A few days ago, I was having a conversation with the editor of my latest book, “Reclaiming my Life My Journey back to God.” The topic of discussion centered around general discontent and anger of some people in the country. As we were talking the subject of forgiveness came up. Now, you need to understand that my editor is a seasoned journalist and has a very unique way of delving into a subject that causes the interviewees to dig down deep to explain their positions on topics. So, he asked me to explain my perception of forgiveness. This is what I told him.
It is my opinion that forgiveness is only complete when any mention or reference to the offending individual or event no longer causes us to experience an emotional response.
Unfortunately, I believe that we all have become accustomed to what I refer to as intellectual forgiveness. By that I mean we say, “Okay, I forgive you.” To some degree, this superficial act removes the offending thoughts from our everyday conscious thoughts. But it does not remove our negative feelings regarding the individual or event, especially those trapped in our subconscious memory.
In my opinion, to fully understand true forgiveness we must understand two things.
First, every event that takes place in our lives is recorded in our brains in full color video with an emotional sound track. In other words, our mind replays a small movie clip once that event is triggered. As it plays, the emotional feelings connected with it can overwhelm us as if the event were happening again at that very instant in real time rather than in the past. Reliving the event can only make us feel bad or make us feel good. As I have said before, there are many, many feelings. But there are only two emotions, which are love, positive energy and fear, negative energy. So, if remembering the event gives us a positive feeling then we experience the emotion of love and we are invigorated. On the other hand, if it makes us feel bad, then we experience fear and we are affected in any number of negative ways. These past events can be triggered by something we see, hear, smell, touch or taste.
The second thing we need to know is that the emotional sound track connected to the event can be disconnected so that when the video plays you have no emotional reaction. It’s like watching a silent picture. The gestures remain, but the sting of what you felt is gone. Frankly, when this happens you have reached forgiveness. So, how do you disconnect that emotional sound tract? Let me give you an example.
From the time I was in grade school and all through high school, the biggest kid in our class bullied me brutally. He hurt me physically and humiliated me as well. I went to school every day afraid that he was going to hurt me. For many years afterward, every time that memory was triggered, I relived the event complete with all of the fear and humiliation as if it were happening at that very moment. Unfortunately, in so doing I was experiencing a lot of negative stress and loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. In short, I was giving him control over an important part of my life. As a result, it was having a very negative affect on my professional life as well as my personal life.
Fortunately, Coach (my mentor) taught me a way to disconnect that emotional sound tract and reclaim a large portion of my self-esteem and self-confidence thus helping me to see myself in a more positive light. In short, it helped me stop seeing myself as a victim and gave me a sense of victory.
What Coach taught me was simple yet effective. He told me to write my nemesis a letter telling him how his bullying made me feel and how I felt about him because of what he had done to me. I finished the letter with this statement, “When I finish this letter, I am going to dispose of it and when I do, I’ll be disposing all of your control over me as well.” I then signed it and put it in a small box with several stones so it would sink when I threw it into the river.
I went to the nearest river and threw the box off the bridge and said “good bye. You are no longer have control over me.” Here is what happened. Anytime those events are triggered I see the video and have no reaction to it. From that point forward, I could be around the bully with no negative feelings. In fact, we actually were able to build a friendly relationship. Yes, I’d forgiven him. Honestly though, I was the one who got the most benefit. After all, I had done this for me more then for him.
When I finished explaining how I saw forgiveness my editor asked, “are you telling me that I should not be angry and upset with the people creating chaos in our country right now?
I told him that it was alright to feel angry and upset by the bad behavior of others as long as you don’t brood on it to the point that it keeps you feeling negativity and thus stealing your joy. If you do brood on it, it can change how you live your life in a negative way.
In reality, that means you have given control of a portion of your life over to them and they will continue to control you until you let go of your negative emotional reaction to their behaviors.
It’s important to note that forgiveness does not justify their behaviors. Forgiving them for what they have done is for your sake not for theirs. Trust me, having peace and joy is worth the effort.
At this point you have accepted the fact that everyone is going make their own decisions based on their own circumstances. That doesn’t mean that you need to like it or condone it. It simply means that you are no longer allowing them to emotionally control a part of your life. At this point, of course, you are going to have unloaded a lot of negative stress and negative feeling. You will then find yourself feeling a lot happier and more peaceful.
Always remember forgiving is not a sign of weakness. Rather it is one more stepping stone to a life of joy and peace.
May God Bless you with the peace and joy you so richly deserve.