reader request : is forgiving a skill or a choice?

Forgiveness

 

Note: The following article is based on a request from a reader. If there's a topic you'd like me to write about, feel free to email me here, leave a message in the comments, or reach out to my via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram.

 

A few weeks back, I received a request from a reader asking me to write about whether I think forgiveness is a skill or a choice. It was perfect timing for me to receive this request because I happened to be struggling to wrap my head around the topic of forgiveness myself. Someone had hurt me quite unexpectedly, and the pain was making it difficult for me to let go of negative feelings and actually forgive. So, when I received this request in my in-box, I couldn't believe the timing. It was just the topic I needed to be thinking about, and the more I pondered the question, the more I realized: forgiveness is both a choice and a skill. 

In order to forgive, you have to actively choose it. (Which can be hard, I know!) And to become good a forgiveness you have to practice it, the way you would any other skill. If you're lucky, you won't have a lot of opportunities to practice, but most of us do encounter quite a few situations in which we can practice forgiving others. Whether it's forgiving someone who has cut you off in traffic or forgiving someone who has caused your heart to break, opportunities for choosing forgiveness are likely to crop up often. 

For some, forgiveness comes easily. They're all too happy to let go of the ways others have hurt them -- and this is a great skill to possess. For others (ahem, most of us), forgiveness is tricky. It's hard, sometimes, not to let being hurt or offended impact the way you think about and interact with others. It's hard not to let these pains (both big and small) influence your own mindset. But, as I've written about before, forgiveness is freedom. The more easily you forgive others, the more positive your life will be. (Keep in mind that forgiving others isn't the same as condoning their behavior. You can forgive while still believing the other person is wrong. You can forgive someone you never want to speak to again.) 

Though forgiveness is one of the surest paths to emotional freedom, it's often a difficult trek to make, which is why it requires both the act of choosing to forgive and the art of mastering forgiveness as a skill. Both of these can be challenging, the the skill part can be extra tricky. Saying you're going to choose to forgive is one thing -- actually putting it into practice is something else entirely. 

I believe there are four considerations when it comes to practicing forgiveness, and I'll outline them in a bit more detail below. Understanding and considering these four things can make practicing forgiveness a lot easier.  

 

  1. CONSIDER WHAT UPSET YOU. 

    First and foremost, it's important to consider what actually upset you. Focus on why exactly you're hurt. Try your best not to bring in anything else into this consideration. For example, if you're angry about something your partner did, focus only on that specific incident (not on all the times s/he has upset you). Don't bring in past grudges or your own personal baggage (e.g., the way that your last partner did the same anger-inducing thing). Narrowing in on exactly what has hurt you will allow you to assess why exactly you're hurting, if there's anything the other person can do to right the wrong, and will give you information you might need for avoiding similar situations in the future. 


  2. CONSIDER THE OTHER PERSON. 

    After considering the specifics of the situation, it's time to turn your focus to the person (or people) who has hurt you. Try, as best you can, to put yourself in his/her shoes. Is it possible that the pain caused was unintentional? Is it possible that the other person might believe he/she is doing the right thing or making the situation better in some way? Is there a chance that someone else might be trying to help you? Or that s/he might be dealing with his/her own pain? Sometimes the answers these questions will be no (and that's okay), but quite often we'll find that someone else isn't intentionally trying to hurt us, which can make it easier to forgive them. 


  3. CONSIDER YOUR OWN POSITION. 

    Once you've closely looked at the situation and the person who has hurt you, it's time to turn your gaze inward and consider where you're coming from. Why are you so hurt by this situation? Is it really about this or is something else impacting how you feel? (For example, let's say you're upset with your spouse for not following through but you're doubly irritated at him/her because you just had a really bad day at work.) This is not to say that someone else's actions are your fault, but it's merely an encouragement to look at where you're coming from. What's happened in the past that's impacting how you feel now? What's going on in the present that might be influencing the situation? These facts are not meant to condone another's behavior, but to help you see the bigger picture and how interconnected everything is. 


  4. CONSIDER THE FUTURE. 

    After taking the situation, others, and yourself into consideration, now it's time to consider what is going to make this situation better for you (and for others). Will holding on to anger and unhappiness make your world a better place? Will clinging to the past improve your present and future? The answer to these questions is definitely no. No matter what the situation, holding on to anger, disgust, or any other unpleasant feelings will not make your world a better place. It will only hurt your heart more and make it more difficult for you to live a positive, present life. Even if someone has treated you terribly, forgiving them will only help you. Choosing not to forgive will only continue to cause you pain in the future (and who wants that?!). 

 

These four considerations can really aid in the art of forgiveness. However, like developing any skill, mastering forgiveness takes time and effort. Don't give up on it, even when it's hard. Believe me, I know from experience that forgiving is always better than holding on to a grudge. It may seem nearly impossible to forgive, especially if someone has hurt you (or someone you love) deeply, but the more you practice forgiveness, the more freedom you'll experience. And remember: the act of forgiving is something that frees you, not the person who hurt you. You have everything to gain by forgiving and nothing to lose.  

