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This excuse of being unable to forgive may have temporary validity for those of us who don’t know how to forgive. Perhaps we were not taught as children, have little experience with forgiveness, and have
TEN STEPS TO LETTING GO
virtually no understanding of it. In such cases, it is difficult for us to forgive. But the Ten Steps will teach us how to forgive as well as lead us to that forgiveness. So the excuse is still an excuse—a temporary impediment to letting go of our regrets that will be eliminated through the work of the steps. Forgiveness takes place in the realm of the spiritual, where anything is possible.
4. “I could never be forgiven for what I did. ” This excuse is based on a misunderstanding of what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is not something others do for us. It is something we do for ourselves, and it does not depend upon those we have harmed to be valid. Regardless of the seriousness of our regrets, real forgiveness is always ours to have. A wronged party who does not forgive us after all appropriate amends have been made has a problem, which is not our responsibility to solve. We can be forgiven anyway.
5. “I will never forget what was done to me. ” Letting go of a regret has nothing to do with forgetting that regret or the events that surrounded it. Even after we have let go of a regret, we will still remember it, perhaps for a lifetime. The difference is that the regret will no longer have the power to hurt us, even if it is remembered. So if the phrase is taken literally, we don’t have to worry about never forgetting what happened to us. On the other hand, if it is used to mean never forgiving what was done to us, we have already dealt with that excuse.
6. “I could never forget what I did. ” Letting go of a regret does not mean forgetting what we did. It means revisiting the regret in a structured way so that we can work through its pain and eliminate its power to hurt us. We don’t forget our regrets, but we do let them go, even when we are the ones who caused them. This excuse is sometimes used to mean “I could never forgive what I did,” in which the word “forget” is substituted for “forgive.” When the excuse is used with that meaning, it is equally invalid for reasons we have already discussed.
7. “IfI go back to examine the past, III get stuck there. ” This excuse sounds plausible, but it is not. The opposite is true. It is an unexamined past that traps us. An examined past frees us. By using the Ten Steps to analyze our regrets in a structured way and to release them, we find the
freedom from regrets that we seek. Through the steps, we return to the past to let it go, not to wallow in it.
8. “Now is not the right time. ”This excuse is common among those looking for the perfect time to begin something, as though no project should ever be attempted until the stars have lined up completely in its favor. Most projects are started under less than perfect conditions. The ideal time to start is now, regardless. There are some exceptions (immediately after the funeral of a loved one, for example, is probably not the best time to begin examining regrets related to that person), but now is almost always better than later. Too often, later turns into never.
9. More excuses. These excuses may not have included all the ones you use for holding onto your regrets. Note in your journal any additional excuses that you have used to keep from letting them go. If some of these excuses appear to be real reasons rather than excuses you can refute, do not be concerned. Write them down and move on. You will deal with them later.
Relating to Yourself
As you embark on the journey of letting go, part of your task will be to relate to yourself in a different way. Just as there are many ways to treat other people, there are many ways to treat yourself. In dealing with yourself, for example, you can be hateful or supportive, encouraging or discouraging, loving or sarcastic, tolerant or judgmental. The way you relate to yourself and others can be described in terms of analogies: as a best friend, a respected colleague, a beloved sibling, a cruel taskmaster, an angry boss. What you say to yourself in your thoughts will differ dramatically depending upon the nature of the relationship you have with yourself.
As you work the Ten Steps, make a conscious and deliberate effort to relate more positively toward yourself. Instead of treating yourself as a failure, a bad person, or someone undeserving of happiness, strive to nurture yourself as if you were your best friend, a favorite sibling, or a beloved
TEN STEPS TO LETTING GO
child. This shift in mind-set may be new and slow in coming. But it is important.
Pause to consider how you relate to yourself in dealing with your regrets. Are you attacking and blaming rather than loving and supportive? Are you quick to criticize or curse yourself for what you’ve done in the distant past or seconds before? Are you impatient, intolerant, and unforgiving of yourself? If you behave toward yourself as a sarcastic bully, you are in a difficult position, because living with a bully is exhausting and stress-filled. Do you have a severe, contemptuous attitude toward yourself and your regrets, as in, “Get over it!” Or do you take a different tack and regard yourself as a victim, wallowing in the pain and hopelessness of the past, condemned to suffer for the rest of your life? Or do you alternate between these extremes?