As we are processing the wounds from the past, the idea of ‘forgiveness’ seems daunting. The word itself is not helpful— it is loaded, tinted with religious and moralistic associations, and unhelpfully vague. In today’s letter, we will look into what freeing ourselves from past wounds means, and what it entails.
“It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew, and in that there is joy.”
Firstly, we must know that forgiving is not forgetting. In fact, forgetting is the antidote to forgiving.
By covering up our anger, our story and our true feelings, by prematurely moving into fake forgiveness, by drowning our truths to protect others, by letting go of our boundaries for surface harmony, we are bypassing an essential step in our attainment of freedom.
Although we may temporarily feel relieved from not having to think about what is upsetting, the gremlins from the past often come back and haunt us, when we least expect it to— addictions, compulsion, rage at those we love and care about. Or, in some insidious and invisible ways, our past wounds hide us from our potential stop us from moving forward in life— depression, allowing abuse, the inability to stand up for oneself.
To move on means not letting our past relational wounds spill over to our present-day lives:
Not projecting excessively onto our partners.
Not letting rage out on those we love.
Relating to the world with healthy assertiveness rather than fearsand defensiveness.
Loosening the grip of internalised shame, low self- esteem, addictions and compulsions.
Putting a stop to abusive relationships.
At the core of this quest, we are wanting to forgive OURSELVES.
So how do we come to terms with our wounds? How could we, despite being deeply injured, move past and beyond our history?
Though in reality, the process is not linear, it might be helpful for us to break down what it means, not as a concept, but as a step-by-step emotional journey.
1. We face our truths— even it is ugly, painful, and exposing
2. We own and voice our story— even just to one person, our therapist, or our secret journal.
3. We allow legitimate anger to flow through us— This is a difficult step for most of us because we have mistaken healthy anger for disconnection, betrayal or aggression. It is essential that we do not direct the anger back towards ourself in the form of shame.
4. We grieve— Although the tunnel of grief is a dark one, the light at the end is liberation.
5. We integrate— We mature from a child-like black/ white mind to having a much more full and realistic vision of reality. We can see and hold both the good and the bad, the dysfunctions and the wisdom, the love and the hate, the anger and the compassion. We can accept the fullness of others as well as ourselves
6. Finally, we learn to be with our family as they are today— This is when the rubber hits the road. While apologies and redemption are not always possible, we still must learn to manage our emotional triggers, set healthy boundaries, and healthily relate to them in the present day.
SPECIFICALLY, ON ANGER
Anger is one of the most challenging steps in this journey.
In contrast to the popular belief that says emotional freedom is being freed from ‘negative’ emotions, liberation from our past is hardly possible without our willingness to embrace all spectrum of our feelings. Yes, even the ones we spent our entire life trying to do away with— anger, envy, grief, resentment, regret.
The normal reaction to any abuse, neglect and betrayal should be anger. But if we grew up in environments where anger expression is forbidden, we would deny our feelings and repress our memories. Growing up, it was not safe to express our anger openly and outwardly, so we went inside with it- where it fermented and grew. We lock our resentment away because we are fearful of our rage. We fear being out of control.
Genuine forgiveness almost always includes anger.
Today, I encourage you to reclaim rightful anger.
We might have been brought up to believe that anger is wrong, or sinful, but in fact, anger is a natural reaction to injustice.
It can be a healthy emotion if we relate to it as such.
If we are not so afraid of releasing it bit by bit, anger will not have to be built up to the point of explosion.
At first, you may feel guilty for feeling or expressing anger, because you were told that was a selfish thing.
You thought you were supposed to be quiet, and that your job was to make everyone around you feel comfortable.
But for how much longer could you be a silenced puppet?
Anger is the other side of the passion that makes you feel alive. Shutting down the dark side of your emotions, you are also robbed of the joy and aliveness that is on the other side.
From now on,
When someone hurts you, feel angry instead of depression.
When something unjust happens in the world, turn your anger into energy and propels action.
When someone crosses your boundaries, practise an assertive, healthy expression of anger.
“I if one of the feelings that come to the surface is blame, then perhaps I can feel the anger behind the blame. And then the pain behind the anger. And the sadness behind the pain. And the acceptance that is rumoured to lie behind the sadness. ’
– Dwight Lee Wolter
SEEING THE TRUTH
True releasing starts with knowing our story, even when it means staring daringly at the cruelty, dysfunctions and limitations of those who have hurt us.
However painfully, we see it.
We see how, unlike the superman or superwoman our childlike-self had wanted our parents to be, they are wounded and limited human.
They have acted out of their insecurities, projections, insecurities, trauma and wounds, and those acts have wounded us.
They did not understand our intensity and said hurtful words that made us shrink.
They felt threatened by what we saw and said, and tried to stifle our voice.
We were used to compensating for their un-lived lives;
We had become the container for the anxiety that they could not bear.
Rather than deleting, bypassing, forgetting or excusing the awfulness of it all, we see that our painful memories sit alongside all the happy moments, peace, and joy that we DO have in life, and one does not negate the other.
We think not of elimination of our past hurt but of integrating our story as a part of us.
This is expansion, rather than contraction— we are expanding our capacity to hold paradoxes and opposites, rather than tightening to resist life.
We widen our circle of love, without shrinking into the position of a scared animal.
And as we fly, we still may not know where we are going to. But the miracle is in the unfolding of the wings. You may not know where you’re going, but you know that so long as you spread your wings, the winds will carry you.”
― C. JoyBell C.
Once we have released our resentment, we can move through life with a sense of lightness and ease.
When something causes hurt now, we can hold both compassion for self and others in our heart, and we can stand up for ourselves without being aggressive to others.
When we again become confronted with our parents’ dysfunctions, we might be able to hold both their limitations and their love for us.
When people repeatedly let us down, we remember that we are no longer a helpless child, and could choose to take assertive actions, or walk away.
Rather than reacting, we patiently wait for our emotional wheel to turn, for the bad to become good, for the dawn after dusk.
We align with the narrative of a Phoenix rising from the fire, a heroic journey of a wounded soul rising to the occasion.
While in an ideal world we could all release past hurt as we could do with a hot air balloon, the reality gives a much more complex picture. It is multi-layered, three steps forward two steps back. But I can guarantee you, the liberation and peace you will feel on the other side after this not-so-easy journey makes it all worthwhile.
“Last night I lost the world, and gained the universe.”
― C. JoyBell C.
Imi Lo is a consultant and published author with extensive and international experience in mental health and psychotherapy. Her books Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity and The Gift of Intensity are available worldwide and in multiple languages. Imi has two Master’s degrees; one in Mental Health and one in Buddhist Studies. She works holistically, combining psychological insights with Eastern and Western philosophies such as Buddhism and Stoicism.