Defining Forgiveness

forgiveness friday dandelion

It’s the weekend, so I’m writing another Forgiveness Friday post. I should probably change the name of this series to Forgiveness Weekends, but I like alliteration so I’m leaving it as is. Either way, once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. Today, specifically, I’m contemplating what forgiveness means to me. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I am (very, very slowly) making my way through Forgiveness Is a Choice by Robert D. Enright. I finished school for the semester on April 11, so I’ve had a little more time to read lately. In the last chapter I finished, Enright suggested that I define forgiveness for myself by writing in a journal. Since this blog is the closest thing I have to a journal, this seemed like the best place to do it.

When I started my forgiveness journey, I was at a total loss over what the word really means. I referred to the Wikipedia entry on forgiveness, which said that forgiveness isn’t condoning, excusing, pardoning, forgetting or reconciliation. This was revelatory for me, because I have a tendency to excuse bad behaviour unless and until it passes the point of reason. It was also revelatory for me to think of forgiveness and reconciliation as different (albeit related) concepts.

Some months later, I’m still struggling to understand what forgiveness means. I have, however, made some inroads. Keeping in mind that I am not a mental health professional and I do not hold a philosophy degree, I’m going to give it a go. Here’s what I mean by forgiveness:

Forgiveness is the process of recognizing that you have been hurt through the actions of another, whether those actions and their consequences were intentional or not. Recognizing that you have been wronged, and that you are not responsible for having been hurt, in forgiving you acknowledge and deliberately let go of your anger. As you let go of your anger and hurt feelings, you are able to move forward more productively both in your relationship with the person who hurt you and in other areas of your life.

Perhaps a clearer way to explain it is to define forgiveness as a three-step process:

  1. Recognize that you have been hurt.
  2. Acknowledge your anger and hurt feelings.
  3. Release those feelings, not because the person who hurts you deserves to be forgiven, but because you freely choose to forgive.

The third step feels the hardest to me, because it begs the question of how to go about releasing those feelings. I’m coming to that part of the book, so I may have a better answer for that question soon. Right now, however, I’m doing some work on actually acknowledging that I have been hurt, and recognizing the anger I still carry around with me. It’s been surprisingly helpful.

For example, I always had a difficult relationship with my father, who passed away when I was 16. Three months ago if you’d asked me whether I was still angry with my dad I’d tell you that of course I wasn’t. I’d moved past it. However, the truth is that I have never really made my peace with my father. I’d simply decided that we didn’t have much in common and that it wasn’t worth my time to think about. In reading the book and realizing how much my relationship with my father continues to impact my life in major ways, I could see that maybe I’m not as over it as I believed. Even just seeing that, and allowing myself to the space to admit that I actually am hurt, and I have a right to be hurt, has been helpful. My hope is that by seeing it for what it is, I can actually deal with it and move on.

So, that’s where I am. I’m beginning to understand what forgiveness actually means to me. Now I just have to see how it impacts my life.

Five Things I’m Forgiving Myself For

It’s the weekend, so I’m writing another Forgiveness Friday post. Once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. Today, specifically, I’m forgiving myself for a few things that have been nagging at me. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

As I said, today I’m thinking about forgiving myself. It’s not the first time I’ve written about the importance of letting go of your own shortcomings. Today, specifically, I’m forgiving myself for five little things that have been weighing on me, and causing me to castigate myself, but that aren’t really a big deal in the long run. Here’s to learning to forgive yourself and embrace your imperfection.

I’m Forgiving Myself For …

1. Leaving the kids’ toys outside in the rain, because I haven’t been able to muster up the energy to bring them inside to dry off.

2. The fact that I put lemon peels in vodka to make limoncello three years ago, and haven’t touched the jar it’s all in since. (I actually thought it was only two years ago until I visited the recipe page and saw my comment from 2011.)

3. My failure to start studying for my final exams as far in advance as I should have. I also forgive myself for taking the time to write this post instead of studying for my final exams.

