Last week I discussed what resentments are, how we harbor them, and how they eventually result in disharmony—including increasing the risk of relapsing (which is what happened to me). You can hear my personal story about relapsing due to resentment in my recent Facebook Live and read about it in my blog, Are you Resentful?
So now I am going to focus on the antidote to resentment, which is forgiveness.
The West Nickel Mines School Shooting:
A Profound Story of Forgiveness
I’m going to share a story, known as the West Nickel Mines School Shooting, that really impacted me for three reasons:
- because it happened in my hometown,
- because of the nature of the event, and
- because of the response from the victims.
On October 2, 2006, at 10:25 am, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (my hometown), a local man who had serviced the Lancaster Amish community for years hauling their fresh milk, stormed into an Amish single-room schoolhouse. After ordering the boys to leave, he bound up the girls, shot all ten of them (ages 6–13), resulting in five deaths, and then shot and killed himself. Three of the murdered girls were from the same family. Absolute tragedy.
The reaction from their families and the Amish community?
I’m sure there was shock, horror, and grief.
But, that’s not all to this story.
That very same day in the afternoon, the Amish neighbors paid a visit to the gunman’s family…to comfort them!
They brought baskets of food and other gifts.
They sent letters expressing their support and forgiveness.
The gunman’s family was invited to the funeral of one of the victims, and Amish mourners attended the gunman’s funeral to pray for his soul.
The reaction by the Amish community was absolutely shocking to the outside world.
The grieving Amish did not respond with anger, hatred, revenge, or bitterness, but rather compassion leading to forgiveness.
How could they forgive such terrible violence?
How could they forgive the gunman and comfort the widow?
Their answer, as a community of German ancestors from a specific Christian denomination was, “We have to forgive. Jesus forgave us of our sins. How can we expect forgiveness if we can’t give it?”
What can we learn here?
What is to be gained or lost if we choose not to forgive?
What’s at stake?
When Misunderstandings Fuel Resentment
In the yogic tradition, it’s suggested we look to forgive during any type of misunderstanding, misconception, false understanding, or unclear perception.
It assumes we each have a reality that is uniquely ours, and our perception is always tinted.
This is why two people can be witness to the same thing and recount different stories. We see the world through our personal, unique lenses.
Many longtime resentments are perpetuated due to misunderstandings. Family members may hold grudges for years, pass these resentments on to the next generation, and even take them to their graves, all for a misunderstanding. In fact, this is exactly what happened in my husband’s family.
So, what is the solution? The solution is forgiveness.
Simple but not easy.
Can you forgive if you were inconvenienced?
Can you forgive if you were harmed?
Can you forgive if you were right?
Would you rather be right or happy and have peace of mind?
Forgive the Unforgivable
Taking it a step further, to keep our hearts open and our minds calm, we must learn to forgive even the unforgivable.
Yes, even the unforgivable.
Many of us have been abused sexually, physically, emotionally, mentally, financially, and so on. But, in the end, holding resentment now does not change anything in the past.
As Eckhart Tolle wisely advised, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.”
If the Amish could forgive the murderer of their children, we too can forgive the worst assaults committed against us.
So, let’s talk about forgiveness.
What Forgiveness ISN’T
Forgiveness is often misunderstood.
There is a fear that forgiveness is letting someone off the hook.
But instead, it is letting you off the hook.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation. One doesn’t have to return to the same relationship or accept the same harmful behaviors from an offender.
Forgiveness doesn’t make excuses for other people’s improper behavior.
And forgiveness doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to feel angry first.
Anger and forgiveness are not necessarily opposing forces; they work together. You allow yourself to feel the anger, and then the forgiveness begins to release the energetic attachment to that which is being resented.
Allow the anger, then let forgiveness
release the energetic attachment.
…and What It IS
Forgiveness means we create true separation from those who hurt us, and we restore proper boundaries, including a proper restoration of our SELVES. This is a process of releasing the grip of concentrated intense negative emotions. We do this by making a decision to forgive and then convert resentment to compassion.
