Forgiveness As a Power Source

Forgiveness may sometimes be mistaken for an action taken through weakness, or as an act of “goodness” or Christian sentiment. But when understood, forgiveness has the power to transform us, and change the future we are creating out of our attitudes and actions.

As an example of this, some years ago life events led me to face a very painful experience. My wife was living abroad for a while and I did not know when she was coming back. This triggered the release in me of a terror I had kept buried since the age of three. At that time my mother, at the doctor’s suggestion, had sent me away to a convalescent hospital because my health was poor. Unfortunately, because my grandmother had been my prime carer, and had died before I had reached the age of two, I had already experienced great loss. This had left me open to the fear of abandonment. Being at the hospital released this terror that I had been abandoned.

Meeting that terror again in my late 40s was almost more than I could bear. Although the feeling was originally connected with my mother, as usually happens, whoever we love becomes the target for such fears. In meeting these awful feelings, I traced the origin of them back to the events mentioned. But the terrific anger I felt to my mother at exposing me to such unbearable emotions, also spilled over onto my wife.

The anger did not abate and it became obvious that unless I could forgive my mother, I would ruin my marriage with my anger.

It was difficult to find this forgiveness because I felt that what my mother had done was unforgivable. Of course none of this was neatly rational. The feelings were burning beyond reason, and could not be rationalised away. But I could not ignore the fact that this was not, in the end, about my mother, but about myself. My continued anger was ruining my life. So for my own sake I had to sincerely forgive my mother. This was not a fast change, and it was not easy. But it did release me from the crippling effects of the anger. And some effects of non-forgiveness in these situations are quite subtle. One might, for instance, avoid success in one’s life so that those close to you could never feel the pleasure or relaxation of that.

However, forgiveness sometimes has a much more profound significance. I believe that our primal life difficulties, such as mine connected with abandonment, actually have their roots in the long past. It may be easy for us to recognise that my terror can be traced back to the events mentioned in this lifetime. From this we can say, “Yes, the fears he faced as an adult were caused by the loss of his grandmother. And his mother’s decision to put him in the hospital restimulated that fear.”

However, if we can agree that we can trace things back to causative events, why can’t we also say, the original events also had causes? For instance, my mother did other things later in my life to deepen my terror of abandonment. Why?

From the viewpoint of modern genetics, it is understandable that a present day sickness in an individual’s life may be the result of events from generations ago. We understand that the gene pool from which our own physical body arises, has had negative and positive features added to it over tens of thousands of years. Therefore our present physical, and to some extent psychological, situation, arises out of events in the long past. If we can understand this, then we might also understand and accept that besides a gene pool, there is also a behavioural pool out of which a great deal of human behaviour arises. This is particularly evident in comparing different cultures where certain types of behaviour are passed on for thousands of years.

Some people think of this in terms of past lives. But we can also think of it simply as past events that influence our present life experience as causative factors. So, because it is easier to explain, I will create a scenario using the imagery of past lives.

Supposing in the far past I had hurt and abandoned a child. Supposing the child I had hurt in that previous lifetime is my mother in this lifetime, and she has never forgiven me for what I did. In other words, the actions generated by the past hurt are causative factors, are active and alive in the life of my mother, and are therefore influencing her. In this present life, my mother is in a position of power, and I am the vulnerable child now. So, from whatever it was in her deep unconscious that influenced her actions, she still wishes to hurt me, and did so several times.

I am presenting this as a speculation because I wish to present you with an idea, a viewpoint.

So, if you can follow this example simply as a possibility, what would have happened if I could not have forgiven my mother when I discovered the origins of my terror? Instead of ending the cycle of revenge, the hurt and anger could have been stored deep in me, generating more causative factors in the future. Those causative factors would have flowed into my life in the future, or influenced another life to perpetuate the hurt. And where or when would that end?

Also, the misery would spread out into the lives of those around me — to my wife for instance. Ripples upon ripples, and the world has enough waves of vengeance and bitterness riding through it already.

I wonder what the origins of your own hurt are. Where did they begin, and where will they end? Forgiveness can be the power that cancels them from further influence in your life.

The act of forgiveness has stages. The first is to recognise that the pain, or lack of inner peace, is arising from a withheld feeling or grudge. Was it Robbie Burns who said we can nurse a grudge to keep it warm?