4. The fact I haven’t tried any of the recipes from Homemade Cleaners: Quick-and-Easy, Toxic-Free Recipes yet, in order to share my experiences with you. I will do it soon, I swear.

forgiveness friday book

5. My vacuuming delinquency. I literally cannot remember the last time I vacuumed the whole house. It’s been at least three weeks, but probably more. And I have kids, and a cat, and all that jazz. But you know what? On my deathbed I’m pretty sure I won’t wish I’d spent more time vacuuming.

What about you – are there any things you’d like to forgive yourself for?

Owning Your Anger

It’s been over a month since I published a Forgiveness Friday post, but I haven’t forgotten about this series. Once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

I am (very, very slowly) making my way through Forgiveness Is a Choice by Robert D. Enright. One of the things that he talked about at the beginning of the book is the need to recognize your anger. His assertion is that many of us are carrying a lot of anger around, which we don’t acknowledge. As long as we remain in denial about our feelings, we can’t really forgive. Instead, we excuse others’ behaviour or use a variety of coping mechanisms, but none of them actually resolve the issue.

forgiveness friday angerI certainly don’t think of myself as an angry person. I am generally cheerful to others, I don’t yell or swear at strangers (even in traffic), I work hard to remain calm and present with my kids, and so on. As I read Enright’s words, though, which included many examples, I found myself re-thinking my anger. When someone does something I don’t like, my usual M.O. is to feel briefly annoyed, and then to excuse their behaviour and move on. I try not to let that annoyance get to me. When you add up all the little annoyance, though, it comes to something much bigger. Also, words like irritated, annoyed and pissed are actually synonyms for angry. I just happen to not like the word angry, because it carries negative connotations. When someone is annoyed we often assume they’re justified. When someone is angry we’re more likely to think badly of them.

What happens when you don’t acknowledge your anger or allow yourself to feel it? You can’t really deal with it and offer forgiveness. If I’m not able to recognize what I’m feeling – regardless of what I’m feeling – I can’t work through my emotions and handle them in productive ways. Anger, especially, can lead to other problems if it isn’t handled. Freud classically said that depression is anger turned inwards. When unacknowledged anger leads to depression or anxiety or what-have-you, we try to deal with the depression or anxiety or what-have-you, but we never get to the root cause. Then we can never truly experience forgiveness and move on in productive ways.

I should point out that I’m not an expert here, I’m just laying things out as I understand them. And I can see why unacknowledged anger can cause problems.

Since reading about the need to acknowledge your anger as a first step to forgiveness, I’ve been trying to recognize those feelings of annoyance, irritation and so on. I have to admit, it’s a little scary. I’m afraid of becoming an angry person. I’m afraid that I’m being self-indulgent and cultivating a victim mentality. Women, especially, are discouraged from expressing anger. Overcoming all of that fear and conditioning is uncomfortable, to say the least. However, so far, I can tell you that recognizing my anger and actually facing up to it hasn’t led me to wallow in it, to act out aggressively, or even to feel angrier. It’s paradoxical, but when I can say to myself, “I’m really angry right now,” I actually feel less angry overall.

I still have a lot of work to do. Recognizing your anger is only a preliminary step to actually dealing with your anger and offering forgiveness. For now, at least I feel like I’m on the right track.

My Happiness List: March 2014 Edition

I blogged my last personal happiness list some six months ago in September, before I embarked on my new adventures in post-secondary education. I’m feeling like it’s time to re-visit it, and remind myself about the things that are going well in my life. Who couldn’t use a little hit of positivity once in a while? There’s all kinds of research to show that it’s very good for you. Plus, it’s just plain fun.

