tell you that your feelings aren't valid! Your internal critic is an idiot - never forget that. Don't judge your feelings - it won't make them go away and it won't help you heal anyway. When you're done with your story, tell yourself "I'm sorry you were so hurt. But it's ok. It's over now. You can let it go. You don't need to carry the hurt anymore." Or you can simply say "I accept that [this thing] happened. I accept and acknowledge my hurt and anger. I now release all resentment, anger and hurt feelings from [this thing]."

Remember that you can forgive someone without telling them (or yourself) that what they did was ok. Forgiveness is the simple act of letting go of the anger and hurt and sadness that is attached to whatever or whoever hurt you. For really big stuff, you may need to do this exercise more than once or twice. There's no magic pill to make these toxic feelings go away - there's only acceptance and release. And however long it takes you to get there is perfectly fine. The important thing is to keep working at it a little at a time.

My Mom recently said to me (right after I signed up for massage school), "You know there's probably lots more jobs for lawyers than there are for massage therapists." That's the kind of thing that would have sent me into a tizzy before. Partly because she was totally and completely wrong. But really because she wasn't supporting me in my attempt to make a happier life for myself. She was being selfish because she liked saying "My daughter, the lawyer" and didn't want to have a daughter who was "just" a massage therapist. She was the one with money issues, not me. And on and on. But none of that came up for me in the moment. Instead, I smiled and hugged her and said "I know you're worried about my financial well-being and I love you for that. But I don't want you to worry. I just want you to be happy for me."

That's when I knew that the resentment was gone for good.
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