I’m usually the forgiving type.
When someone causes hurt, I work to try and understand them; meaning that I don’t immediately write them off as wrong. Instead, I attempt to look past the emotional reaction of that person and quickly consider the different views of a situation. I also take time to ask myself those tough questions like: Am I really the person they are describing? Did I mean to hurt them? Were my intentions malicious? What do I need to change if they are right?
However, there is a downside in this approach. If you don’t process the situation maturely and with humility then you can begin to let resentment towards the person set in and/or you can begin to let the unwarranted opinions about you fester and remain in your thoughts. This can lead to a deeper unforgiveness because you’ve now given that person undeserved power over you. ‘Failure’ is a message that you will feel anytime you are challenged in a similar way in the future. As one popular quote says, you are essentially allowing that person to “live rent-free in your head.” – Ann Landers.
When I ran into someone who hurt me years ago.
An event that brought to light some unforgiveness in my life happened a few months ago. I attended a large social event and recognized someone who spoke hurtful words to me many years ago. I’ll call her Jane. This person and I were both involved in the vision and direction of a multi-faceted organization. If I were to be any more specific then my Jane will lose the anonymity I’m trying for. The point I’m trying to make here is that she spoke some words at a meeting once that cut me deep. I felt personally attacked and I spent quite a bit of time questioning my leadership abilities and my character after the encounter.
My reaction at the time was to not say anything. I didn’t give in to believing the worst of Jane, and even when I eventually moved on to another organization and a new leadership role I didn’t feel hatred towards her, but I never really let go of her words. I didn’t really deal with the hurt and forgive her; and in moments of insecurity I would occasionally hear those words again challenging my ability to succeed.
So not surprisingly, this led to a visceral reaction that I felt when I saw her again at this function many years later. Some flashbacks hit me hard and I was a little awkward as I approached her to say hello. I still didn’t feel any anger, but I did have that sense of disappointment like I was a kid walking into the dentist office the week after Halloween. I felt exposed. Vulnerable.
Talk about unexpected!
Then it happened. I walked over to her, curiously seeking closure that would free me from her voice in my head. I reached out my hand to say hello and she . . . didn’t recognize me. Now don’t misunderstand me. She didn’t do any sort of double take that turned into a pleasant greeting. She really did not know who I was. I was a stranger. To make it worse, when I asked her how things are going in her life, she pretended to know who I was and gave a vague response to my questions. My heart sank a little.
I was shocked. This voice that had been a negative anthem in my mind was just that, in my mind. She probably never thought of it again. And even if she did, why did I give it so much power?
I walked away thinking of the time that I wasted letting her words echo in my mind. I thought of the hours of energy I used up letting Jane live in my head during crucial decision-making moments, when she probably never gave that night a second thought after that meeting. More importantly, by not letting that moment-of-the-past go, I allowed myself to believe that I was still that person for way too long. Even if all of her words attacking my character were true back then, I’m years removed from who I was at that time and I have grown since. I have navigated countless other leadership scenarios and allowed myself to learn new lessons along the way.
In that moment, one quote stood out more than any other,
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes
The only person I was holding captive by not letting her words go was myself and perhaps you can relate. You have people in your past who still reappear as negative thoughts when new challenges are put before you. You haven’t been able to forgive and the pain is reoccurring. Don’t hesitate to free the prisoner so that you can move forward today. You are just holding yourself back by hanging on to yesterday’s opinions of you.
So it’s time to Forgive.
Forgive so that you don’t let the emotions of the past dictate the reality of your present therefore limiting the potential of your future.