There are many things in life that separate us and make us unique, however, over the years I have seen one consistent common denominator; our need to forgive. Regardless of our upbringing, our cultural similarities or differences, or any other circumstances of our lives, we have each held onto one or more hurt, pain, sadness or injustice.
On a regular basis I work with clients from all over the globe who have used their harbored hurts, pains, sadness, and memories of injustices as a secret hidden weapon for sabotaging their own success, their relationships, or both. These are good people who would not intentionally hurt anyone, but the harbored inner pain has a stronghold on them that they cannot totally control.
A few years ago I coached a woman, Tammy (not her real name), who had a very difficult childhood. Her mother left the family when Tammy was just 13 years old and because Tammy was the oldest female child, her father immediately became dependent upon her to take on all the duties and responsibilities of the absent mother. Tammy was a child so she did not know how, and did not want, to be the adult mother of the family, but she loved her siblings and knew they needed her, so she allowed herself to be pushed into the role of mother of the family.
Tammy's father harbored hurt and resentment toward his wife for leaving the family and for having to work very long hours to bring in enough money to support his family as a single parent. Tammy says that she knew her father loved her and her siblings, but it was very hurtful that he was always so angry and critical of her. He seemed to expect her to already know how to do all the things an adult mother would do such as cooking, cleaning, putting the children to bed, laundry, grocery shopping, etc., along with going to school and keeping her grades up. When she did things that did not meet his level of expectation, he would scold her and accuse her of letting him down.
When Tammy grew up and went out into the adult world she developed challenging problems in her personal and her work relationships so she came to me for help. When Tammy began my SuccessEsteem coaching program she had a menagerie of intertwined ineffective ways for motivating herself that created much more self-sabotage than success.
Through our work together Tammy uncovered three specific problems with her inner self-motivation system.
First, she realized that, even though she was a very nice, very friendly person, she only knew how to be a controlling parent type personality. This personality type was effective when she was actually parenting her younger siblings, however, in the adult world other adults don't want to be controlled, parented and told what to do.
The second problem Tammy uncovered was that she only knew how to be a critical parent to herself. When she made any type of mistake in her adult life she only knew how to inwardly punish, scold and berate herself, and she regularly told herself that she "let people down."
And the third problem Tammy uncovered was that she had a very deep sense of anger and sadness regarding her childhood.
Through the SuccessEsteem coaching program, I worked diligently with Tammy to help her develop a healthier, more effective inner self-motivation system, but the one piece she had to do on her own was the forgiveness work. There were many people to forgive; her mother for leaving, her father for putting her in the parent role and being so critical of her, and herself for not knowing any better than to believe her father's negative and critical words to her.
More recently I coached a client, Jim (not his real name), who had what he describes as a "normal and happy childhood" and yet Jim also had an inner network of ineffective ways for managing himself that constantly left him feeling like a failure.
As Jim and I delved into the SuccessEsteem coaching program we began to uncover the source of his self-sabotage behaviors. Jim was born in the early 1960s and at that time, it was common practice for the mother of the family to be a full time mother and not work outside the home. Also, at that time, it was typical for the father of the family to work for one company for 20 to 30 years and then retire at age 65. And this was exactly the picture of Jim's family. So as Jim moved into his adulthood he fell in love with and married a woman who wanted a family, but also wanted a career outside the home. Jim wasn't equipped to deal with sharing the daily family responsibilities of cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, etc., and these differences of opinion ultimately caused his marriage to end in divorce.
Jim also shared with me that he did not like his chosen field of accounting and was very unhappy in his job. The thought of working in this job for 20 to 30 years made him feel physically sick, but he believed that it was his obligation to stay with the job and career in which he had already invested so much time and energy.
Jim had based his entire self-motivation system on an out-of-date lifestyle that was unrealistic for the twenty-first century. Jim constantly compared his actual life to the mental image he had of his ideal "1960s" life and always came up short.
I worked with Jim to create a more updated and effective mental image of his ideal life and helped him create new and more effective ways of measuring his success, but there was also forgiveness work to be done.
For Jim, it was all about forgiving himself! He had secretly resented himself for not being able to live up to his previous internal picture of what a marriage and family "should" look like and he berated and scolded himself on a regular basis and saw himself as a failure.
Forgiveness work is recognized worldwide as an amazing healing power!