Let’s get the joy party started, shall we?

happiness list garlic gardening>

My Happy List

  1. Spring! It’s in the air! I’ve seen daffodils and ladybugs, and I’ve planted radishes and spinach and kale.
  2. Really good chocolate. Always.
  3. Herbal tea. My current faves are bergamot sage, and mint licorice.
  4. My education class, which is making me think in the best way, and which I’m enjoying a lot. I’m taking this as a good sign because I’m going back to school to study education.
  5. New purple tights.
  6. The way my son is learning to read, picking out words from signs and posters when we’re out and about.
  7. My daughter’s extreme enthusiasm over her spring break theatre camp. This tickles me pink, because my husband and I became high school sweethearts when we were both cast in the same school play.
  8. Once Upon a Time is back on TV. I heart Once Upon a Time.
  9. I’m keeping mason bees this year, and I’ll be putting them out soon, which is exciting.
  10. Regular acupuncture appointments.
  11. Knowing that my husband is always on my side.
  12. VSCO Cam. I am totally smitten with this app. It’s made me fall in love with iPhone photography all over again.
  13. Poached eggs and avocado for breakfast.
  14. The semester is almost over, which means semester break is almost here. Yes, the papers and exams and so on are hard, but it means the end is near!
  15. Living within easy walking distance of my kids school. I feel so lucky.
  16. Family support as I head back to school.

What about you – what’s on your happy list right now? I’d love to hear!

Forgiveness and Love

I’m a day late on Forgiveness Friday this week, due to technical issues with this site yesterday. Fun stuff! I refuse to let a little glitch get in the way, though, so once again I’m thinking about forgiveness – just 24 hours later than I planned. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

forgiveness friday valentine's day love valentine kid artHaving children changed my perspective on Valentine’s Day. Whereas in the past I viewed Valentine’s Day as a crassly commercial holiday, rife with potential disappointment, now I rather enjoy it. My children’s enthusiasm rubbed off on me. Having children also gave me another opportunity to express love, this time to the most enthusiastic audience imaginable. My little ones are nothing short of thrilled when I give them a few pieces of candy and a small present. That kind of joy is infectious.

With yesterday being both Valentine’s Day and Forgiveness Friday, I was thinking about how parental love informs my views on forgiveness yet again. Having two children has given me lots of chances to teach my offspring about forgiveness. That wasn’t the first lesson in forgiveness that motherhood brought me, though. Becoming a parent in the first place brought many lessons about forgiveness.

Any parent can tell you that children can be a little bit, erm, trying. There’s a reason that toddlers, in particular, are just so cute. We find them charming because if we didn’t, we would be far less willing to experience the constant aggravation they gift us with. I loved my toddlers to bits, don’t get me wrong. At the same time, there’s no denying that the temper tantrums, constant search for danger, bodily fluids, messes and violence delivered at their hands can wear you down. When you’re parenting a toddler you’re dealing with a lot of crap, figuratively and literally.

It’s no surprise, then, that parents sometimes get angry with their children. We feel guilty about it, because they’re only children. We understand that they’re not really responsible for their actions, and they’re not developmentally capable of understanding how their behaviour impacts us. When someone screams in your ear and tries to bite you because you won’t hand over a cookie three minutes before dinner, though, some aggravation on your part is only natural. It’s why I give myself time-outs, even though I’ve never given them to my children. Taking a few minutes to calm down and regain your perspective is never a bad thing, especially when you’re nearing the end of a long day with a two-year-old.

When you tuck that two-year-old into bed at night, though, and see your baby sleeping sweetly, something magical happens. It’s like all of the day’s aggravation just washes away. In those few seconds the anger vanishes, and all is right with the world again. Although I never thought of this as forgiveness, that’s what it is. It’s a letting go of anger, as it’s replaced by a feeling of profound parental love.

Thinking about this yesterday, it occurred to me that love has a very big role to play in forgiveness. In fact, you could argue that all forgiveness is rooted in love. Certainly, most of us find it easier to forgive people we care for, whether they’re our children, partners or friends. We recognize that while we may be angry, the positive emotions we feel outweigh the negative ones, and we’re better able to let go of that anger.

