It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody. ~Maya Angelou
Forgiveness IS one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, but how do we genuinely get there?
Many people believe that if they just decide to forgive someone, they have actually forgiven them, only to discover anger or resentment emerging over and over. So how to forgive?
Alyce wrote me the following question:
“Dr. Paul, How do I sincerely forgive my soon-to-be ex-husband of 32 years for infidelity committed prior to him even asking me for a divorce? I feel angry, hurt and jealous that he would give another woman the affection that he denied me. I know I must forgive him in order for me to heal and move on, but how to forgive?”
The first thing that Alyce needs to accept is that forgiveness is a natural process that occurs as we do our own deep inner work. Alyce needs to let go of reaching forgiveness for now, and instead focus on learning about her end of the relationship system. She needs to have the courage to look within at what she did in the relationship that contributed to the problems that resulted in divorce.
Alyce can ask herself questions such as:
- Was I true to myself in this relationship, or did I give myself up to try to please him?
- How did I try to control in this relationship? Was I angry, compliant, withdrawn, resistant or blaming?
- In what ways did I abandon myself? Did I judge myself, ignore my feelings, turn to addictions to avoid responsibility for my feelings, or did I make my husband responsible for my self-worth, safety and happiness?
Answering these questions honestly won’t be easy, and Alyce might need the help of a therapist or facilitator to have the courage to get very honest with herself.Once she has a clear understanding of her end of their dysfunctional relationship system, then Alyce needs to practice doing inner work to learn to love herself. She needs to learn to give herself whatever it was that she was trying to get from her husband. Part of loving herself is forgiving herself for her own unloving behavior toward herself and her husband while in the relationship.
Alyce needs to accept that she and her husband came together at their common level of woundedness – their common level of self-abandonment. Each of them brought their unhealed wounds into the relationship, and they each played out their wounds with each other.
As Alyce learns to love and forgive herself, rather than judge herself and abandon herself in other ways, she will gradually and naturally feel forgiveness toward her husband. She cannot force or push reaching forgiveness. She needs to accept that this is a gradual process of self-healing.
The more Alyce does her own inner work, the more happy and peaceful she will feel within. Her anger, hurt and jealousy will gradually heal as she learns to give herself the love she was seeking externally. As she learns to see their relationship system clearly, she will accept that they both did the best they could, given their backgrounds and resulting woundedness.
At this point in her inner healing, Alyce will feel compassion for both herself and her ex-husband.