Why is it so hard to forgive another for something they’ve said or done? Why do we hold grudges and allow painful rifts in relationships to continue and even worsen over time?
Although there are many answers to this question, let’s consider this one for now. It is very difficult to forgive someone you are currently angry or upset with. Beneath anger is some kind of pain, hurt, fear or unmet need. If we are still feeling pain we believe was caused by something another has done (or not done) to us, we subconsciously want them to feel the same kind of pain we are experiencing. Deep down, we want them to know, understand and experience the consequences of their actions. Often, we want them to suffer even MORE than we are.
Unfortunately, if our intention, be it conscious or unconscious, is for them to suffer, they will almost certainly sense this and feel the need to defend themselves. No one likes to be seen or labeled as the villain, even if there is good reason. When they sense our negative intention toward them, part of their defensive reaction will be to see us as the “guilty one” in their mind. They will be far more likely to judge you in return than they are to understand your pain, feel remorse and apologize.
This dynamic can escalate very quickly and lead to a continuation or deepening of the conflict and discord which can even lead to the destruction of an otherwise good relationship.
A more wise approach would be to pause and consider what we really want. What is your highest intention for this relationship? What could you say or do that would be give you the best chance of getting the result you are looking for? Chances are, that person did not intend to hurt or disappoint us. When the time is right, have a respectful conversation holding the intention of finding out what they were thinking and of informing them of your internal experience. What you want is for them to understand…. not to make them feel judged. Avoid any kind of blame or “attack” language. This will only increase the defensiveness and escalate the problem.
If we are successful in helping the other understand our pain or discomfort, which are nearly always based on some misunderstanding or unspoken feelings, they are much more likely to actually feel remorse and to join you in resolving the difficulty.
We’ll address this more in future posts. Your comments/questions are welcome!
What does it mean to have a “learning orientation to life”? It’s a perspective that says we’re here on earth to learn and grow. It says that our lives are not a random stream of events, but a “curriculum” our soul has embarked upon intentionally in order to fulfill our life’s purpose; growth, healing and coming to peace with everyone and everything in our lives. From this viewpoint, there is no such thing as being a victim of anyone or anything; not even a layoff, a severe illness or loss, or an economy in decline. The notion is that challenges and difficulties come to instruct us, not to obstruct us.
Consider a difficult time in your past. For most of us, it’s not difficult to see what we learned from it. It’s often easy to see ways we’ve become stronger, wiser, more resilient or more loving for having gone through it.
Apparently, this begins as early as our birth. It is a known fact that babies who experience a natural birth are more “resilient” in terms of stress than babies born by “C-section”. Clearly, being forced through the birth canal is an incredibly difficult ordeal. Enduring this causes a baby to develop strength and coping mechanisms a child who is simply lifted out of the womb, doesn’t have a chance to develop. As the saying goes, “if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger”.
Several year ago, a close friend of mine who has been very successful in life, experienced a very deep and debilitating depression. The timing of this was such that I was able to spend two weeks with him during the worst part of it. This turned out to be a very powerful and beneficial experience for both of us. Among the other benefits he seems to have received from this intensely dark time in his life, I believe he learned both compassion and humility. Here’s an example: Up until this experience, he says he had looked at homeless people with a kind of disdain, thinking “why don’t you just get up off your butt and get a job?!” During and after his depression, he found himself feeling compassion for them and wondering what had happened that caused them to end up like this. It seems he now understands how something such as depression could result in homelessness. I find him to be much a more open-hearted, wise and loving person as a result of what he endured. He seems happier and more at peace now as well.
Additionally, if we experience a negative pattern in or lives, such as a string of unhealthy relationships or annoying occurrences that recur over and over again, many, if not most of us, tend to experience resistance and frustration. However, it is said that “what we resist, persists”. A more enlightened approach is to identify the pattern and then do our best to understand the life lessons it is offering us. Once we understand it and forgive the judgments we’ve placed against the people and circumstances we believe to have caused our discomfort, including ourselves, that part of our curriculum is complete and we no longer need to experience it. If you think back and refer to your own experience, I suspect you’ll find this to be the case.
To summarize, having a “learning orientation to life” means we strive to embrace the challenges that come our way as opportunities to learn and to grow stronger, wiser and happier. It’s a powerful way to live.
Please feel free to add to this your own thoughts and/or questions.