By Vicy Wilkinson, MA, BCC
I grew up in a family that’s both gigantic and was always pretty close, often even to extended cousins and relatives to whom I’ve never really understood how we’re related. Close though we were, it was clear my family also holds grudges. Apparently, forever.
There were entire branches of the family that “we don’t talk to” because of some argument that occurred at a country church some time in the 1960s, some 15-20 years before I was even born. I was shuttled to church every week and taught a weird lesson about forgiveness: we hold grudges, the lord forgives.
I now understand the error of this thinking and this way of moving through the world. Holding on to past slights, anger, pain, arguments, blame, etc. doesn’t do anything helpful for anyone. Instead, it causes wounds to fester and ooze out into all other aspects of life and of self. It became clear to me that even if one believes forgiveness is the lord’s work, forgiveness does not occur without some active participation on our parts. Forgiveness has become incredibly human work, in my life and in my coaching practice.
In fact, practicing forgiveness is an integral part of becoming whole and healing intergenerational trauma, along with simply being able to let go of pain and disappointment that arises from sharing a world full of highly fallible humans. There are billions of us, so it makes sense to have some go-to help with the process.
That’s why I wrote a pragmatic little book that walks readers through 13 different ways to practice forgiveness in every day life and it’s now available for Kindle on Amazon. In it you will find ways to tackle forgiving others, and also ways of forgiving your SELF, which I believe is critical to long term health and happiness.
Here’s an excerpt from one of the practices that you can start today, and it’s a practice that takes a lot of courage. Forgiveness takes courage, which means it begins in the heart like the root of the word courage itself.
Confront Your Fears Head On: Move Past Them by Taking Action.
We all feel fear. Some schools of thought believe we really only feel two basic emotions: fear and whatever we think fear’s opposite is, most often described as love. All other emotions fall on a sort of spectrum of emotions that exist as tension between these poles. Fear serves a purpose, and is deeply rooted in our survival as a species. Fear protects and helps keep us safe. However, when fear begins to “protect” us in ways that withhold love, consideration, openness, communicative understanding, and kindness towards those we choose to depend on as trustworthy companions in our lives, its methods of protection are outdated and need to be updated based on knowledge and a deeper understanding of both ourselves and our companions in this lifetime. [By companions here, I’m using a broad stroke term to mean every person in your life who you choose to trust and care for. I mean your family of origin, your family you may have created through marriage and children or through friendship, friends, etc. Whoever it is that you choose to share this life with consciously.]
Fear becomes problematic when you let it stop your progress or isolate you from the people you love and trust, and who love and trust you. In terms of interpersonal relationships, fear commonly shows up as avoidance or flight or both. When we are making big decisions or feeling big feelings or wanting to ask for something to meet our needs or needing to share something we’re ashamed of or guilty over, it’s so easy to cave to the fear monster that tells us to run away or put up some smoke and mirrors or stick our fingers in our ears and hum lalalalalala really fast until maybe, just maybe, our inaction will work out in everyone’s favor. Pro tip: it doesn’t.
When we do not confront our fears, and instead either run away or do nothing but avoid the confrontation, we suffer. We suffer continuously, and that suffering overwhelms the banks of our river of self and will eventually flood us and those around us. Sometimes it drowns us all, and some or all of us cannot recover completely.
“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.” ~ Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
So, what sorts of actions do you take to boldly confront your own fears? Your own shame? Your own flaws, mistakes, and misdeeds? The stuff that really makes you feel like a piece of shit, you know?
I am not sure I’ve come up with a step by step procedure exactly, but here are a few specific steps you can practice that will at least get you moving towards conquering your fears and learning to lean into the right people for support to get you through it all, and expect them to lean right back.
Get to know what they are, especially what the overarching one(s) is or are. What do you fear most? What makes you feel most small and helpless? Some examples are abandonment, not being loveable, dying suddenly and prematurely, that if the person you love knew the truth about you they would disappear in a heartbeat, not being ______ enough, being alone, being ashamed of _____, not being loved, not having your basic needs met… the list of fears we humans experience is infinite.
Use practices like tonglen meditation to give those fears space to be felt, heard, and acknowledged, and then transformed and released. Practice. Repeat.
Discern who in your life is truly worth trusting (and therefore loving) enough to share the true feelings around what’s real and alive in you, so that you may also fully share in the other end of the spectrum with that person/those people you choose. We must disclose our pain to fully experience our joy and love without the burden of fear. This means that not everyone in your life will know you at this level, clearly. You must take your time and be careful about who you become truly emotionally and mentally intimate with so that you can rest in the sharing. Sharing your fears makes you incredibly vulnerable. So you must be able to lean into your own faith that those you share fully with will hold your trust tenderly and with loving care. Choose wisely and choose from a place of love.
Find your voice. Know that it may shake and stutter in ways you’re not used to at all and it will feel excruciatingly uncomfortable at first. Practice. Repeat. Silence and hiding the fears from those closest to you creates a toxic mess inside yourself and inside your relationships.
Be gentle with yourself and with your loved ones. Be kind. Stay calm. If emotions get too intense, just back off and rest and find peace again. Remember that it’s all practice and treat your own fear confrontation with the kind of compassion you would show a child learning a new skill. For most of us, it is a new skill. And you’ll find as you practice that it’s usually a new skill for your loved ones, too.
May each of our hearts and minds become open to actively practicing forgiveness, for the sake of our individual selves and the collective good.
This book is meant to be a pragmatic guide for anyone who is interested in personal growth and healing through practicing forgiveness. It addresses the deeply human experiences of shame, blame, guilt, anger, and grief, and how our internalization of our own dark sides can keep us from fully experiencing light, joy, and love in our lives. It was written to help people feel more prepared to confront themselves with kindness and appreciation for the human-ness of the need for forgiveness in our lives. The practices can be used both for self-forgiveness and for learning to forgive others so that we can stop holding back love and joy.
About the author:
Vicy is a board certified transformational life coach, and holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Philosophy from Oglethorpe University (Atlanta, GA) and Durham University (England), respectively, with specialization in neuroscience, chemistry, and Eastern-Western philosophy of mind comparative studies. Vicy is also a Concept2/UCanRow2 Certified Indoor Rowing Instructor. In addition to rowing (indoor and sculling, mainly doubles), she’s also a yogini, wild water swimming enthusiast, hiker, Reiki master, hula hooper (making, hooping, teaching), writer, speaker, teacher, and organic gardener (medicinals and edibles). Her clients, students, and colleagues call her “the wizard.