Often after working with anger, we might choose to work with forgiveness. The central point of forgiveness practice is that we can’t forgive without first opening to our pain—opening to how hurt we still feel. Self-compassion gives us the strength to open to pain.
When we forgive others, we let go of anger and resentment that isn’t serving us anymore. Forgiving others can be a kindness to ourselves.
When we forgive ourselves, we let go of self-criticism. Another kindness to ourselves.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean accepting bad behavior, or resuming a relationship that may cause us harm. Self-compassion includes taking good care of ourselves and protecting ourselves from harm.
Usually we are forgiving mistakes, our own mistakes and those of others. We all make mistakes. This is the human condition and can’t be avoided. That’s because every thought and action is the product of a universe of invisible causes stretching back through time. For example, I have partly inherited my temperament from my parents and grandparents, and my actions are shaped by untold, interacting elements of my environment—early childhood history, other people in my present life, diet, hormones, health, culture, current events. Therefore, I have limited knowledge and control over precisely what I say and do from one moment to the next. This is the same for everyone.
Sometimes we cause pain without making any mistakes. Often we are just trying to live our lives in an authentic, meaningful way. An example is the pain a parent may feel when his or her child leaves home, or when a lover chooses to marry a more suitable person for him or her. This hurt is not the fault of anyone, but can still be acknowledged and healed with self-compassion.
Forgiving a person is a larger project than forgiveness of a single situation. However, we need to start somewhere. There are 5 steps to forgiveness:
- Opening to pain
- Intention to forgive
(From the Mindful Self-Compassion curriculum designed by Christopher Germer and Kristin Neff)