A year and a half ago, I planned a pilgrimage to my father’s grave with the intention of repeatedly stabbing it, and perhaps finally letting go of the last of my anger towards him. It didn’t happen that way – the extraordinary week prior to the pilgrimage released the bitter remnants of my anger, and by the time I arrived at his grave in the middle of a tiny Indiana town, I was happy to ‘see’ him.
I had promised him on his deathbed that I would forgive him – that I couldn’t do it right at that moment, but that I would work my way towards it. It took me another six years before I was ready to keep that promise, unexpectedly there at his grave site.
There I made another promise to him – that our family pain would end with me; that I would do everything in my power to heal myself and retroactively heal our family. (We could easily make a high tragedy out of old family tales – an uncle locked away in an insane asylum, a grandmother abandoned and orphaned, taken in by resentful relatives – the list goes on and on, and that’s just my dad’s side of the family.)
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If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of retroactively healing family pain, it comes from the concept of ancestral trauma. Basically it means that family members will pass down unresolved emotional issues through generations if they are unable to face it and heal it themselves. Anything we can heal in ourselves, we heal for our whole family line.
Which brings me, finally, to today’s topic – forgiving ourselves. Forgiving my dad felt like dropping a huge burden I had carried for way too long. But I find that I still carry a smaller burden with me – the anger and shame I feel towards myself for loving him in the first place.
How could I possibly love someone who hurt me so much?
Intellectually, I know exactly how – my dad had many amazing qualities, loved me to the full extent he was able to during his lifetime, and all children love their parents. Intellectually, I have no issue loving him.
But a small kernel of shame and self-loathing remains – one that judges me to be pathetic and worthless for this love.
Today, in honor of Father’s Day, I’ve decided to let that kernel go. My love is big enough to encompass the girl who loved her dad and the girl who hated herself for loving him. Loving someone is never wrong, because at the core of ourselves, we are all lovable and deserve love. I can hate my dad’s actions. I can take steps as an adult to never be in an abusive relationship. But I don’t need to judge myself for loving, because love is the only thing that heals.
I’m offering an exercise for you, but want to add in this caution – forgiveness comes when it comes. In my experience, it can’t be forced, and you’re ready when you are ready. All the processing you do before the forgiveness is vital too, so there’s no need to rush it. Maybe this post will just plant a seed in you, and you’ll come back when you’re ready.
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That was the case with me – I received an amazing forgiveness exercise during a course with the awesome Reverend Erin-Ashley of SpiritualMechanic.com. I loved it – I knew I needed it for myself, but I just wasn’t ready to offer it yet. Now I am. I’m offering it here for you, so it will be here when you are ready:
Bring an image of the person you would like to forgive to mind. Then repeat these four phrases, pausing to allow any emotion that is present to come up, and continue until you feel the truth of each statement.
I forgive you for the hurt you caused.
I release you to your highest good.
Thank you for being my teacher.
I love you exactly as you are.
(Kerti, Rev. Erin-Ashley. “Unlocking Your Psychic Genius.” Spiritualmechanic.com)
That’s it. It’s more powerful than you can imagine until you’ve tried it.
If that does not resonate with you, Jack Kornfield also offers a beautiful forgiveness meditation on his site:
There are many ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times through thought, word, or deed, knowingly or unknowingly. Feel your own precious body and life. Let yourself see the ways you have hurt or harmed yourself. Picture them, remember them. Feel the sorrow you have carried from this and sense that you can release these burdens. Extend forgiveness for each of them, one by one. Repeat to yourself: For the ways I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself, I forgive myself.
(Kornfield, Jack. “Meditations.” Jackkornfield.org. Retrieved June 14, 2014.)
I wish you the peace and release of forgiveness, and wholehearted acceptance of yourself.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.