According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many smaller ones. According to this source, over 75 percent of the world's population is a member of the religions of Christianity, Islam or Hinduism, with the remaining population being members of other religions including Judaism and Buddhism.
While I have not read the teachings of all 19 major religions of the world, I am familiar enough with the teachings of the top 5 to know that one thing stands out as a major common denominator; each one teaches about the power of forgiveness!
Many years ago when I first began my own journey of breaking free from self-sabotage behaviors I was open to trying just about anything that might relieve my self-induced inner torture. One evening I was attending a course called Whole Life and the leader of the course said something that reminded me of the teachings of Jesus in the Christian Bible.
Having grown up in a traditional Christian home, I recalled that in the book of Matthew, there is a parable of an unforgiving servant who asked Jesus how many times he should forgive a person for sinning against him. Jesus' response was to tell the servant to forgive seventy times seven. (I am paraphrasing of course.)
Upon recalling this teaching, I thought to myself, "Wow, that's 490 times! I wonder if I can forgive 490 times!" I started by writing a list of everything I could think of that I felt angry or hurt about and every person I felt angry or resentment toward. (I was startled at how long the list was.) Then I created a forgiveness journal and I began my journey of writing "I forgive ___ for ____" for everything and everyone on the list.
The forgiveness journey turned out to be one of the single most significantly healing things I have ever done in my life!
Over the years I have shared the awesome power of forgiveness with many people and I have learned several important factors regarding the forgiveness process that I would like to share with you.
First, no one can tell you HOW to forgive. If you need to cry at the sadness of the death of a loved one or the pain of a brutal injustice, let the tears flow. If you need to curse and swear as you forgive the a**hole who wrecked your car or the Son-of-a-*itch who broke your heart and then do it that way. Just do it YOUR way!
Second, if you are doing forgiveness work related to something that feels like an "unforgivable" crime or action someone forced on you, please KNOW that forgiveness is NOT about condoning someone else's bad behaviors. I once coached a woman who was sexually abused by her father when she was a child. She struggled with the idea of forgiving him because she didn't want it to mean that it was OK that he did that to her. Forgiveness work is for YOU -- not THEM. Forgiveness is about clearing out the negative crap, goop and garbage the offender left behind when they contaminated your space. For her, swearing and yelling in her forgiveness journal was extremely cathartic and effective. She let it ALL OUT, but always starting with "I forgive you for..."
And lastly, but perhaps most important, please, please, please remember that YOU are the KEY character in your journey of forgiveness. Some of the most powerful forgiveness work you will do will be about forgiving yourself! Regardless of the event, most of us blame ourselves in some way for the bad things that happen to us or the bad things others do to us and even when it truly was not within our control and was not our fault.
Tammy focused on forgiving the people and circumstances of her childhood. As she let go of her pent-up hurt and anger, she became more and more comfortable letting other people take control of their own work and she began to let go of her need to control her friends and family. As a result, her coworkers, friends and family enjoy being around her and she is much more relaxed and happier!
Jim focused his forgiveness work on himself. He spent hours forgiving himself for all the things he felt he had done to mess up his life and the lives of those around him. As he let go of his pent up hurt and anger, he became more and more relaxed and comfortable just being himself. He let go of his harsh judgment of himself and developed a more supportive and motivating way to move forward when things don't work out as he planned. Jim also took the leap of faith and left his accounting job to work in the manufacturing industry which, for him, is much more interesting and stimulating.
In case you are wondering, I never got to 490. I was about halfway there when all my inner anger, resentment and sadness just lifted away! I still use my Forgiveness Journal for "spot cleaning," so I keep it in a safe place so I'll know where it is when I need it.
No matter what brought you to your own journey of forgiveness, one thing I can promise you is this; doing the forgiveness work will improve your life in unbelievable and wonderful ways!
Are you ready to forgive 490 times?
About the Author:
Troyann Williams is a highly renowned SuccessEsteem Coach. For a FREE GUIDE: Recognizing the 5 Most Significant Ways You May Be Sabotaging Your Own Efforts to Be Successful, go to http://www.selfsabotagebehavior.com. Troyann is a "been-there, done-that, knows what she's talking about" coach! You can learn more about the SuccessEsteem coaching program at http://www.selfsabotagebehavior.com.