For many of us, spending time with certain family members can reopen old emotional wounds, even if we thought the scar tissues had healed for good. The holidays seem to be a particularly vulnerable time for old scars and delicate hearts. It is during these times of joy and giving that we need to also be generous when it comes to forgiving.
Everyone has at least one person they still need to truly forgive. We may know intellectually that forgiving is ultimately better for us, but unfortunately we don't always practice what we know to be better. While we're constantly letting go when we excuse friends, colleagues or strangers for irritating or even offensive behaviors, when it comes to certain family members or loved ones, letting go may not come so easily.
There is an aunt in my family (I'll call her Wendy) who "means well" when she criticizes our appearance, our significant other, our work, or other things she finds counter to her strong opinions. Her untimely remarks can feel like her pumpkin pies, presented as something sweet, but after several servings, we're left with an ache and a heaviness in our belly that's hard to digest. Many of us have an "Aunt Wendy" in our lives.
Unfortunately, it can be the actual person or simply a reminder of them that can emotionally trigger us. During holiday gatherings, we're often exposed to other people's issues, as well as the dynamic of various relationships, and our own issues. Now that can be a LOT of issues in one room. It's hardly surprising that people experience so much stress, anxiety and depression during the holidays.
We need to access some mental and emotional tools to prepare us for these gatherings. Most of us know that we want to cultivate calmness, stability, detachment and healthy boundaries, especially with our families. Sometimes, we overlook that the key to unlocking the doors to these powerful tools is forgiveness. And other times, we simply resist it. Why?
There are several possible reasons:
1. We think it means condoning the "bad" behavior that hurt us.
2. We see it as a threat to our values. For example, forgiving someone for cheating on us may unconsciously represent a compromise to the value we place on loyalty or honesty.
3. We may feel forgiveness makes us appear weak or "the loser."
4. We lose a form of protection that prevents us from being hurt in the same way again.
None of these are true. Forgiveness sets us free emotionally and mentally. It allows us to see people for who they are and not who they were or who they remind us of. We can enjoy the present moment as it is, unburdened by fears of the past.
This helps make gatherings with family and loved ones an enjoyable experience, from an authentic place. We can decide to let things go, the same way we do on a daily basis with friends, colleagues and strangers.
During challenging "forgiveness crossroads," I tell my clients to consider these two questions: "Is my desire for happiness and harmony stronger than my attachment to my past suffering?" And, "Is it more important for me to have peace or to be right?"
Forgiveness allows us to choose peace, happiness and harmony over resentment and fear. When we let things go from a space of love and compassion, it's easier to understand that "Aunt Wendy" is who she is and is simply doing the best she can. We appreciate the time and effort she took to bake those pies … and we enjoy every bite.
Sherly Sulaiman is an internationally renowned clinical hypnotherapist and Neuro-Linguistic Programming practitioner.