Such withheld feelings may be on any scale. It may, for instance, be about a misunderstanding between you and a partner or friend. This can usually be dealt with by careful communication, and sharing of information or feelings. Then the difficulty is melted away or let go of.

But sometimes communication doesn’t help. It may in fact lead to argument or a deepening of the hurt or misunderstanding. Then we have to deal with it alone. Also some situations are difficult to really understand, and are not clear-cut. We may struggle for years to understand or come to terms with why a marital breakdown occurred; why someone we trusted betrayed us; why a situation suddenly changed. We might never reach understanding without a very open and honest communication with the person or persons involved. Sometimes people do not really know their motives — so even such communication would not help.

We are therefore left with our own distress and feelings of hurt, and what we will do with them. Even if we can see and admit what stress they cause, and damage they do, it is often not possible to simply let go of them. Such strong feelings, rooted in real pain, have a life and will of their own. If, in the manner of dreams, such feelings took on an identity of their own, and stood before you as a person, they might simply say, “No” to any suggestion of letting go the anger or hurt. Then there is nothing to be gained by fighting with such a secondary character in yourself.

The Empty Chair technique can be a great help if such a resistance exists. But before we look at ways of using that, a couple of examples may show how difficult forgiveness can sometimes be, and what a change can be made when it is found.

The process that lies behind dreams continually attempts to bring a state of balance or peace within us. But it can only do this if we can allow ourselves to experience a wide range of feelings, and to let go of the grudges or pains we have been holding on to. Stephanie, whose dream this is, tells us that it is only when she allowed forgiveness into our life that real change could occur.

She says, I was lying in my bed and a man was beside me. Gradually he got older and older until he was dead. Then he became a skeleton in bed beside me. I felt horrible. When I woke there was still some difficult feelings but these went. I realised that things, emotions, troubling me for ages, had all been cleared. Previously at church the vicar had talked about the healing of forgiveness, and in some way this had happened while I was dreaming. Now, quite a time after the dream, I am still in the state of ease.

The next dream shows how a solution can be sought and found in a dream. The woman, May, had suffered years of emotional misery and alienation from her family.

She says, “Because of this, when I was down to absolute rock bottom emotionally, I consulted a hypnotherapist who explained that hypnosis was used only as a last resort. I went to her once a week for over a year. I was treated under psychotherapy, and I had to write down my dreams every day. Through this I recognised my areas of problems, and in time my problems lessened. However, I had to travel seventy miles altogether for each visit, and with petrol becoming more expensive I gave up the consultations. All the same, I felt I hadn’t really reached the real root of the trouble. I delved into my known past, but not my unknown past. Consequently, after about six months I drifted back into my old depression and aggressive dreams and nightmares.

“I always seemed to be searching for the lost years. My real mother died when I was nineteen months old and my sister was one month. In the same week my Dad was called up for the War. Unable to get anyone to look after two young children, Dad paid a woman to look after me, while my sister was adopted by an aunt and uncle. My father re-married when I was seven, and I have two half brothers and one half sister. As I grew up none of my family would let me speak about the past, making it a taboo subject. Because of this I used to fall out with them on and off. I am now forty three, and when my father died five years ago, I got in such a rage, telling my family I was never one of them, and now that Dad was dead I had no family. The guilt and depression I felt about this was what led me to go to the hypnotherapist.

“This year, in January, forty one years from the day my own mother died, my stepmother died. This sent me into such agonising emotions I had to give up my job, and was near to a nervous breakdown. However, on the nineteenth of March I had this dream.

“My son had a spray which made him very small. He was able to speak to and see various small characters and Walt Disney people. He sprayed me so I could see the characters too. He found a tiny friend, a girl of his own age. He was so small – insect size – that when he crossed a road with his friends he got trodden on. I had a terrible feeling of loss. Then my son laughed and said, ‘We are all okay. We are too small for anyone to hurt us.’

“My son sprayed other members of the family and I began to have the feeling I knew the answer to my years of depression and guilt. Then we were walking down a sunny promenade. I saw my father sitting on a bench. I hesitated, feeling I could not go to him. My son told me not to worry. He said, ‘If you can’t love your father I will love you both as son and Father. If you are too silly as grown ups to see it doesn’t matter about all the past, I’ll make up the love to you.’ The little girl with him went to my father and said the same thing. Then my father and I both laughed and went to each other, thinking how silly we had been all those years. We both got the feeling of forgiveness and saw how we had wasted all those years because we didn’t have the simple love of a child.

