I was sitting in a bar in Costa Rica when a very special woman filled my hands with table salt, napkins, a ketchup bottle, and other odds and ends she could reach. My hands were stretched to their limit.
She then sat a pepper shaker right in front of me and told me to pick it up. Of course, I couldn’t. I’d either have to drop everything else and pick it up, or I could keep a hold on to that ketchup for dear life.
This woman was an emotional healer. She told me the pepper shaker was my future. The goodness. The love. I could choose to pick it up if only I’d let go of everything else I was holding onto tightly. AKA unforgiveness.
“We can’t hold everything,” she said, “You have to let go of anything that doesn’t serve you anymore if you ever have any hope of picking up all that love.”
“Let it go,” she said.
I knew exactly what she had seen in my life. My heart was consumed with memories of times somebody had done me wrong, none of whom I had forgiven. I was so inflamed with bitterness and unforgiveness, I wasn’t opening myself up fully to love.
If we as women want to capture fulfilling lives in which we deeply love ourselves, find genuine love, and then grow that love, we can’t keep filling up our lives with unforgiveness. Our hands can only hold on to so much.
The point she was making I understood: forgiveness is the only path toward love. Got it. But how do you even start to forgive? How do you accept the apologies you’ve never received? How do you let go of bitterness and hate to make extra room for love.
This is how I’ve been going about letting go to make room for deeper love. It is working for me. Notice I didn’t say “worked.” Forgiveness is a process. Healing takes time. But both my love life and my relationship with myself have felt the benefits of letting go.
Step 1: Make a list of those you need to forgive
If admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming addiction, this list of names was my admission. I took a couple hours and thought long and hard about everyone who I hadn’t fully forgiven yet. I wrote them on a piece of paper nobody else would ever have to see.
Consider these people for your own list:
1. Past Partners
This is a big one. Maybe they were terrible and hurt you, or maybe they were wonderful and left you, or maybe they were indifferent and scarred you – you will be trapped by them until you find a way to let go of the hurt, hate, and bitterness.
Forgiving them doesn’t mean what they did was okay. It’s not excusing them. It is refusing to allow their behaviors to continue to affect each and every relationship you have from here on out – including the one with yourself.
Sometimes forgiving a past partner comes with a conversation, but most of the time you have to do the hard work on your own.
2. Current Partner
If you are with someone now, I know your current partner has messed up big time. I know this because all partners mess up big time. It’s the human condition. Finding a way to forgive them is the only way you can continue to build your love. Racking up lists of things they did wrong that you refuse to forgive is stopping you from a fulfilling relationship.
If you are working through forgiveness and realize what they did is a total dealbreaker, you can choose to step away. That does not mean you halt the forgiveness process, you choose to move them to the “past partner” section and forgive them, too.
3. Your Parents
Even if you had the best parents in the world, they screwed up. They scarred you a little bit. That’s just how life goes. Or perhaps they were not nearly the best parents in the world and they screwed you up quite a bit. Either way, add them to the list.
The hard part about how to forgive a parent is that they are supposed to be your protectors, your biggest fans, and your wise counsel. They should be the safe place you go, and that’s not always the case. What they were supposed to do, may not have happened. But it did.
When you forgive your parents of the wrongs they did against you and the ways they set you up for love troubles, you aren’t giving them a hall pass and saying everything is okay. This isn’t denial. You are simply releasing the constant emotional and mental irritation of reliving how it was vs. how it should have been.
You’re essentially freeing yourself. Which means you also separate yourself as an individual. Yes, they played a huge part in who you are, but you are your own person. Which means you get to embrace healthy relationships free from any baggage your parents may have handed you.
4. Friends From Now And Then
Friends play a big part in our lives. Our interactions with them can affect the interactions we have in our love lives. Whether their infraction was small or painfully large, forgiving them will free your hands up even more to grab the goodness and the love that you’d rather have in your life.
It is important to get all of your bitterness out in the open, so feel free to reach back some time and list those from many years back. You may be surprised how many things from childhood affect the way you interact with people you are close to today.
Those who lead and teach us are similar to our parents. They should have our best in mind, but that doesn’t happen all the time. This could be former schoolteachers, university professors, pastors, mentors, counselors, etc. These people don’t always leave positive experiences. Some actually leave quite painful and negative messes in our paths.
For me, this was a huge category. I had a pastor in my past who behaved in such a despicable way, my feelings toward him were directly affecting the relationship with my loving, caring, wonderful boyfriend. Learning how to forgive (though never condone) that situation day by day, gives me freedom.
I added myself to my list. I have lists upon lists of things I’ve done that I like to beat myself up over. The lack of forgiveness I had for myself was the largest item in my hand keeping me from picking up the fullness of love. Maybe it’s keeping you from finding love altogether.
You are doing the best you can. Remember that. Apologize when you need to and then offer yourself forgiveness – even if they don’t forgive you.
Step 2: Forgive like you’d pay off debt
You know Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball idea? If you pay off the smallest balances first, you can then add those payments onto the bigger balances. This allows you to pay off debt more quickly. I stole this finance idea and made it a heart idea.
I looked through my list and instantly saw names of really good people. Their offenses were minor or unintentional. And against the list of other names with offenses including abuse or manipulation, I could easily see these small offenses as a part of humanity and quickly extended forgiveness.
My list grew shorter. I had less in my hands, which means I had more capability to start dealing with the harder names. Eventually those in the middle ground were forgiven too. I did this in many ways – sending a prayer for their happiness out to the universe, trying to see a different side, remembering when I’d done something similar to someone else, etc.
What I was left with were the big offenders. Those who greatly wronged me. But after forgiving so many others, I had more energy and strength to start tackling these difficult emotions.
Step 3: Make a list of what type of love I wanted to pick up instead
Now that my hands weren’t as full of bitterness, I had space to think about what type of love I wanted to pick up instead.
For you, this could include:
- Finding somebody who loves me just like I am.
- Refusing to date jerks who treat me like all these people I needed to learn how to forgive.
- Wanting the company of a partner, instead of needing it.
- Strengthening my relationship with my partner.
- Getting to a new place of vulnerability with my partner.
- Accepting myself as worthy.
That woman in the Costa Rican bar gave me one of the most precious lessons in my life. The lesson really is simple – nothing that a few condiment jars cannot explain. Yet forgiveness is one of the most difficult and trying things we take on as human beings. We all struggle with how to forgive.
But our lives, our love lives in particular, depend upon it. Give your heart the room it needs to find and strengthen love. Don’t squelch love my holding on to things you cannot go back and change.
You can change an unforgiving heart, though. You can free yourself and give yourself the gift of being ready to embrace love fully.
Let it go.