We can love for almost anyone. I think that kindness is a good word to use here, where kindness refers to a kind of love we have for all of humankind. Or all life in general – there’s no need to leave out animals or even plants. When we’re in touch with that feeling of goodwill for others, we find it easier to forgive them, even if they’re strangers. Once again, love trumps anger and brings about forgiveness.

I am reading Forgiveness is a Choice by Robert D. Enright right now, and so far it’s a great book. I’ve highlighted a number of passages. This definition of forgiveness from philosopher Joanna North, which is quoted by Dr. Enright in the book, seems particularly fitting here:

… we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to the resentment, but instead by trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love …

Forgiveness is rooted in love.

It’s easy for me to forgive my children because my love for them is so strong. Perhaps, then, my challenge in learning to forgive myself and others lies in cultivating feelings of compassion, benevolence and love. I suspect that the more kindness I can offer myself and others – while still setting appropriate boundaries – the easier it will be to forgive. I’m thinking of it like my Valentine’s Day gift to the world. It’s a giant sparkly heart, that says I really do care, and that we all matter and deserve forgiveness. Not so much because we’ve earned forgiveness, but because carrying anger around serves no one at all.

I love myself enough to let go of that anger. I love other people enough to let go of that anger. Not all at once, but bit by bit by bit.

Forgiveness Starts With Me

It’s Forgiveness Friday here at Strocel.com, which means that once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

feminist selfie forgiveness fridayIn my very first Forgiveness Friday post I shared that I find it hardest to forgive myself. This is true whether we’re talking about actual, bona fide mistakes (like a fender bender I caused 14 years ago) or just imagined shortcomings. For example, I’ve been beating myself up a lot lately because I talk a lot in class. I’m worried that I’m dominating the conversation in my tutorials, and that my fellow students are having a hard time getting a word in edgewise. It’s important to note, however, that no one has actually expressed to me that they would like me to listen more and talk less – not at all. I’m taking it on all by myself, and I’m not cutting myself any slack over my chatterbox ways.

I find that I spend a lot of my time passing judgment on myself, and listing all the things I should have done differently. Three days after a conversation, I’ll still be thinking about what I should have said. Fifteen years after I put my foot in my mouth in front of my friend, I still cringe thinking about it. There is no statute of limitations when it comes to mistakes I’ve made – or mistakes I may have made.

Is it so bad, to hold yourself to high standards, and to re-examine your past behaviour with the aim of improving? Perhaps not. However, I would argue that the critical point is to re-hash the past with the aim of improving. Re-hashing the past constantly, and beating yourself up for each and every perceived slight, over and over again, actually isn’t productive. It’s simply self-flagellation. High standards are one thing, impossible standards are another. What’s more, I suspect that they way I treat myself is reflected in the way I treat others.

When you hold yourself to impossibly high standards, and you’re unforgiving with yourself, it’s difficult to learn how to forgive others. In my own life I tend to either excuse or hold a grudge. That is, I deny that anyone has hurt me until they’ve really, really hurt me, and then I’m angry for a really, really long time. I don’t have much experience with acknowledging that someone has hurt me a little, and then finding a way to move on from that hurt. I think one good way to gain that experience would be to learn how to acknowledge my own shortcomings without resorting to beating myself up endlessly.

One of the fears that I have is that if I forgive myself, I will be a bad person. I will engage in bad behaviours without feeling any remorse. I will hurt other people, without recognizing how my actions have impacted them. I don’t want that. I doubt anyone wants that. However, it’s a long way from beating yourself up for talking a lot in class to blissfully going through your life hurting other people without any regard for their feelings. I’m engaging in some black or white thinking here. I suspect that this stems from, in large part, my confusion over what it actually means to forgive someone – including myself.

It feels a little self-indulgent to type this out, but I can see that if I’m going to learn how to forgive other people, I first need to learn how to forgive myself. That means being willing to acknowledge that while I am not perfect, I am still a worthwhile human being. My hope is that when I learn to accept my own imperfections, and hold myself to account in healthy ways, I can do the same thing for others. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but I’m trusting that it will be worthwhile.

