Have you ever had dental work done and wished you had flossed more when you were younger? The brief action of removing debris and cleaning can prevent more serious problems down the road; fillings, crowns or the dreaded root canal.
What about the soul? How do we remove the hurts and debris of resentments? Forgiveness is floss for the soul and can be a key to your physical, mental and spiritual well being. There are many good books on the subject but all seem to agree that there are at least three steps in this vital process, below are the AAAs of forgiveness:
- Awareness of being harmed, which seems obvious but there are many reasons that we overlook this (and therefore overdo in other areas like compulsive eating/spending/people pleasing to name a few),
- Acknowledge the pain, betrayal, loss in some tangible way – journaling is one of my favorites, writing a letter (without sending it), as well as painting or drawing* or clay work^ or movement to music, all wonderful ways to express your feelings of the experience
- Acceptance that this event has happened and knowing that it changes things, then letting go of the ‘if onlys’, ‘this shouldn’t be’ or other perspectives that keep us locked in the past. There are spiritual practices to help with this piece and many find the act of sharing this process with someone else as a trusted witness (friend, Life Coach, Spiritual Leader) to be beneficial if not necessary to complete this step.
Jesus embodies this process having suffered physically, mentally and spiritually, yet declaring forgiveness through love and empowering us to do likewise. This willingness to accept what is – is central to a life of good relationships and increasing freedom from the debris and resentment. And it allows us to be more loving with others as well as ourselves, and often more effective in our work. So don’t forget to floss today!
But wait, love doesn’t say or do things that might hurt others, right? That would go against everything I learned in my Scottandinavian, evangelical Christian background.
On the other hand:
What about “let your yes be yes, and your no be no”? What about growing up and speaking the truth kindly? What about stop deceiving each other (or ourselves) when we do things we really do not want to do? Are these loving actions?
Sometimes there are hurt feelings when we don’t live up to expectations, spoken or not. Sometimes we share what we see, what we feel or would like and … it does hurt, at first. In an ideal world, we might all want the same things and coast happily along together, rather than the constant negotiation of different needs and wants.
“Even if I caused you sorrow, I do not regret it. I see that my letter hurt you,
but only for a little while – yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry,
but because your sorrow led you to repentance.. and so were not harmed in any way by us.”
There can be surface, fragile connections when we are ‘nice’ to each other. But when we care enough to bring something up with kindness, there is room for change, restoration or deepened relationship with each other!
What about your experiences relating to speaking up respectfully for what you want? Did you receive what you asked for, lose a friendship, create understanding?
We are all born or raised in a family system and we need other people, right from the start. The system is already in place with two people trying to work out their need for connection (bonding) and separateness (boundaries). You might have noticed when growing up that one of your parents enjoyed togetherness activities more and one enjoyed some time alone to recharge, often that is the case.
When relationships are under strain and these patterns get exaggerated, the therapy world calls the togetherness fan – the ‘pursuer’ and the one who steps back – the ‘distancer’. Harriet Lerner, Ph.D. writes about this dynamic, and gives examples that are easy to relate to in her “Dance of Anger” and other great reads on relationships. Each position is trying to get their needs met, but the more one steps back, the more the other pursues. Frustration builds and it feels like the other person is smothering and demanding or selfish and uncaring.
Bowen Theory, developed by Dr. Murray Bowen, suggests that these two fundamental needs account for the anxiety in the family system and the difficulty of maintaining healthy one-on-one relationships. He proposed that the triangle, made up of three people, is more stable and therefore we humans often ‘triangulate’ when there are times of stress or change. A common example of this is when we talk to others about a problem, say, how we are feeling smothered or neglected instead of talking directly to the person involved. Often it’s easier to complain than to confront.
Signs of maturity – learning to speak the truth kindly and to ask for what we need and want, whether it is some togetherness time or some time alone… or some mix of the two. Our family learned over the years that before holidays or vacation, if we each wrote down some activities we wanted to do, we were far more likely to include items from each person’s list. It makes for a more enjoyable holiday or vacation all around!