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The Art of Forgiveness in Spirituality

Updated: Feb 3


Green trees line a rusty railwoad track. Grey and brown gravel is lining the paths underneath. A blue sky and some white whispy clouds can be seen in the right corner.
Railroad Tracks - Raleigh, NC

If we know anything about the human experience, it's that suffering is everywhere. I don't know a single person who hasn't suffered in one way or another & so I can only assume that you too have faced the ailments of our human condition. Betrayal, lies, manipulation, abandonment, violence. It happens to all of us.


Countless times I caught myself saying things like, "if they would just apologize things would be different."


But was this my truth? If the situation were to continue, business as usual after the apology, would that meet my needs? Of course, an apology feels nice - but it often does not repair the damage that has already been done or will continue to be done without change. It was through a great therapist that I learned an apology without changed behavior is actually a form of manipulation. Especially when it is coming from someone we care about, this manipulation can be very difficult to recognize when disguised as remorse. So maybe that apology wasn't really what I was after.


I realized that words are not enough for me when forgiveness is involved. I needed immediate action, follow through, and consistency - and sometimes this had to come from me. No matter if I had received an apology or not, I had to take (what I now like to call) a "personal inventory" of all the situations, people, and places in my life and look at them with fresh eyes from a different perspective. Is this uplifting me? Is this inspiring me? Is this bringing me joy? Have they delivered what was promised? I quickly realized it was time to redraw the lines of my boundaries and that might include some pruning.


This is not to say that no one in my life is allowed to make mistakes, but setting appropriate boundaries is a must and knowing how to set them was even more vital. If a person has repeatedly crossed your boundaries and has shown no sign of improvement, you not only have the right but a duty to remove yourself from the situation. However, we also have to make sure we have expressed our boundaries clearly from the beginning and that we have done our due diligence of holding them accountable to any overstepping that may have occurred to reaching this point.


Let's think about it this way: pretend your least favorite person right now is your pet dog. That dog has been chewing on your shoes since the day you got them, haven't they? Can you even recall a time when they weren't? They chew on your slippers, they chew on your sneakers, they even chew on your nice new going out shoes - completely unaware that you spend hours cleaning up the mess after & hundreds of dollars to replace them every year. Maybe we see them as an innocent being, just doing what they know how to do with the intelligence given to them. Maybe we see them as malicious, striking out at us for not giving them enough treats. Either way, one day we decide we have had enough of it all and we yell out, flailing our arms, stomping our feet and demanding some respect in this house! And the dog stairs blankly back at us before walking back over to the flip flops. Or maybe it growls, and we decide to heck with it.


Regardless of the dog's reaction, YOU are the head of your household. It is your responsibility to enact leadership and change if you want the situation to get better. You cannot leave the dog in charge, and you cannot leave the boundaries up to them. It simply just is. So, what is the first step? We pick up all our shoes and we put them somewhere the dog can't get into. We don't scold and we don't cause a scene, we just go and pick them up and put them where they need to be put. We also do not spend an elaborate amount of time explaining to our pet dog why the shoes have been removed, where we are now keeping them, and why they aren't allowed in there. The shoes belong here, the dog belongs not here. That is that. The second step? We don't leave our shoes out and about. We keep them on our person, in full conscious mind, and when we need to take them off we know where to safely put them. If your dog starts attacking your feet because they can't get access to your shoes anymore, say "no" and walk away. Again, no scene is caused here. We just remove ourselves from the situation and leave them confused on what happened to all the fun. Maybe we redirect their attention to a shiny new toy or perhaps we toss them a bone in a different direction. Either way, we are calm and we are in full control. Over time, your dog will start to notice that you aren't going to play that game anymore and they will lose interest. Maybe they will realize other, more positive ways, to get your attention. I'm not saying that you will ever be able to leave your shoes around willy nilly, but I have seen old dogs learn new tricks before.


