On being honest with yourself and recognizing those places you try to hide.
A client recently shared with me about a person who had wronged her and how much she struggled to forgive them. She expressed vehemently her desire for them to suffer.
She was angry.
I was surprised.
Clients rarely speak about their pain and anger so directly, they often minimize it and assure me that they are attempting to forgive. Partly this has to do with their understanding of the power of forgiveness, but some of it is a socially acceptable response. While most people won’t admit how angry they are; this client was embracing the power of anger and admitting her desire for revenge. It really struck me.
Now, I am rarely surprised by people after doing this work for so long. I often joke—after
15 plus years...well, I’ve heard everything. Yet this client’s opposition to forgive was interesting, different, almost refreshing. There was no attempt for a more palatable expression of her feelings, which often happens in my work. A client wants to soften their feels of anger for fear the person listening might think poorly of them. There are times I have to encourage the raw feelings and emotions if it seems important to go there (and often it is). We all avoid pain-we don’t naturally move towards uncomfortable conversations. Yet with this client, she put it all out there. I had to figure this out; I reflected on my own experience with anger and forgiveness since looking at myself often helps me understand other’s experiences. I considered my most recent lessons in forgiveness. I considered those people I struggled to forgive in the past. I remembered how long I held on to that pain, many time too long, and how often I made myself a victim. And I remember multiple moments when I released portions of that hurt and felt freedom. I think I remember those times the most. Yet, I never expressed my anger with the vehemence that this client did, and I wanted to understand. I thought maybe it was my religious upbringing. Sure, that was an element. Forgiveness was such a huge pillar in the church it was hard to hold on to things—well at least visibly (I’ll come back to this). Then I thought, well I am a social worker by background, I am sure that contributes. I’ve been taught the power of restorative justice and truly believe it’s valuable. Yet, when I wrote my meditation teacher recently and asked him to critique my recent practice (now over a month in and still practicing every day! Progress!). He told me I was advancing yet, I was still struggling to forgive, and I needed to ask for this and gratitude in my practice.
That’s when it hit me!
I needed to see it from a different vantage point, her struggle to forgive wasn’t the issue, we all do this, it was how she allowed it to be so openly visible. We ALL struggle to forgive! Not just others, but ourselves too. Now here I was confused about this, but I what I realized was, I had just been quietly masking my struggle to forgive. It was there—it still is. Letting go of something has never been my strong suit. I hold on for dear life. Sure, because it’s scary to step into something so new, yet for me it more about struggling to let go of the dream I created in my mind about how that relationship would be, how my career would go, what my living situation would look like.
I won’t lie, I don’t know that I have some clear answer to tell you that magically allows you to forgive and release. What I will say is, it’s a process and each person you open up to and share that raw emotion with—that anger and pain—may help you to slowly release and eventually forgive. This is where I give this client credit, she is brave enough to be real about how she feels and her struggle to let go. We humans hold on to what we know, often for way too long. We think if we hang on to that dream of what could have been, it will be. We fight against ourselves and we fight against the world. It’s when we let go, forgive, and release the anger and hurt, that life flows again. The answers appear and than our real dreams, the ones we may not even know about consciously, come true. The things I can’t let go of; I hid. I don’t want the world to see them. I don’t want others to recognize my pain. Sometimes I can even fool myself into believing I have forgiven; have let go. Sometimes I need a reminder to enter forgiveness and gratitude into my daily meditation practice, like the one I just received, because maybe it isn’t so obvious. Yet, it’s still there, hiding in the places we don’t want anyone to see—the vulnerable parts. You know, the soft spots in the armor that aren’t so easy to detect. You gotta search for them and investigate them. You need someone else to point them out. You need someone to help reflect them back to you—like my meditation teacher did for me. He saw deep inside me those vulnerable spots that I didn’t want to be visible and he was absolutely right, that struggle to forgive is still there even if I hide it really well.
Now I’m off to go meditate and you can bet I’ll be asking for gratitude and forgiveness. If you need support to reflect and investigate your blind spots—I’m here for you and have become more comfortable sharing mine over the years.
I'll leave you with this, I’ve found Frederick Buechner’s quote from Telling Secrets to be true:
“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are…because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier…for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own…”
Let’s share our secrets. Connect today.