 

Loving-Your-Self

Forgiving others (and yourself!) is an amazing act of self-love. Want to empower yourself with some more serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


reader request: how to protect your heart

Protect-Your-Heart

 

Happy 2016, Positively Present readers! I'm so excited to kick off this new year with you. There are so many exciting projects in the works for the coming months -- new books, new products, new projects, and more -- and I can't wait to share them with you! To begin the new year, I'm starting off with a new type of post: Reader Request. I often receive emails, Instagram comments, blog post comments, etc. from readers asking if I'd write about a specific topic. I love when I receive requests because it tells me what you want to read and it inspires me to explore topics I might not have considered. If you have a request, contact me and I may just write about it for you! 

 

The first Reader's Request is a great one because it's a topic I've struggled with it a lot over the past year or so, but one I've avoided writing about (for a number of reasons): protecting your heart. ('Bet you guessed it from the title, didn't you?) A few weeks ago, I posted an image on Instagram featuring the words "Protect Your [Heart]," and one of my followers asked me if I'd write an article about how to actually do that. As soon as I read her comment, I knew it would be a great topic to write about -- especially because it's something I've struggled with personally. 

I'll be honest: I'm not the best at protecting my heart. I love love so much that sometimes I don't always make the best heart-related choices. For example, I cling to romantic notions of what I think something could be and ignore what it is. I'm often so hopeful things will work out someday that I often avoid dealing with what's happening now. (Healthy, I know...) When it comes to love, hopefulness isn't always a bad thing, but sometimes I'm so frantically hopeful that I swing the door to my heart wide open when it might be better slammed shut. 

Because, you see, a wide open door can lead to some negative consequences. A door left constantly ajar allows others to come and go as they please. When you don't push the door closed, others can (and will) call the shots. When you don't remember to lock the door, sometimes the wrong kinds of people can walk right on in. A lot of us have a hard time turning the lock because we fear missing out on a possibility of love (even if we know, deep down, that it's not right); or we think if we wait a little longer or try a little harder, something will change; or we believe if we close the door on someone, no one else will ever come along; or we assume if we let a lot of people through the door, one is bound to end in happily-ever-after. 

Whatever the reason (and all of us open-heart-door types have them!), keeping the door to your heart wide open at all times can result in a lot of unnecessary pain and heartache. On the flip side, so can closing off your heart completely, but for the sake of this article, we're going to focus on how to protect your heart. (If you struggle with letting love in, check out Let Go & Let It In: How to Stop Being Afraid of Love.) Even though, admittedly, I'm not the best at protecting my own heart, here are some of the ways I've learned to keep watch over my heart...

 

KNOW WHEN TO OPEN THE DOOR

Knowing when to open the door to your heart is the absolute best way to protect it. It's much easier to stop someone from coming in in the first place than it is to ask them to leave later. It's not always easy to know when you should or shouldn't open the door, but usually you have a gut instinct about someone -- and you should listen to it. Whether you want to admit it or not, you know, deep down, whether or not someone deserves to be invited into your world. Pay attention to what your initial reaction to someone tells you. 

 

PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU FEEL

After you've let someone have access to your heart, pay attention to how you feel when you're with that person. Really take note of how you feel when you think about him or her. And, in particular, pay attention to how you feel after you spend time with that person. Sometimes, when you're caught up in a romance, you'll feel great with the person, but when you're not with him/her, you feel anxious or uncertain or even unhappy. Paying close attention to your feelings will give you instant access to insights that will tell you whether or not someone is worthy of your time and effort. 

 

COMMUNICATE YOUR FEELINGS

Communication, in any kind of relationship, is so important. If you don't talk about how you feel with someone else, you're bound to have all sorts of problems and misunderstandings. (Full disclosure: I am literally terrible at this. I have gone years without talking about how I feel, which, I know, is absurd, and, as you might imagine, hasn't work out too well for me. Because I'm so bad at it, I know just how important it is.) The more open, honest, and communicative you are with someone else, the more you'll learn about him/her, and the more you know, the better you'll be at making decisions regarding your heart. 

 

LET GO OF ATTACHMENT

This is probably one of the best heart-protection tips -- and tips for generally living a positive life. The only reason we have pain in our lives is because we're too attached to people, things, situations, or ideas. Detaching from people, in particular, is really hard. I recently read this article "Letting Go of Attachment: From A to Zen" and I found it super eye-opening and helpful. When you're not clinging to someone (or the idea of someone), you're able to have a clearer vision of who someone really is. The more clarity you have, the more you'll know whether or not someone is really good for you or not. 

