Once upon a time, my father lent me two books by Clark Moustakas and Beverly Flannagins – Forgiving the Unforgivable. Without going into the details of the reasons for that occurrence I believe this was where I began to understand the importance of interaction between my inner world and my interactions with others, something that solidified many years later as I read Jack Canfield’s Success Principles.
Before this time – when I perceived potential injury in myself or another I sought to immediately take reparative action. Often when it was inappropriate to do so.
Hmm…. Let me start over… you see forgiveness is difficult for me to talk about because it is not something that can be broken down into “easy steps”, it’s a process, and it requires a passionate desire to find peace in your own heart – whether or not the other person also finds peace is up to them – however there is also actions that you as an individual must take in interaction with others in order for you to find that peace. Forgiveness is both an internal process and one that has importance in the interaction with those you believe have injured you.
The Belief of Injury: I say the belief for when it comes to emotional injury it requires that we consent to be injured. For us to suffer emotional injury from another person’s actions or statements or even just their “being” (I will discuss this later) we must allow the other person’s actions or statements to take on “emotional weight”. If you throw a dandelion seed at me it is unlikely to injure me. If you throw a bowling ball it’s going to hurt. When someone takes an action or speaks a word that injures us – the injury takes on the “emotional weight” we give it. If the person is closer to us, has more authority, or has purposely or inadvertently stepped into one of our “sensitive” zones it is more likely that we will give their action or words greater emotional weight. However if we step away from what and who is saying it the truth is that all that is happening is that their brains are directing their vocal chords to create sounds that we then attribute meaning to. That’s it. The meaning we give it creates the Belief of Injury.
Feedback vs. Injury: “How can I not feel injured?” The easiest way is to change the information you are giving it into “feedback”. Feedback is simply information about how the other person is interpreting or attributing qualities to us. Feedback, like injury, has “emotional weight”. We can receive the feedback and ignore it, in which case if there is in fact a “problem” the other person involved is likely to increase their attempts to add further “emotional weight” possibly with stronger words, greater action, or purposeful withdrawal and silence, or we can respond to the feedback as important information about the quality of our interactions with the other person.
Shifting the Load: What many people do when emotional weight enters their lives is they immediately try to “shift the load”. Something occurs and rather than look at how they contributed to the current situation they do their best to put the load on someone else to bear. The challenge is the attempt to “shift weight” (otherwise known as blaming, complaining, shaming, justifying) rarely actually “lightens the load. Overtime a pattern of “Load Shifting” actually creates intense injury and isolation for those involved.
The Story of Two Sisters: Many years ago two sisters began a process of Load Shifting with each other. They grew up in an environment that was largely healthy – however during their formative years their was substantial substance abuse. One sister adopted a “bully” mindset with the other, and the other, being young, accepted herself as the “victim”. Over time the younger sister began to develop a strong sense of self and during a moment of reconciliation the “older sister” stated “It’s almost like we are friends” to which the younger sister replied “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. The older sister was floored with hurt and pain. She tried to Load Shift by complaining to her parents. She tried to load shift by justifying to their other sibling. She tried to Load Shift by blaming the other sister as stating something that was “horrible”. However every attempt at load shifting simply increased the weight of the load making her feel more and more isolated.
Recycling the Load: Emotions are renewable resources – and they are resources. Anger, Sadness, Loneliness, Boredom, Joy, all of these things are simply ways to give us information about our environment (including people) and to help guide us towards effective action. In the above example if the older sister, instead of taking offense, were to ask “What have I done to contribute to my sister’s belief that I am the enemy?” the “Emotional Load” start to lighten as excess emotional weight becomes “recycled and processed” to provide an opening for new actions that can immediately shift even long standing grudges. Similarly the younger sister could also ask themselves a question that might change things such as “In what ways have added emotional weight to the interactions I have with my sister?”
Each individual is fully responsible for the quality of their interactions.
A Belief about Forgiveness which adds emotional weight: Those who take on the work of forgiveness have to take on a basic mistaken belief. That the other person is responsible for their emotions and that the other person should either 1) take reparative action or 2) the other person should respond to their attempts at reparative action with their own reparative actions.
Lightening the Load – The Act of Forgiveness: The interaction of the person with their environment often requires action. The Act of Forgiveness is apologizing first when you are convinced you have done nothing wrong but you can see that an action you have take has left the other carrying substantial emotional weight and in this action the Act of Forgiveness requires us to understand that it is normal and ok if the other person does not respond either now or in the future with their own attempts to lift emotional weight off of our shoulders (if we have done the act with full authenticity and integrity, while this would be a “nice result” the majority of the weight should be lifted in our own actions).
Radical Forgiveness: Colin Tipping wrote a book called “Radical Forgiveness”. He introduced the concept that there is “nothing to forgive”. This goes back to an idea I referenced earlier that I actually got from Wayne Dyer, that we must “Consent to be injured” . For those who really embrace the path of forgiveness there is an understanding that EVERYONE ALL THE TIME IS DOING THE BEST THEY CAN WITH THEIR CURRENT SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE, AND ABILITIES. It is an understanding that there is a distinct possibility that if I had been born into a family and I experienced the exact same things that other person had experienced and I had the same biology I too, would be taking actions as they are taking.
Gratitude Forgiveness: It has been said that when the student is ready the teacher appears. What is often not understood is that every person that has shown up in your life is a teacher. They may simply be teaching things we would rather ignore. However in the belief of Gratitude Forgiveness – we are grateful when we have the experience of feeling emotional weight in our life. In Gratitude Forgiveness we recognize that wherever we experience emotional weight, we are still growing and learning to navigate as we develop our minds, hearts, and spirits.
A Filter of Gratitude Forgiveness: Many of you will be spending time with family over the next few days. Carolyn Myss in Sacred Contracts talks about the idea that maybe we do choose our family. It is in intriguing concept. The idea that we purposely choose people who both add and lighten the emotional weight we feel before we are even born. Whether or not I believe this “as a fact” is less important to me as an “optional filter” that enables me to navigate even previously seen “complex family relationships”. With this filter I can simply respond to all the actions and statements of my family that would create “emotional weight” and notice if the weight is due to my past interactions with them or if it is due to emotional weight they are carrying due to other life time experiences.
Acting on Gratitude Forgiveness: If the emotional weight is due to the interactions I have had with them in the past I can recognize, and if appropriate, acknowledge/apologize for the emotional weight I have helped load them up with. If it is emotional weight they are attempting to “load shift” I can acknowledge the emotional weight is there without attempting take any of the burden.
The Development of Gratitude Forgiveness: Ultimately the development of Gratitude Forgiveness is in simply being grateful for the strength, compassion, kindness, or other positive qualities you have developed/are developing from the people that your perceive as adding emotional weight to your life and then allowing yourself to let the weight slowly decrease from the bowling ball sitting on your chest to the dandelion seed floating gracefully away from you – the seed of hope and inspiration you plant in another through your acts of forgiveness.
As you spend time with your families and friends over the next few days I encourage you to view them with compassion and let a few dandelion seeds fly into the wind.