I’ve been thinking about forgiveness a lot recently, and in general, just letting go of negative emotions like anger, annoyance, anxiety, stress, etc. It’s not always easy though.
To be honest, I rarely get angry. I don’t know why but I’ve pretty much always been this way. I never get into fights with my friends and I don’t really get involved with drama. I will say that the exception to this rule is with my family. I’m sure it’s this way for a lot of us but there are some things that people in my family do that just get under my skin. Since I’ve been living at home for almost two months now, I’ve noticed that I have an undercurrent of slight annoyance in my everyday life now. And I don’t really like how this feels.
I’ve realized that I’ve always had this slight expectation that one day, my three younger brothers will magically stop being annoying. (Don’t get me wrong, I love them, but in this case I’m using them as an example.) In life, this transfers into a larger expectation I have, that eventually, other people will be aware and take responsibility for the way they make you feel. While this would be wonderful, this is clearly not how the world works. But I’ll admit, when I get annoyed with my brothers, it’s not always because they’re doing anything wrong. Let’s just assume the split is 50-50, so half the time I have the “right” to be annoyed and the other half of the time I’m just getting worked up for no real reason. Personally, I find it much easier to let go of the second type of annoyance. Because I’ve been working on self-awareness for a while now, I usually realize at some point that I’m the cause of this negative emotion and then I can choose to let it go. It’s when I really truly believe that someone else is at fault that I get stuck.
You see the problem is that sometimes we find ourselves in situations where the other person is never going to recognize that they did something wrong. We may find ourselves in a position where we can’t confront this person or it’s just not worth it. These are the hardest situations for me. My parents have drilled into me, over and over again from an early age, that life’s not fair. But, that doesn’t make it any easier for me to accept. In a lot of cases, I don’t even necessarily want the person who I believe has wronged me to make it up or to feel bad or to suffer. I just want them to acknowledge the reality of what happened. Just simple recognition and maybe if I’m extra lucky an apology. But I’ve realized that this expectation is exactly why I’ve been so stuck on letting go of some types of negative emotions.
I’m currently reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. In the middle of chapter four, he describes our three options when we find ourselves in a disagreeable situation: (1) remove yourself from the situation (2) change it or (3) accept it totally. I think before coming across this advice, I have only ever used strategies two and three. If it’s possible to confront someone about how I feel, I will do so almost immediately. If circumstances mean this is not possible or is not a good idea, then I have no problem just leaving. But what about when you can’t leave?
I feel like for many of us, our families may be the perfect example of this scenario. At least while we’re growing up, leaving isn’t really an option. Now I will say that (2) changing the situation is obviously the most agreeable, so if this is an option for you then definitely do that. For me however, changing the situation is not really on the table. So since I can’t leave and I can’t change the situation, what do I do? So far, I’ve just been keeping the annoyance and associated negativity inside of me. It’s been building up the longer I’m here for and now it’s at the point where I can actually notice this negative, “twitchy” energy inside myself during my meditation practice. I’m used to only spending a very limited quantity of time with my family before returning to my normal everyday life, so I’ve lost touch with my strategies for dealing with these types of emotions.
So as Eckart Tolle suggests, the third option which I have previously overlooked, is fully accepting the situation. This means that not only do I need to accept my feelings, I also need to accept that I’m never going to get that acknowledgement I’m looking for and I definitely will never get an apology. For me this makes accepting the situation really hard, because I think that when the reality of my experience is not acknowledged, it makes me feel crazy. It makes me feel like I’m in an imagined world and since I do have the tendency to blame myself for everything, I’m quick to head down that path. As I’ve grown more resilient, I’ve worked to see when certain situations are outside of my control and to not blame myself in those instances. However it’s hard, especially when people repeatedly deny the reality of your existence and then try to blame you for it.
But at the end of the day, I’m the one harboring the negative feelings. I’m the one who now has an increased baseline anxiety level. I’m the one who is annoyed and angry. And I don’t like feeling that way. So, I need to learn how to just accept it. Accept the situation for everything that it is and everything that it is not, fully and completely. Even better than mere acceptance in my opinion is forgiveness. In my eyes, this is the only way to fully let go of my negative emotions and detach my identity from them. I’ve been exploring the concept of forgiveness a lot recently, but I definitely haven’t cracked the code yet.
For me, letting go of emotions like anxiety, stress and other self-directed emotions comes easily. Or easier I should say. I’ve learned to be kind with myself, to support myself, and to encourage myself. It seems to follow that I should learn to have this same loving reaction to others, even if they don’t necessarily deserve it…
Stay tuned for another post detailing my explorations with forgiveness to come.