 

WATCH WHAT PEOPLE DO (NOT SAY)

You've probably heard this type of advice before, but it's vital when it comes to protecting your heart. People can say absolutely anything they want at any time, and it's easy to believe that words are enough. But they're not. What matters, when it comes to matters of the heart, is action. To protect your heart, pay attention not to what people say, but to what they do. For example, saying "I love you" means nothing if they don't treat you in a loving way. It's easy to get swept away with what's being said, but actions are the only thing that matters when it comes to protecting your heart. 

 

DON'T FEAR BEING ALONE

A lot of us fail to protect our hearts because we're afraid of being alone, and we'd rather tolerate being treated badly than be faced with solitude. This is very bad for the protection of the heart because it can cause you to stay in situations that make you feel unhappy for much longer than you need to. One of the very best ways to protect your heart is to be okay with being alone. If you're comfortable with solitude, you won't stay in bad situations longer than necessary, and you won't settle for less than you deserve simply because you're lonely. 

 

Protecting your heart is hard work, and I definitely struggle with it myself, but I hope these tips help you if you're struggling to find what's best for you. Most of us value our relationships so highly, but we don't always pay attention to how we really, truly feel when we're in (or out of) them. Protecting your heart doesn't mean closing the door to possibilities or love; it means making sure that the people and experiences you let in are worthy of your love.  

 

 

Loving-Your-Self

Protecting your heart goes hand-in-hand with self-love. Want to empower yourself with some serious self-love and acceptance? Start loving yourself (or increase the love you already have for yourself!) with the inspiration and motivation found in Loving Your Self: An Empowering Workbook for Increasing Self-LoveFilled with uplifting encouragement, thought-provoking questions, and engaging exercises, Loving Your Self is an essential tool for mastering the art of self-love. Learn more about the workbook here and purchase your own copy here.


10 ways to handle your heartbreak

Love-Miss
 

 

A couple weeks ago, I received an email from Catherine,* a young woman suffering from the heart-wrenching pain of losing her first love. In the email, she told me how her boyfriend had recently broken up with her. Even though the relationship was not a positive one (he broke her trust, flirted with others, gave less than he took, etc.), she was crushed by the relationship's end. She knew she was better off without the him, but that knowledge didn't make the loss easier to bear. She wrote,* "Being with him was like a high. It wasn't a healthy situation and ultimately he didn't make me happier, but I am still sick after losing him." 

Immediately upon reading her email, I was transported back to a time in my life when I was young and desperately in love for the first time. That first love is a wild thing, so consuming and intoxicating, and the end of it was like the worst kind of withdraw — a physical and emotional ache that felt endless. Heartbreak is always hard, but the first time is the worst because you haven't yet survived it, and it feels like you'll never get past the pain. 

Reading Catherine's email, I could remember just how it felt to be in her shoes. Even though I'd been the one to end the relationship back then, the pain had been raw and real and it had felt as if nothing would ever ease the ache. Straightaway I wrote her back, hoping I could used what I learned from my first heartbreak (and many subsequent heartbreaks!) to help her cope with the loss. The most important thing to remember, I wrote to her, is this: one day you will feel better. It might take a long time (it's different for every situation), but it will happen. You will also find love again. It might not feel like it's possible in the midst of losing that first love, but it will happen.

Of course, most of us have heard these things before. I know how meaningless these words can sound when your heart is breaking, so I offered up some practical advice to help her manage the heartache: 

 

  1. TAKE A SOCIAL MEDIA TIME-OUT. 

    First and foremost, social media is a gateway to checking up on your ex — something that's never healthy or productive. If at all possible, delete him or her from your accounts so you aren't tempted to look at (or accidentally come across) updates. It might sound extreme or petty, but if it helps you get through it, who cares what your ex thinks? Also, avoiding social media in general for a little while can be helpful; it's really hard not to compare where you are to where others are. Seeing pictures of happy, smiling couples will only reinforce any loneliness you're feeling. 

  2. FIND A NEW SOCIAL OUTLET. 

    When you're newly single, you have a lot of extra time on your hands. All the time you used to spend with or talking to your ex is now free time. This can trigger loneliness and sadness, which is why it's important to find new ways to spend all of that down time. Some ideas: make more plans with friends; join a local group or club; check out meet-ups in your area; join a recreational sport team; sign up for classes at your local college; take creative classes (art, dance, etc.). Whatever you do, it's important to find positive ways to spend your time. This can be tough if you're more introverted, but at least give one or two things a try. 

  3. SPEND TIME WITH HAPPY PEOPLE. 

    It might sound counterintuitive to surround yourself with joy when you're feeling sad, but the more time you spend with happy, positive people, the more their happiness will rub off on you. It's been proven that happiness is contagious and, from personal experience, I know this to be true. When you're hurting, it's very tempting to spend time alone or maybe even with other people who are in a negative state of mind (it might feel like they "get" you), but you'll benefit the most from surrounding yourself with uplifting people. 

