You know what would help people more than anything else during a breakup, but that they’re least likely to do?
In fact, the single most powerful, transformative tool you can use during and after a breakup is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a really tricky subject for people. There’s something in the concept that smacks of letting someone else get away with something. And, when you’ve just had your heart shattered into a million pieces, I completely understand the sick pleasure in withholding forgiveness, like we’re holding witness, protecting ourselves from getting hurt again.
By withholding forgiveness, the stubborn, small part of us gets to say “no” and put up a flimsy, not real but still substantial bid for control.
And, tons of the crap that we do in relationships has to do with warding off even the vague HINT of losing control. Withholding our forgiveness is one way that our ego attempts to assert control over a situation it has zero control over. But, withholding forgiveness to gain control is like bringing a paper shield to a gunfight. It’s ineffective, messy and likely to result in grave emotional injury to no one except yourself.
Here’s 4 essential reasons why forgiving your ex after a breakup is so important:
1. Holding on to any negative emotion ONLY HURTS YOU.
Right now, the person you’re angry/hurt/annoyed with is out there in the world somewhere having an awesome time, probably while skipping around, maybe eating ice cream.
Okay, maybe not actual, bona-fide skipping, but you get the idea.
Your ex is still able to smile while you’re gritting your teeth, hurting yourself, chewing on that grudge. You are not, I repeat, NOT doing yourself any good in the health or sanity department by carrying that torch of resentment around like you’re the deranged light bearer for a new generation. You MUST let it go. Go hit a heavy bag at the gym several hundred times and move yourself squarely into the present moment. Then do your best to leave the past in the past and stay here. It’s nicer.
While you’re at it, stop complaining about your ex to everyone who will listen. There a psychological phenomenon called spontaneous trait transference. This is when people are “perceived as possessing the very traits they describe in others.” In a nutshell, this means that every time you tell anyone who will listen about your crazy ex, the net effect is that everyone you tell thinks you’re crazy too. That ick rubs off!
Whether your ex really, really did you wrong or not, you don’t want it to stick to you, right? Not a good look. So while you’re opening your present (get it? HA!), lay off the trash talk.
2. Forgiveness does not mean that you must have the person who hurt you in your life.
I think people mistake kindergarten playground forgiveness with adult forgiveness a lot of the time.
When you’re a kid, the adults will make someone say they’re sorry and then you’ll have to keep going to recess together for the next six months to a year, if not for the rest of the time you’re at school.
When you’re a kid, you can do whatever you want with your true feelings about the other kid, but you’re going to have to see them all the time, so you’d better figure out how to coexist somehow. Skipping town and reinventing yourself just isn’t a huge option at age 7. The path of least resistance is to try to forget it and move on—even though what happened may have been truly hurtful.
As an adult, you have the luxury of choice. You don’t have to hug and make up. You can change jobs, leave people behind, the works. You aren’t stuck there making nice. Forgiveness is an intellectual exercise for you. Remember this and use it to your advantage.
3. Withholding forgiveness is usually a smokescreen that we use to keep punishing ourselves.
Another type of psychological phenomena to understand is normal transference. Transference is unconsciously redirecting your feelings from one person to another. This can imply a lot of different things, but in the case of our failed relationships we might decide that the other person was totally at fault or completely blameless for what happened. We might direct all of our hurt and anger onto them when we’re really sad and hurt that we messed up… again.
We might decide that we were the sole reason for the end of the relationship and try to take ourselves down with a lot of unnecessary self-blame and self pity. Or we may decide the other person was a vicious hose beast-from-Hell but realize on some level that we picked them.
Since we don’t want to go through that again, we might blame ourselves for not seeing the signs they were a terrible person. Either way, all that vitriol comes right back and lands on us.
When we refuse to forgive someone else, there’s an element of refusing to examine our real part in the end of a relationship.
We’re hardest on ourselves but it’s the hardest emotional work to do. So it’s easiest to toss all that toxic blame onto our ex, refuse to soften toward them and “move on with our life.”
Then, unless we’re willing to look at our stuff and quit the blame game, we don’t get it when history repeats itself with our next partner. Without forgiveness for our part, all that crap is still buried from the last 16 times we tried this relationship thing.
4. Without forgiveness, you’re asking the universe to keep bringing you what hurt you.
You don’t have to feel superstitious that you’ll keep getting hurt in the same way over and over if you dare to release the pain of the past. In fact, the opposite is most often true. Forgiving everyone involved clears off the slate.
If you think that by withholding forgiveness, you’re magically preventing yourself from getting hurt again, you’re wrong. That’s because a basic law of the universe is that you get what you focus on. By not letting it go, you’re holding whatever it is in your vibration and not allowing the magic forces of time and perspective to heal you and give you something awesome in the future. You’re essentially begging for more of what sucked about your ex.
Holding on hurts your future. If you’re angry and hurting right now, I get it. I really do. But if you choose to forgive, you’re choosing yourself.