Inner peace begins with forgiveness: forgiveness for ourselves and forgiveness for those who have wronged us. Without this, peace will always elude us.
Let’s take forgiving ourselves first. As I’ve said before, I find it very helpful to remember that in the past I did the best I knew how at the time. ‘Should(n’t) have’ is one of the most corrosive concepts there are and I strongly encourage you to keep it under firm control. Something a friend taught me that has changed my life dramatically is how utterly pointless it is to dwell on what I should have done, either twenty years ago or this morning. He didn’t mean I shouldn’t learn from my mistakes, because obviously that would be silly. What he meant was, forgive yourself and move on. Wishing the past different is a waste of energy that you could be using to shape your future.
Forgiving other people can be a delicate balance but it’s a vital part of the process of breaking free. As long as you go on harbouring resentment, anger or even hate, the object of those emotions continues to have influence over you.
We are all products of our upbringing and experience. Some of us learn, explore, change, and others don’t – usually because they’re afraid to. The people who have hurt me over the years are damaged individuals who, in their own misguided (in some cases, warped) way, were doing the best they knew how, just like me. They were trying to survive, trying to make sense of the world, trying to deal with their own pain and fears. A bad character is made, not born, and once I was able to see those who have hurt me in that light, I was already halfway to forgiving them. Once I’d forgiven them, I was free; their power to hurt me vanished.
Let’s be clear about this: forgiveness is for your sake, not theirs. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t tell them you’ve forgiven them, lest they think it means what they did is OK. I’m recommending you forgive, not forget. Almost all the people I’m talking about I have swept out of my life and I have no contact with them any more. With the few I have to go on seeing, I have withdrawn emotionally, so I can go through the motions of maintaining a relationship while keeping the inner me, the vulnerable part, safe.
If you feel the need to get back at someone, forgiving them is the best way to do it. As Isaac Friedmann said, “Forgiveness is the sweetest revenge”. It removes their hold over you and leaves you free to get on with your life in a positive way.
For me, forgiving the people who caused me to suffer went hand in hand with throwing off the mantle of victimhood – and I can’t tell you how empowering it feels to have done it.