Like a well-loved dog that has never been trained, sometimes our loved ones don't know they are not supposed to chew on our shoes - whatever your metaphorical shoes are - and they might not even realize they are doing it. Thankfully, the average human is more intelligent than the average house pet, so civil conversation is possible. By opening ourselves to honest communication we put ourselves in a position to mend a once br0ken relationship. This is about reframing the core of the relationship for ourselves. What do we actually want to happen here? What is our best hope for this conversation? Align yourself with your truth and also where you want things to go in the future. Remind yourself and your loved one that being able to work through new boundaries and hurt feelings can help a relationship grow. Work on meeting them in the middle and expressing where that middle ground is for you.

 

Okay, that's great and all but what do we do if they don't care what they did? What if no apology has ever come and likely won't ever no matter how many times you try to get them to understand?


* * Trigger Warning: mentions of abuse / violence * *


"Hurt people hurt people" is a phrase we have heard time and time again, but the four years I spent studying Psychology and the human brain at North Carolina State University made me acutely aware of just how true this statement is. Current data suggests that human behavior is a direct result of the individual's unique genetic makeup combined with the experiences they have had in their environment. Unfortunately, the widely accepted view for most of human existence has been that people are only a result of their genetic makeup. It was through this view that certain groups of people have been able to establish dominance over others by creating a social hierarchy based around a false narrative. The Nature vs Nurture debate is still ongoing today, despite the surmounting evidence that it is both.


Abusers are typically individuals who have co-morbid mental disorders and a substance abuse problem, particularly with alcohol. In almost all cases, abusers have been victims of physical/ emotional trauma and abuse themselves at one point or another. In extreme cases, an abuser may be a narcissist who cannot physically have remorse for their behavior due to a chronic neurological disorder or brain tumor. A lot of times, violent and abusive behavior is a learned response from the individual's caregivers and environment during their youth. When this person needed guidance and support the most, they were likely met with intolerance or indifference. This teaches the individual that violence, manipulation, lies, and betrayal are the only ways to survive. The person may know deep down that they way they were raised was wrong, and they may even be able to see the damage it has caused, but they are vastly unequipped to face these 'demons' either on a physical or mental level and they are often unable to fully identify how those demons display in their own life.


But I have tried to show them! I explain it in thorough detail, I show them proof. I'm at the end of my patience here...


What we need to realize is that people are only able to cope with situations in which they have the tools to do so, and they need to know to how properly apply those tools too. Some of these helpful tools we have acquired through our supportive caregivers, friends, and teachers but others, like a fully functional mind / body or the lack of certain traumas, have been given to us by chance. Most likely, the person(s) you are dealing with have lived a lifetime of getting away with things, avoiding their problems, and/or using aggression to scare off anyone who might get in their way. This is a sheer sign of a human stuck in survival mode. They might have not even be able to identify a time when they felt at peace.


It's going to be a challenge to tackle this problem on your own, especially when you are also being triggered by the situation. At the end of the day, it is their responsibility to recognize, acknowledge, and amend wrongdoing in their lives. But if you are set on continuing this relationship in a way that is healthy for you, there are some things you have to adjust and there's just no way around it.


Violence happens in every race, every gender, and every socioeconomic status but we do know that it happens the most to women by men. Remember that you as the victim are not responsible for fixing or helping your abuser. Even if we wanted to, we cannot change this behavior on our own. Not only does this person likely need medical attention, but they need professional counseling, resources, and a serious dedication to changing themselves for the better. No one can foster this desire for change other than the person in whom the change is needed. Like the old saying goes, "you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot force it to drink." Some of the people we encounter are so stubborn they would rather die of dehydration than receive water from another. Don't allow your cup to run empty trying to fill theirs.


If you are experiencing physical, mental, or sexual abuse, please plan and get to safety as soon as you can. No one deserves to feel unsafe and I want you to know that you have my full support. Here is a thorough list of national organizations who help survivors. If you know or suspect a child is involved in the abuse, that is a resource which can help you.


If it is unsafe to speak out loud, text 'LOVEIS' 1-866-331-9474


If it is unsafe to speak out loud, chat here.


Here is a great resource on Women of Color experiencing domestic & sexual violence. Check here for further modern statistics on Black domestic & sexual violence and Indigenous Peoples violence. Here is an updated 2021 resource on surging violence against Asian Americans.


