We have all experienced heartbreak at some point in our life. Betrayal, rejection and abandonment might have been among the reasons behind it and at those times, it’s tempting to question our commitment and promise ourselves that we will never allow ourselves to get hurt again. When we do that, we hold on to the anger, unconsciously wanting those who hurt us to feel the same pain. A the same time, we use that anger to keep those who have hurt us far away.
We can’t bring ourselves to forgive them for the hurt they caused us and we hold on to a grudge in order to ‘punish’ them. We think: “They don’t deserve my forgiveness.” That may be true in the sense that they don’t deserve any gesture of goodwill from you and after all, isn’t that what forgiveness is?
However there is always a conflict within those feelings, a part of ourselves that believes the opposite of what we tell ourselves. If you peel back the anger and see what lies beneath, you will find shame. This part is so painful to face that we would rather get eaten up by anger.
This powerful feeling, the one that lies beneath the anger, believes:
I was wrong.
I did something wrong.
I must have been unlovable.
I must not have been worthy of something better.
We might believe that since everything that happens to us is a reflection of ourselves, when something is wrong, then we must be the source of that wrong-ness. No wonder it’s easier to just hold on to the anger rather than experience the pain of feeling unlovable or unworthy.
We usually form these relational algorithms (I am bad, I am wrong, I am unlovable, I am not worthy) in childhood, when our understanding of the world is limited. When our mother shouts at us, as a child, we don’t yet have the ability to reason that mother was upset because you killed the milk. Instead we jump straight to, “I was wrong and she stopped loving me.” We internalize this model and grow up with it.
Just because we are in an adult body does not mean that we have updated the way we operate in relationships. If someone is angry with us, betrays us, hurts us or rejects us, the conclusion we draw, perhaps on an unconscious level, is that we were not good enough, we were not worthy of their love. These patterns from childhood carry over into our adult relationships – how we behave at work, in our romantic relationships, in our parenting and how we care for ourselves, our boundaries and our resources. Until you consciously heal those old relational patterns you will keep coming up against the same storyline of ‘being unworthy’ and ‘being unlovable’ throughout your life.
But what does all this have to do with forgiveness? Too often we believe that forgiveness is the first step. I am here to tell you that it is actually the last step towards healing. Forget about forgiving the other person; instead focus on your healing. Before you try to forgive the other person or superficially ‘let it go,’ use the pain they caused you as a catalyst for healing the wounds they triggered inside you. The truth is that the hurt and pain from your most recent heartache is bringing forth pain from your childhood that you need to heal. It’s creating an opportunity to take your power back from others and to trust in your goodness and your self-worth. When you can actively ask “Would a person who loved me treat me this way?” instead of blindly believing in the notion of your unworthiness, then you are on the path toward healing.
Is it painful? Yes.
Is it worth it? Yes.
If you do the work, you will heal not only this current pain but your past pain, and it will even help with intergenerational pains.
To be free and to move toward wholeness and healing, we have to do this work again and again. We have to sit with the painful feelings and then show compassion again and again. We have to reprogram our hardwiring from childhood and heal the wounds all over again. But I promise you that it does get easier. While healing is an ongoing process, you will reach a place where you feel content and at peace with yourself most of the time.
Here are some things to consider as you heal your broken heart:
- Make an intention to heal. This means you commit to doing whatever it takes to heal. This means taming your ego and confronting your shadow, taking personal responsibility for your part in the relationship and doing the excruciating work of sitting with your most vulnerable feelings.
- Go inwards and ask yourself, ‘If there was no anger or hope, what other feelings would there be?’ Most likely you will come across a deep sadness and shame.
- Stay with the painful feelings and allow them to fully surface. Do this bit by bit or with a therapist if it’s too much to bear.
- Sit with your shame/sadness and have a conversation with it. What does it believe? Where does it sit inside you? How does it feel when you connect with it in your body? This is the part that most of us find intolerable. We immediately move in our head and disconnect from the embodied emotions. We rationalize, intellectualize, project and blame the other person for making us feel this way. If you stay with the emotions and keep contact with them in your body, you will move toward healing. You have to feel it to heal it.
- Show compassion to the part of you that is sad or ashamed. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Tell yourself it’s not your fault.Remind yourself that you are a good person and your love is good, that “I am enough” and “My love is enough.”
When you engage in this process, and see the broken heart as a calling from your spirit to heal what needs healing inside of you, forgiving the other person will eventually happen. And even if it doesn’t, you will be able to release them and the pain they caused you.