While considering our mental health, it is important practice letting go of pain, suffering, and anger. This does not mean that we consciously avoid feeling these things. It means that we consciously attempt to touch into feeling these difficult emotions without making them part of who we are.
A part of letting go is forgiveness. When a conflict arises between two or more people, the conversation often shifts to pointing fingers, blaming others, or even blaming yourself. However, when interacting with another person, a conflict always deals with “we.” As we’ve said before, it takes two to tango, after all.
A large part of this course is centered around the practice of empathy. When you’re in the midst of conflict with someone and you can see what is happening from that person’s perspective, it becomes easier for you to perceive what is actually happening. Typically when we’re in the midst of a conflict, our need to be “right” gets in the way, and muddies the water making it harder to know what is actually happening. Empathy allows us to be freed from the judgments that make conflict confusing. You end up gaining control of your anger and any criticizing, generalized thoughts about that person.
Forgiveness is not allowing people to hurt you. Forgiveness is accepting the mistakes of others, just as you would want them to accept your mistakes. It does not release them from their share of responsibility. Both of you can create a solution together.
Consider the following:
Patricia has just had an intense argument with her sixteen-year-old daughter, Mavis. Mavis wanted to use the family car to go to the cinema, but Patricia needed to use it to get groceries for the upcoming week. Patricia had forgotten Mavis requested to use the car earlier in the month.
Mavis is still learning how to express her anger. She feels extremely frustrated and unimportant. She screams at Patricia and calls her a profane name before stalking off to her bedroom and slamming the door.
Patricia tenses up and wants to scream back. She remains still however, accepting her anger. She also accepts Mavis’s anger. She can see how it is frustrating for Mavis to put effort into making plans. She takes a deep breath and brings more awareness to herself and her body. She feels for forgiveness for Mavis and the harmful things she said.
Then, Patricia approaches Mavis. She asks Mavis if now is a good time to speak. Patricia says, “I made you upset because I told you initially you could take the car. Now, I’m saying you cannot. However, I will not allow you to speak to me that way. I also will not allow you to slam doors. I still need to get groceries, and you still have plans for the cinema. How about I drop you off and pick you up?”
Here, Patricia acknowledged the mistakes of both herself and Mavis. She also assertively communicated that she will not accept Mavis’s behaviors. Patricia brought Mavis a solution that respects both parties. Finally, Patricia forgave Mavis by feeling empathy for her daughter. While Mavis said things intended to hurt Patricia, and while those things did hurt her, Patricia knew Mavis was only expressing her anger.
As important as it is to forgive others, it is important to also forgive yourself. When you have setbacks or when you make mistakes, you may feel overwhelmed by guilt. Guilt and shame are normal emotions that can have positive effects. However, they can be extreme and expressed unhealthily, just as with anger.
Just as with anger, when you experience guilt or shame, you can sit with it. You can sit with all sorts of uncomfortable feelings. Feel it out intensely. Is it a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? Is your chest caving in? Have your ears gone red? Maybe you are trying to resolve it, as if your behavior was a conflict in and of itself. Although conflicts usually require resolutions, feelings like anger and guilt do not need to be resolved.
Be aware, honest and accepting of your guilt. Try to go deeper into it. Maybe you are holding on to something, refusing to let go. This could be an idea of yourself or an idea of what others think of you.
Before you begin to forgive yourself for the big stuff, try forgiving yourself for the small things. If you forgot to hold the door open on the way out of the grocer, know you are human and are at times too absorbed to be aware of your surroundings. Forgive yourself for that. If you knocked hot coffee down the front of the clerk at the counter, forgive yourself for that as well. Maybe you can even forgive yourself for not being so great at forgiving yourself! Practice forgiving yourself and others for smaller mistakes or setbacks, and soon you can forgive yourself for larger mistakes.
Respecting and empathizing with others goes hand-in-hand, so you will encounter some things in this section you are already familiar with. You must be authentic when you display respect to others. This means maintaining a non-judgmental, non-criticizing perspective.
Here are some ways you can do that:
- Remember everyone is different. They have lived different lives, they view things differently, and they communicate differently. Embrace differences as not better or worse but just differences.
- Listen. Stay focused on their words, posture, and tone of voice. Listen actively. If you feel you don’t understand, ask!
- Remain open-minded. Accept things, agree to disagree, and receive any criticism as feedback.
- View the situation from their side of things. How would you feel if you were them? How else could you view this situation? What else could be going on?
- Be polite.
- Be accepting, not just of the positive traits of people but of the less desirable traits as well. Accepting does not mean you have to change your boundaries or standards but accept that other people are entitled to be who they are.
- If you feel you may be stepping over another person’s boundaries, then ask. Listen and notice if the other person is showing signs of discomfort or discontentment.
Remember that everyone deserves respect, no matter their job, their income, or their way of living. Everyone is unique and we are all humans trying to live on the same planet. Respecting everyone will open opportunities that may not have otherwise been available to you and will help in your communication with others. It will also help problem solve, resolve conflicts, and build strong, fulfilling relationships.
Practice patience with yourself and others. Patience will lead you to forgiveness. If you feel the idea of “practicing patience” isn’t concrete enough, sit with yourself and your breath for more than ten minutes. Explore yourself gently while sitting, and remain seated for the entire time you plan.
Keep yourself open-minded and empathizing with others.
Continue to track your anger and rate it. Communicate assertively, keeping your boundaries maintained.