Are you also prone to beating yourself up for all of your mistakes – big and small, real and imagined? Are you able to forgive yourself when things don’t go as you would have liked? I’d love to hear your thoughts and your suggestions.

Forgiveness Broker

It’s Forgiveness Friday here at Strocel.com, which means that once again I’m thinking about forgiveness. You can find my other posts on forgiveness by checking out the Forgiveness Friday tag.

I have written a few times here that I’m not as forgiving as I would like to be. I do a lot of excusing, until I can’t anymore, then I can hold a grudge forever. This is something I’m working on, and reading about, and hoping to (slowly) get better at. Given that I struggle with forgiveness myself, it came as a shock to me as I was moderating a fight between my kids in the back seat of the car while I drove and I realized that I’m modelling forgiveness for my kids all the time.

forgiveness friday sibling rivalry

I’m not sure why this realization should have been all that shocking to me. I’m not exactly what you would call new to this parenting gig, or even to parenting two little kids. Of course I know that my kids are always watching and listening. Of course I know that the things I say and do impact their view of the world. And of course I know that any parent of two or more spends a good portion of the day moderating disagreements. Sibling rivalry is alive and well. However, it had not all come clear to me just how much time I spend talking to other people about forgiveness until that day in the car.

With my kids, I have a few ground rules around forgiveness. I’m not sure I’ve actually explained all of them to my children, but they do inform how I handle disagreements. My ground rules are something like this:

  • When we have hurt someone, physically or emotionally, we apologize. This is true even if we hurt them by accident.
  • Sometimes, saying ‘sorry’ isn’t enough. If someone is still upset even after you apologize, you need to find out what that person needs to help them feel better.
  • It’s never okay to respond to someone else’s transgression by transgressing yourself. That is, we don’t hit someone because they’re not doing what we want, or even because they hit us first.
  • It’s not okay to repeatedly do something you know full well you shouldn’t do, even if you do apologize afterwards. Apologies are helpful, but they’re not a license to just keep hitting each other anyway.
  • It doesn’t matter who started it – placing blame isn’t productive. What matters most is figuring out how to meet everyone’s needs so that we can forgive each other and move forwards.
  • We need to be forgiving with each other because we’re a family and we love each other first and foremost.

forgiveness friday sibling rivalryI’m sure I’m not listing everything that goes through my mind as I moderate disputes. I’m also sure that I don’t always apply these ground rules consistently. I definitely don’t model them myself all the time. All the same, as I look at them I can see that I can think about forgiveness much more clearly when it comes to my kids than when I’m grappling with the issue for myself. I think this is because when I’m parenting I love both parties unconditionally, and I place a priority on forgiveness and reconciliation. In my own life I may not even particularly like the person I’m dealing with, and I may not have a vested interest in ever forgiving them (or apologizing for my wrongs).

There’s more to forgiveness in my own life, too. I have a lot of fear around forgiveness. Conversations about forgiveness are emotionally difficult. Asking for forgiveness makes you vulnerable, because it means admitting you were wrong. Granting forgiveness makes you vulnerable, too, because it means letting go of the anger that can serve as a sort of emotional armour. When we’re angry at someone, we can ignore the pain and hurt we’re carrying. When we start to let go of the anger, we have to feel all those uncomfortable feelings. I can insist that my children forgive each other, and support them when it’s hard. No one can make me engage in forgiveness, so it’s often much easier for me to just hold that grudge or pretend that I didn’t actually make a mistake.

I’m not sure that I’m ready to make big leaps and have lots of difficult conversations. I’m also still not completely clear on the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. I’m going to have to do more reading and thinking about this, for sure. Right now, though, it’s interesting to me to see that I might be better at forgiveness than I thought, thanks to my parenting experiences. It’s true that it’s sometimes (almost always) easier to just avoid the issue altogether as a grown-up, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the basics of forgiveness. It just means I don’t always apply them.

How does your parenting inform your thoughts on forgiveness? I’d love to hear!

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