Did you set New Year’s Resolutions? So many of us were excited to start 2011 with new energy and focus. Yet, we are into the second month of the year and for some reason, many of us aren’t making the progress we had hoped for. Could it be that there is something you aren’t aware of holding you back?
It makes me think of a client I’m currently working with. When we met last, he was telling me of hurts and pains from the past. He had anger toward people from childhood, school days, college and early working years. I asked him to consider, “Imagine that each of these past grievances you have is a stone. You are keeping each stone inside a backpack. Each day, out of habit, you put the backpack on. Your backpack is filled to the top and extremely heavy. No wonder you are exhausted, feeling weighed down by life. No wonder you don’t have the focus and energy to make progress on your goals!”
My client laughed. “Yes,” he said, “that is a great image of what I am doing to myself! But how do I let these heavy burdens go? I am tired of carrying this load.”
Perhaps you can relate. Heartache is an element all too common in the human experience. I’ve never encountered a family member, friend or life coaching client who doesn’t carry some personal pain. What differentiates us is the approach we use to handle our heartache.
Intense anger fills the heart, echoing through the cells of our bodies and the halls of our minds. Feeling wronged, mocked, gossiped about, neglected, betrayed, or emotionally and physically abused inflicts deep inner wounds. Severe emotional pain can linger for years, clouding our vision; we may direct our fury and bitterness towards those who hurt us, family members closest to us–even to innocent people we encounter as we go about our daily routine. Our suffering creates spirals of even greater pain within and around us.
Heartache takes its toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually. As we mentally replay past hurts, blood pressure rises, pulse rate increases, chest tightens and we feel sick to our stomach. Depression sets in as we wonder whether we can ever shake off the memories of neglect, bullying and other abuse. How and when will this pain end?
We question God, “Why did this happen to me? What did I ever do to deserve this mistreatment?” We even cry out to God asking that the person who inflicted this pain on us be punished a hundred-fold.
We secretly hope, “If I’ve experienced this pain I want them to suffer even greater misery in their lives.”
I have a client who experienced abuse as a child. Her father was a bitter man. He didn’t allow her or her brother to laugh or cry. Children were to be silent, following orders and acting responsibly. His anger was continually near the surface. When even the smallest thing went wrong someone had to “take the blame” and it was usually her or her brother. They walked on eggshells all the time almost cringing as they waited for the next outburst.
As this girl grew into a teenager she began to challenge her Dad. The eventual result was physical abuse. Then finally, one day, her father’s rage was so great that he actually tried to strangle her.
After that, she felt as if she was in continual danger. A few weeks later she, her mom and brother quietly left her Dad, asking him to get help with his anger issues. They did love him. There was no intention of divorce when they left, only hope that positive change and healing might come about. Instead, her Dad grew more angry and bitter on account of their actions, even threatening to kill his daughter. Then he disappeared from her life completely.
Devastated, this young woman found herself struggling to cope with constant heartache. How could her father treat her this way? Dads are supposed to love their children. Fatherly love and acceptance is what she longed for but couldn’t have. She often cried herself to sleep at night. Gradually she began to see that this hurt was draining the joy from every area of her life. She didn’t want to become angry and bitter like her father. She wanted healing and emotional relief. What was the answer? How could she move beyond this situation?
She realized that the best choice she could make was to let go of the past. She believed that if she could forgive her father for what had happened she could move forward more peacefully with her life. She couldn’t bear to carry the heavy load of past memories anymore. She wanted freedom. How could she go about releasing herself from so many years of disappointment and abuse? Forgiveness sounded great in principle but how could she begin the process?
Together we began to explore powerful steps that could help her to let go of the past and find relief.
Let’s refocus ourselves in February 2011 and take an honest look at the grievances we carry. By doing this exercise in personal honesty, we can prepare ourselves to move through this New Year with forgiveness.
1. Notice the personal impact of carrying grudges and heartache. Lack of forgiveness has a heavy personal cost. You anger is poisoning your life. You aren’t punishing the other person by holding onto your anger. You are hurting yourself. What toll is your anger taking on you? By holding the grievance you are actually continuing to give this person power over your daily life. Do you want to do that?
2. Ask, “Who would I be without this heartache?” How different would your life look and feel if you released the heartache? Would you be happier if you released past hurts? Might life feel more relaxed, lighter and joyful if you let go of the heaviness? Would you gain new energy to focus on taking next steps towards your goals? Would you be able to be more present and positive for those around you?
3. Remember, to forgive does not mean to condone. Forgiving a person for what they have done doesn’t mean you ignore or excuse their actions. The fact is, certain things occurred. There is no point in arguing with what happened. A healthier focus is, “How can I make peace with the past so I can be free in the present?”
4. Use what happened to gain wisdom. Forgiveness is a personal process of letting go the past. When you forgive it doesn’t mean that you are saying that it was ok that another person hurt you. However, you can ask for deeper understanding of yourself, the other and life so that you avoid recreating or re-experiencing past hurts. Eventually you can come to see that the person who hurt you was a learning partner.
Who are you holding grudges against? Acknowledge the heartache you feel. Your assignment this week is to make a list of the situations from the past that are taking a toll on you in the present. Write them down in detail. Get all your feelings out on the page. You can’t let something go fully without acknowledging it.
This week let’s take a look at the “heavy backpack of burdens we carry” and prepare to let it go. Use the above steps I shared to consider how forgiveness might free you and open you to new possibilities for the rest of 2011.