Here is a resource for how you can support someone who is experiencing domestic violence and a TedTalk video that may help bring things into perspective for you.


Double Rainbow - Ohio, USA

What to do now: Whether you are the one giving or receiving the forgiveness, here is a good way to go about it

  1. Recognize the Wrongdoing - realize when you have been hurt or are hurting someone else. Has the person made an honest mistake or is this malicious? Are they unaware of their mistake or are they pretending it didn't happen? Are there any factors involved that are playing a part in how you respond to this situation? Get yourself to a calm state where you can express your concerns without making a bad situation worse. To get calm, try writing your frustrations down in a journal, taking a warm shower, or taking a walk outside before discussing your thoughts with others.

  2. Validate the Emotions - If a person has voiced or is showing signs of upset over something you have said/done, you must validate their emotions even if you do not understand fully. Remember, it is not up for us to decide what is injurious to another just as we would not want the same to happen to ourselves. On the other hand, make sure you are voicing your side of things and are being actively listened to as well. Do not get angry with yourself for being upset, instead give yourself time and space to release in a healthy way. If the person you are conversing with is not in a place to validate your emotions, wait until things are more balanced.

  3. Make Amends - apologize honestly for the mistake and the hurt it caused anyone involved. Immediately begin loving action towards solving the problem at hand. If you have forgotten to do something around the house, do that and maybe one more helpful task for good measure. If you have damaged or lost an item, replace it to the best of your abilities. Making amends is really about showing the other person respect and honoring them to restore the energy balance between you. Try your best to have patience with everyone involved, especially yourself. Forgiveness does not often come immediately, but the goal is to continue sending love into the situation. We are always manifesting, so make sure your thoughts, actions, and responses to situations are aligned with your best interest.

  4. Follow Through - do your absolute best to make sure this situation does not happen again. Address concerns respectfully as they arise. If you are the one giving the forgiveness, do not hold it over the person's head if they are making an effort to fix things. One cannot get better if they are being reminded of their failures on a daily basis and you will not feel any better by reliving them.


Whenever you find yourself being triggered by the situation, continue back through these steps and eventually you will be able to move through the process quickly. Do not be harsh with yourself because you "haven't gotten over it fast enough" or because it "isn't a big deal." Always validate your feelings as they arise, never push them away. After validation, give yourself loving-kindness. Partake in some self-care rituals, maintain your boundaries, and then redirect your energy back to something that advances your soul's growth. The goal here is to get yourself back to a place of peace where you can respond in a safe and healthy way.


Forgiveness is not about forgetting the experience, it is about sending love and healing into the situation instead of hate. You will undoubtedly have moments where you fall back into the old cycle and that is okay, just kindly guide yourself back on your path and keep making decisions that are in alignment with your Highest Good.

 

If you have found yourself still struggling to forgive someone who is putting in the effort to change their role in the cycle, it may be a good time for a self-assessment.


Sometimes, the apology that counts the most is the one we give ourselves.


I understand all too well that feeling of being completely wrapped up in the should-have would-haves of the past. When I couldn't be any angrier at a person or situation, I began to blame myself for letting it happen in the first place. This would typically result in a guilt/shame-spiral that was guaranteed to leave me feeling worse than before. The mental shifting of blame I was doing from my abuser to me, the victim, was a really hard cycle to break. All of this pain was causing me to lash out and, to be truthful, I was not a very fun person to be around some days.


I had to forgive myself for allowing others to cross my boundaries and not standing up for myself when I needed to. For acting too viciously at times. I had to acknowledge the lies I accepted as truth because I loved the person. I had to forgive myself for treating my mind and body carelessly as a result of my sadness. I had to forgive myself for the times I resisted change because I was scared. I had to own up to the times I made bad situations worse.

It is never the victim's fault.

It is the burden of how to respond that falls on our shoulders.


When choosing anger over forgiveness you will always end up either in a battle of hating them or hating yourself. If you are a part of the unfortunate lot of us who ended up in a war with both, well, good luck Charlie.


Your mind & body are tired of fighting, my friend, perhaps a truce is in order?



With love,

Ashlyn Aquarius







© 2020 Ashlyn Aquarius. All rights reserved.

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