A Journey Towards Forgiveness

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By Anita Manley

I have learned a great deal about forgiveness over the years. Having struggled with a severe and persistent mental illness for most of my adult life, I have learned how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness. I’ve had to do a lot of both.

Learning to forgive others, no matter how long it takes, is very hard work. Soul-wrenching work. Asking for forgiveness is also a challenge, but the work of forgiveness does not lie in my hands in this situation. I can only try to show that I truly am sorry and be there for them when and if they are ready to forgive me and hopefully welcome me back into their lives.

I have learned that really, forgiveness is not about the other person who betrayed you, or abandoned you, or lied to you or did you harm, it is about YOU. It is about YOU learning to let go of the hurt, anger and seething pain.

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. *

I have found that talking with friends, or a counsellor, or writing endlessly in my journal – are things that have helped me to sort through my thoughts, given me solace… and perhaps I even found answers to why I was so hurt and angry. I learned to have compassion for myself. I have learned to forgive myself, which was probably one of the hardest things to do. To forgive myself for not being there for my daughters (due to my mental illness), when they so desperately needed me. To forgive myself for not living up to my standards of being a good mom. To forgive myself for unintentionally abandoning my daughters while they were teenagers. As you can imagine, this was very soul-searching work.

I also had to forgive all those people in my life who turned their backs on me while I was in the throes of psychosis, because they could not cope with my behaviour. This was easier to forgive, as I felt incredibly guilty and embarrassed by my own behaviour while ill. I found that once I was able to let go of the guilt, anger and shame; there was room for more joy in my life. I felt less depressed and there was room for healthier relationships.

Asking for forgiveness, was something even more challenging for me to do, since all I could really do was wait, and wait and wait for the people whom I unwittingly damaged, to do the hard work of forgiving me. I learned to be patient. I am still, to this day, working hard at building more trusting relationships with both of my daughters. My mental illness caused them so much pain, but both are working together with me to try to build, new, stronger relationships.

What are the benefits of forgiving someone? **

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:

• Healthier relationships

• Improved mental health

• Less anxiety, stress and hostility

• Lower blood pressure

• Fewer symptoms of depression

• A stronger immune system

• Improved heart health

• Improved self-esteem

So, do the hard work of forgiving someone in your life, for your own health and wellness. It doesn’t mean you have to welcome them into your life again, but let go of the anger, hate and resentment. If not, it will only harm you more than the person you are angry with.

Forgiveness is freedom!

* https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition

** The Mayo Clinic

I had the exact same look on my face, the instant I was reunited with my daughters. Pure joy!

Spirituality and Mental Health – Kelley Raab – Guest Blog

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Kelley is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. She recently started a private practice specializing in Spiritually Integrated Therapy. Go to www.kelleyraab.ca to learn more.

Who Am I?

For me, both the question and the answer are to be found not in psychological assessment but in spiritual exploration. Psychologically, the question is a quagmire and points to the thorny problem of identity. Psychotherapist Mel Schwartz writes that “the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself.” When faced with the question “Who Am I?” we may tend to think of various ways we define ourselves – such as husband, wife, mother, son, teacher, accountant, friend, etc. Or, we may describe ourselves using a mental health category, such as bipolar, schizophrenic, depressed, anxious, etc. We can easily see how such definitions pigeonhole us and inevitably fail to encompass the complexity of our lives.

Meditation teacher Matthew Flickstein recommends an exercise to address the question of “Who Am I?” First, list all the ways you have defined yourself over the years. The list may include anything, from career to relationships to phenotype or personality characteristics – short, tall, funny, serious, etc. Second, examine each self-definition to determine whether it exists as an absolute or merely in relation to some other characteristic. For example, I am short in relation to others around me being tall (particularly in North America). Sick is relative to being healthy. Our self-definitions, he states, prevent us from seeing the bigger picture of who we are, one that is non-conceptual; in essence, they restrict us from experiencing a deep knowing. And it is this non-conceptual knowing, according to Flickstein, that ultimately grants us spiritual freedom.

You may have heard the well-known phrase of Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” What does it mean to live as a “spiritual being?” Synonyms for “spiritual” might include “sacred,” “transcendent,” “connected,” “self-aware,” “at peace,” “accepting.” “Being,” on the other hand, is often viewed in contrast to “doing.” Should we spend more time praying, meditating, taking things as they come? Probably. “Being” is a verb, so the words “evolving,” “changing,” “growing” come to mind – process versus goal, the idea of life as a spiritual journey.

I recently celebrated my retirement from The Royal, where I worked in Spiritual and Cultural Care for over fourteen years. Prior to The Royal I was a religious studies professor, also for fourteen years. To lose or relinquish a way that we have defined ourselves is always a life adjustment. There is grieving involved. I am no longer a chaplain or a university professor. So, who am I?

Letting go of self-definitions, however unsettling, is an opportunity for spiritual realization and growth. We limit ourselves by societal categories such as sick, healthy, well, unwell – constructs that are accentuated by comparing ourselves to the way we used to be or to how we view others (who are comparing themselves to us!). I may no longer be employed as a professor or chaplain, yet I am a spiritual being who continues to seek peace, meaning and joy in her life. I am eternally connected to Universal Energy, God, the Cosmos, or a Higher Power.

And so are you. As 2020 continues to unfold, I invite you to ponder the question, “Who Am I?”

References:

Flickstein, Matthew. The Meditator’s Workbook: A Journey to the Center. Boston, Wisdom Publications, 2009.

Schwartz, Mel. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shift-mind/201006/who-am-i). Retrieved January 9, 2020.

With many of us having time on our hands, it is a good opportunity to contemplate, “Who am I?”