Compassion frees us and others. True forgiveness is a soothing, healing state of mind vital to our health and happiness.
Why We Need to Forgive
When we passively avoid forgiving or intentionally refuse to forgive, we are giving energy to and keeping alive the very thing that is harming us.
Resentments bind us to the energy of anger and hate, as well as to the person we are condemning.
In essence, we chain ourselves to misery.
This is very destructive, and, many times, much worse on our mental health than the original issue that caused the resentment in the first place.
Regarding the major traumas that many of us have faced, forgiveness is vitally important for our mental health. However, trauma is a very delicate matter, which I’m not addressing here in totality. In cases of trauma, there are additional healing processes to work through in order to restore mental health. In those cases, forgiveness is still essential but not the totality of the work involved.
Recovery: Paving the Way to Forgiveness
In recovery, we learn that our resentments (and other gripping emotions like anger, or fear, for example), are tied to beliefs and memories that may not be as straightforward as we originally perceived, and we’re encouraged to look at where we might have played a part in the matter. And furthermore, we’re asked to look at whether we’ve ever done something similar to someone else. Eye-opener!
Before recovery, it’s unlikely we’d be open to this. In fact, many people never seek out this kind of self-review. This is one of the many reasons why recovery gives us an exciting, liberating, new lease on life.
Forgiveness is not an emotion per se. It is a decision made by your whole self after your true emotional work has been done for the most part. So we must process thoughtfully and carefully, and not forgive before we’re ready, or we can inadvertently repeat the same patterns that lead to the resentment in the first place.
But do not delay either.
Recovery is an extraordinary time of self-reflection, new understandings, and healing. We are in a prime condition for converting our resentments.
So, how do we convert the resentments?
Through compassion. Through love. To others and to ourselves. Everything in recovery is about renewal through love and compassion.
So far I’ve focused on forgiving what others have done to you. But what about things we’ve done that have harmed ourselves or others?
When faced with guilt or shame about your own past actions, forgiving yourself is as important as it is to forgive others.
Is it harder to forgive yourself or harder to forgive another? And WHY?
Thank you to all of you who offered your honest review of this question.
The results of this survey were that forgiving yourself is harder than forgiving others by nearly three to one.
For those who found it more difficult to forgive others, the primary reason was due to an unforgivable act.
For those who found it more difficult to forgive themselves, these were the reasons:
- Lingering guilt and regrets
- Imposing higher standards or expectations on themselves (being self-critical)
- Finding it easier to give compassion to another than to themselves
- Seeing their past action(s) as a lapse in judgement, and feeling responsible for the outcome
In the case of regretting our own actions, resentment is not what we’re struggling with, but rather shame or guilt. The risks of clinging to these negative feelings and surrounding beliefs are just as serious as those associated with resentment, and the antidote is exactly the same: forgiveness.
Even if you did unloveable things, you are entitled to forgive yourself!
If you need to, reach out to a coach, mentor, or therapist to cultivate forgiveness, so that you can set yourself free after so many years. Take the time you need to work through this journey.
Free Yourself with Forgiveness
Are you looking for liberation? If so, look at your resentments and how you can release them through forgiveness and compassion.
There is a huge physical, mental, and spiritual healing opportunity awaiting us when we forgive.
Remember, the alternative depletes our energy, holds us hostage, and keeps us trapped. And it’s impossible to be truly happy and resentful at the same time.
What do we gain by holding on to resentments?
Are you looking for liberation? If so, look at your resentments and how you can release them through forgivenea
In our healing journey into sustainable recovery, self-forgiveness as well as forgiveness for others holds so much promise for our inner peace, happiness, and joyful lives.
So, I’m signing off here with an invitation for you to free yourself by forgiving. Everyone. Everything. And Yourself.
Stay strong, Humble Warrior Women. Namaste.