Once, a long time ago I watched a wonderful coaching session take place. The woman being coached was very angry at a person who had wronged her in the past. She said that the anger she held within her was ruining her ability to have heartfelt relationships with most anyone. The coach went on to ask her: “Are you ready to forgive the other person?” “Hell no!” the coachee replied. So next the coach asked: “Are you ready to begin to want to eventually forgive the other person?” “Not yet.” the coachee replied. So then the coach asked: “Are you ready to begin to eventually want to forgive the other person?” “Maybe.” the coachee replied. “Ok, good.” the coach said, “Let’s begin from there!”
This coaching session that I witnessed a long time ago has had a profound effect on my own work. Let me give you an example:
A while ago I had a client who had a lot of resentment towards her mother for many things her mother had done to her in the past. My client said, “I don’t want to forgive my mother for what she did in the past. What she did was and is still wrong, and she has never apologized.” I hear this very same statement from many clients who are living with resentment, whether it be towards their parents, their spouse, or their boss. So first I explained to my client the difference between forgiving someone and condoning what they have done. This is the very same thing I talk about in regard to positive intention.
Forgiving someone for what they have done, does not need to at all mean that you condone what the other person has done. When it comes to creating a process of forgiveness Nelson Mandela is my number one role model. If he had remained angry, there is no telling just how bad things could have gotten in South Africa after he was released. The whole world is fortunate for the path of forgiveness that he chose. I suggested to my client that, “In order to free ourselves from the pain of anger and resentment we need to be able to forgive others. The longer we dwell on hurtful situations from the past, the longer we keep our self from living fully in the present. Forgiveness is an act of kindness. An act of kindness to yourself, as it will release you from the pain you have been suffering.”
Next, I asked my client if she felt that anyone other than herself, was responsible for and capable of making her happy. After a rather long and convoluted discussion, she said that when it was all said and done, she realized that she was indeed the only one that could make herself happy. We sat there together for a while, and then I took a deep breath and suggested that my client do so as well. Here is an idea, I said. “What if as a totally selfish act, done simply for your own personal happiness, you decided to go ahead and let go of the resentment you had towards your mom, so that you would no longer need to have resentment clouding your life. What would that be like?” I suggested, “You would not be saying that what was done to you was OK. You would simply be letting go of the resentment so that your own life would be happier. Would you want to let go of your resentment if it meant you would feel greater happiness?”
We sat there together for a while and my client’s face began to soften at some point. She said that if she was able to let go of her resentment, it would be like lifting a weight from her shoulders, and removing a dark cloud from her heart. “With all you have been through,” I said, “With all of the pain you have suffered, wouldn’t it be a wonderful gift to yourself if you could lift this weight from your shoulders and remove the dark cloud from your heart? Would it not be wonderful to be freed from your hurt and resentment?”
We sat there for a while, as tears formed in my client’s eyes, and she said very softly “Yes, I want to feel good. I want to feel love. I want to feel free.” “So” I said, “In order to free yourself from pain and open your heart to love, are you willing to go so far as to forgive your mother if this is what you felt was necessary for your own personal happiness?” She was somewhat hesitant, but said “Yes.” “Remember” I said, “I am suggesting that you do this purely for selfish reasons. Not because you want to actually forgive your mom at this point in time, but because you want to free yourself to live a happier life.” My client said “Yes, when it is said like this, I have the resolve to forgive my mother, in order to free myself to live a happier life.” “Good.” I said “Hold these thoughts and feelings in your heart for a while and then we can talk about how to actually accomplish your forgiving as time goes on.”
And the same can be true for all of us. If you are holding on to any resentment, and yet you want to recapture your happiness- Would you be willing to undertake the radical act of forgiveness in order to free yourself? I certainly hope so. And if not today, maybe tomorrow.