  4. DON'T FORCE FRIENDSHIP (RIGHT AWAY). 

    One of the questions Catherine posed in her email was whether or not she would be able to be friends with her ex. When you're losing someone who has become a big part of your life, it's hard to envision not having them (even in some form) as part of your social circle. However, unless the break-up is 100% mutual, it's not the best idea to focus on creating a friendship right away. In the future, a friendship might come to be, but post-break-up, this shouldn't be something you worry about. This is the time to focus on you, not your ex. 

  5. AVOID "NEVER AGAIN" THOUGHTS. 

    After a break-up, it's hard not to have thoughts like "I'll never see him again" or "I'll never kiss him again," but these are not help for two reasons: (1) you never know what will happen — I've reconnected with many an ex, which is generally not a good idea, but it does happen — and (2) those kind of thoughts only stir up more despair. These thoughts make up "all-or-nothing" thinking, and they make you feel as if there is no other option other than "never again." Try to avoid these thoughts at all costs; they will only bring you down. 

  6. WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU WANT.

    After a particularly tough break-up, I once wrote down everything I wanted in the next guy I was going to date. And guess what? The next guy I met had almost every single trait! It sounds a bit unbelievable, but it worked for me and I know it's worked for others too. Instead of focusing on what you've lost, you're redirecting your attention to what you want — which makes it much more likely you'll get it. Plus, if you're struggling with staying present (as one does during heartbreak), focusing on the (positive!) future is much better than dwelling on the past. 

  7. DO NOT CONTACT HIM / HER.

    This can be incredibly difficult (especially if you were in a relationship in which you were in constant contact with one another), but don't do it. Delete the number; remove the email from your contacts; block social media accounts if necessary. Have a break-up buddy — a friend you can call/text when you want to reach out to your ex and use that buddy often. Also, don't give in to any excuses. You don't need to tell your ex about a funny article you saw or a video of his favorite celebrity. You don't need to ask her, "Hey, what was the name of that place where we...?" or wish him a happy random-holiday-that-no-one-cares about. No contact. No excuses. 

  8. START DATING AGAIN.

    Even if you don't feel ready, it feels nice meet new people and go on dates and it gives you something to do other than sit around at home and wallow in your new single status. Dating isn't always fun and it's a lot of work sometimes, but getting out there will be good for you — and you never know, you might just meet the love of your life! Important reminder: when on dates, do not talk about your ex. First of all, this is just rude. And, secondly, this new guy or girl doesn't (yet) care about your pain. Save your sob story for your friends and try your best to have a positive attitude with new people. 

  9. COMBAT YOUR ANXIETY.

    You might be feeling more anxious than usual, post break-up. Your life has been turned upside down in some ways and this can be hard to cope with. When you're feeling anxious, try focusing on your five senses. When your anxiety is bad and you feel panicky, it helps to pay attention to things happening right this moment (what you can see, smell, taste, feel, and hear). It won't completely take away the pain, but it'll bring you out of that endless cycle of panic that can come with the heartache. Try your hardest not to focus on the past (it's over) or the future (it hasn't happened yet), and you'll feel a lot less anxious. 

  10. HAVE A HOPEFUL HEART.

    Remind yourself (over and over again) that it will get better and you will find love again. It's hard to believe this in the midst of heartache and pain, but it's true and telling yourself this (even if you don't 100% believe it) will help you have hope. And when you have a hopeful heart, any pain is a lot easier to deal with. Hope can also help you take it one day at a time. Use a hopeful attitude to remind yourself, "I can get through today," or, when it really sucks, "I can get through the next hour. Or ten minutes. Or one second." Hope is really powerful!
 
If you're coping with a broken heart (or a loss of any kind), I hope these tips will help you. It can be hard to follow through on all of them (believe me, I know — I struggle to take my own advice a lot!), but don't give up. Keep trying to get through it and one day you will be on the other side of the pain, looking back on it and probably feeling thankful that you didn't end up with that person.
 
Also, never forget: you are enough. It might feel like you couldn't make a relationship work or the other person didn't want you, but know that some people aren't meant to be together (no matter how much you might want it) and the end of one thing can be the beginning of something else. It'll be scary to love again and risk being hurt, but don't let a broken heart deter you from loving again in the future because loving people is the very best thing you can do.  
 
For more inspiration on surviving loss and a broken heart, check out: 
 
 
30 Lessons I Learned from Love (for hope that you will find love again!)
 
 
 
 
*The name and details of the email have been changed or paraphrased to protect her privacy. Should you ever want to email me with a situation in which you're struggling to stay positive, you're more than welcome to reach out to me. However, it's important to keep in mind that I'm not a mental health professional or a therapist so any advice I give is based purely on my own experiences or research. 

 

 

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