If you’re a living, breathing human being, chances are you’ve been hurt at some point in your life. Maybe someone broke your heart, crushed your dreams, or led you down the wrong path. Even worse, you might have experienced a brutal tragedy, like rape, war, or abuse.
Regardless of what hurt you, a single fact remains: If you carry resentment in your heart, you are continuing the cycle.
When I was seven years old, my parents separated. I remember coming home from school to find my mom crying in the kitchen. My aunt told me that my dad wasn’t coming home. Ever. At first, I saw my dad on the odd weekend. But soon, his presence faded into the background, and before I knew it, we hadn’t spoken in almost twenty years.
My mom remarried, but my stepfather brought demons from his past into our relationship. He’d been shot in the face at the age of twenty-two—a wound that left him completely blind. At times, he was downright mean to me, calling me names and criticizing everything I did—from the way I walked to the way I closed the kitchen cupboards.
The hurt and betrayal that I felt toward male authority figures provided the perfect backdrop for my teen angst, which morphed into several years of early adulthood drama. I carried my hurt around like a badge of honor—often using it to excuse my behavior. As a teen, I yelled at my mom and stepfather, was brought home (drunk) by the police, and ran away from home. As a young adult, my desperation for male approval led me into a string of dysfunctional relationships. By carrying hurt in my heart, I ended up breaking other people’s hearts, too.
By age twenty, my self-esteem was in the tank. And in a last ditch attempt to bury my feelings, I ended up on antidepressants.
I found comfort in my hurt. It gave me a label. A reason for my erratic behavior.
“Look at everything I’ve been through!” My badge of hurt and hatred screamed.
I was one of those girls. You know, the ones with “daddy issues.”
I spent six years in therapy, telling my daddy stories over and over again. I popped Paxil every day, hoping the issues would disappear.
But they didn’t.
After a lot of self-reflection and personal work, I realized that what was done was done. I couldn’t change the past. But I could change my future. My years spent in therapy, coupled with my work with mentors like Gabrielle Bernstein, made me realize that nothing was going to change until I forgave the men in my life. This was a long and difficult process—a process that I’m still going through today. It didn’t happen overnight, but even the tiniest shift toward forgiveness has brought miraculous results.
Here are a few things that helped me forgive:
1. Find inspiration in others’ forgiveness.
Ironically, my stepfather provided me with the perfect example of the power of forgiveness. After being shot, my stepdad forgave the man who left him permanently blind. He literally hugged his shooter and told him he forgave him. This taught me from a very young age that forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person; it’s a gift that you give yourself because it sets you free from things like resentment and anger. I realized that if other people could find it in their hearts to forgive such horrendous things, then surely I could find forgiveness in my heart, too.
2. Try to see all sides of the story.
Often, we think that by having compassion for someone, we are excusing his/her behavior. This isn’t true. Compassion provides us with a lens that helps us understand—not excuse—people’s actions. Over time, I started to have compassion for my father and stepfather. Both men had had less than ideal childhoods themselves. They were doing the best they could with what they had. This doesn’t mean that what they did was right, but it helped soften my heart toward them and facilitate the forgiveness process.
3. Get help.
If you’ve been through something difficult, it’s crucial that you process and experience your emotions, instead of pushing them down. Start seeing a therapist. If you don’t like your therapist, try a new one. I’ve been to all sorts of counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and everything in between. Each person helped me in a unique way and led me to where I am today.
4. Cut the cord.
Feelings of resentment and hurt often cause us to create negative energetic ties (or cords) with others. Gabby Bernstein offers a fantastic cord cutting meditation that can help you release these negative energetic attachments.
5. Let go of blame.
At one point or another, we all need to take responsibility for our own behavior.
As J.K. Rowling once said: “There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”
6. Push past the fear.
My stepfather passed away over five years ago. Two weeks before he died, I had a chance to visit him to talk about some lingering issues between us. But I was too scared. After he died, I felt an immense amount of guilt about not sharing my feelings with him. I promised myself that I would never make the same mistake again. So, when my biological father contacted me a few years later to say that he wanted to pay me a visit, I agreed, even though I was scared. We’ve now visited a few times, and my forgiveness has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. In fact, a few weeks ago, I met up with my dad and my half sister for coffee. (Above is the first photo ever taken of the three of us together.)
The moral of my story is that forgiveness can create miracles. It might not happen overnight, but when you commit to forgiving others, you free up a ton of energy that you can put to better use. I realize that this process might be extremely difficult, especially if you’ve been through an unthinkable tragedy. But it is possible to forgive the unthinkable. Just take it one step at a time.
Remember that forgiveness is a process, not a finite event. Let go of your badge, label, and story. The past doesn’t define you, and the future is waiting with open arms.
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on the topic of manifesting your dream job, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.