“My father had then been sprayed and could see the characters, who all began to dance. On the beach nearby were my stepsister and stepbrother and wife, sun-bathing in the warmth. Instead of my usual pit feeling I felt playful and kicked some sand over them. I had the wonderful feeling of happiness and floating. I told them the story, and said the answer was so simple. Forgive each other, love and forget the past and look to the future. I felt it was a miracle, and knew it was the answer to finding peace with my family, living and deceased. And as the dream ended there was a crescendo of moving music. All the Disney characters were there, with pairs of birds in nests all around in trees. They had little comic notices hung outside such as ‘Goodnight’, ‘God Bless’, ‘Don’t Snore.’

“Since the dream, six months ago, I have become reconciled with most of my family, though I doubt if they can understand the reasoning behind it. I now have this wonderful feeling of well-being. ‘Though life still has its difficulties.’”

May’s dream shows how one does not necessarily have to interpret the symbols to find healing or understanding. The dream itself is clear enough to understand directly. Also the dream actually gives May the direct experience of what it feels like to forgive, to feel the warmth of love, and to look forward instead of back. She had developed the habit from a year of psychotherapy, of looking within herself for answers, and expecting help from her dreams. So those things are important.

This last dream shows the funny side of what we are doing when we hold on to rigid self-righteousness, and thereby avoid forgiveness.

Some time ago I had a dream that illustrates this situation. In the dream I stood facing myself. The second me stood above on something, and was condemning me for not being as good a father as I might have been. Meanwhile I stood below begging forgiveness for all the wrong things I had done, and feeling terribly guilty and an awful failure. But gradually the funny side of the situation struck me, and I called out to the second me, ‘Come down from there, you fool. You’re only me condemning myself and making me a failure.’

When I woke from the dream I could see how true the dream was, and what a destructive habit I had. If I projected the feeling of being a second-rate father, my children would feel it and believe they were second-rate children.

Many of us in fact have such a voice, which stands superior, creating less creativity and depression.

Part of the wonder of dreams is that through them the unconscious activities in us are made conscious. Our self-destructive habits are brought to light, the whisperings of our fears are heard and dealt with.

Therefore, by expecting help and an experience of forgiveness to occur in your dreams you may be able to bring it about. However, if this does not occur, you can use the Empty Chair technique.

For this, you will need two chairs place opposite each other and fairly close. Before you start you need to define what hurt, or what anger you are going to deal with, and to what person the anger or grudge is directed.

When you have done this, and you have set the scene, you sit in one of the chairs. You now imagine your feelings of anger or hurt in the form of a person sitting opposite you. Give them a name if you can.

Now ask them what they are upset or hurt about. Then sit in what was the empty chair and take on the role of the hurt character. Do not attempt to be the two aspects of yourself at the same time. If you want to comment on something that has been said by the first character, move back to the other chair.

As the hurt character, do not edit or repressed what you feel. You can be as angry, vocal and emotional as you like. Nobody is going to get hurt, because nobody is there to hear or receive what is expressed except yourself.

For example, as the hurt character I might say, “There’s no way I am going to forgive them. Bugger me, they did it in cold blood! If you forgive somebody like that, they could easily creep back into your favour and do it again!”

As yourself, you could reply to this as, “There is a difference between forgiving and forgetting. Nobody is asking you to forget. That would be silly because you would not have learned from the event. What I am asking you is what you feel, and what damage your feelings are creating in our life?”

Allow your imagination and creative fantasy to take part in this conversation. If you get stuck, wait for inspiration. Perhaps remind the hurt and unforgiving character that what they are doing is creating difficulties for both of you. If necessary, come back to this several times until you feel a real shift and sense that forgiveness has happened.

So, to sum up, look to your dreams for help in resolving the pains and anger that may arise because you cannot forgive.

Be ready to feel things you may not have faced before, as Stephanie did in her dream.

Confront yourself with the negative effects that lack of forgiveness is producing in your life.

Be patient with yourself. Sometimes these shifts take time, and perhaps occasionally need events to push you into the change.

Copyright © 1999-2010 Tony Crisp | All rights reserved