Funny title, but the quality of your future is serious business.

I forgive you.

Three of the most profound words a human can ever speak.

The transformative power of those 11 characters, when spoken authentically, is incredibly astounding. I cannot begin to even describe how these words have transformed my life for the better.

For one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned is that you will never be able to move forward with life if you have not healed the past. The trauma, pain and hurt of deeds done long ago will continue to resurface and plague the present day unless you commit to starting the long journey of forgiveness.

Forgiveness for others and ultimately for yourself is the only way forward.

Flashback to the year 1999. I was 15 years old and so confused by life. I was a good student, played sports and had a lot of good friends. Piece by piece over the next few years, my life as I knew it would completely unravel.

My parents got divorced. Both of my parents had their own personal struggles during this time and really couldn’t be there for me. A close family member stole my identity and racked up all kinds of bad debt in my name.

I became angry, bitter and depressed. Slowly my personality changed. I adopted the “why me” story and “screw them” mentality. My lifelong good friends slowly started to drop out of my life. Progressively from the age of 16 onward, I was forced to grow up very quickly and I felt like I had to do it all by myself.

I never put words to it at the time, but I felt abandoned and I internalized this damaging story deep into my subconscious.

Some of this was not my choosing. But, what I didn’t want to recognize is that some of it was.

The more I believed this story, the more I acted on it and I started making more and more poor choices with my life. During my college years, I can see a consistent pattern of desperately trying to connect with people in all the wrong ways, only to see my abandonment story play out before my eyes every time.

And then I would think to myself, “I knew they would end up doing this”. The cycle repeated and the stories became more entrenched.

BELIEFS HAVE THE POWER TO CREATE AND THE POWER TO DESTROY

~TONY ROBBINS

My belief in that story was so powerful that it was truly a self-fulfilling prophecy. Looking back, now I even see how I would self-sabotage situations so the outcome would be consistent with those beliefs.

This is exactly why people say that our beliefs control our destiny in life. I now know this to be an undeniable life truth.

My beliefs continue to have this power over me to this day, as they do over every human being. The difference now is that I’m aware of my beliefs. That awareness led to my ability to acknowledge the pain of the past, and to question and slowly change my beliefs.

I won’t lie, changing a belief takes a lot of courage and openness. Nobody, no matter how destructive the belief, likes to be challenged. Essentially, you have to be willing to question something you have come to know as truth, possibly with mountains of “evidence” to the contrary.

In my eyes, that’s what the process of forgiveness is all about. Having the courage to challenge our beliefs about ourselves and others. Trying to understand hurtful situations from a different, forgiving, perspective.

It took me many years to realize my internal stories of abandonment and how they influenced my life. For a while I was even angry with myself for the bad decisions I made because of these beliefs. Especially being a perfectionist, I was ashamed and embarrassed by some of my choices.

That shame only became another source of pain in my life – one I brought on myself. Of course, I would never admit that I had contributed to my own pain… that is until I had the courage to examine everything.

Now, I look back on that time and I don’t see an idiot that should have known better, I see a person acting out of pain. I see a person that didn’t have the tools to make sense of everything. I was only doing the best I could with the information available to me (albeit incomplete information).

It’s not shameful that I was hurt and didn’t know how to deal with it. That I can forgive.

It is not shameful for what you’ve done out of hurt either.

This was my path to true healing and forgiveness. It is yours too.

IF YOU DO NOT TRANSFORM YOUR PAIN, YOU WILL ALMOST CERTAINLY TRANSMIT IT

~BUDDHA

Once I began to truly view my past actions from a place of self-compassion and love, forgiveness was easy. It was magic.

This self-forgiveness spurred other thoughts. I started to think about other people that had hurt me and realized, the same must be true for them also.

If a person has been hurt and has not dealt with it, they most likely will make decisions from a place of hurt. As the saying goes, hurt people, hurt people. And they hurt themselves.

Eventually, I realized that while I may not like or agree with the decisions of others, they have their own damaging stories and beliefs that heavily influence their actions. EXACTLY like me.

The only difference is, I don’t have access to the beliefs of others. I only have my perspective. And I tend to think that we as humans, myself included, fill in that gap of what we don’t know with our own beliefs.

Situations are never as black and white as we paint them. The complete lack of willingness to be vulnerable in our society creates enormous gaps in information and thus, lack of understanding between people in conflict. We don’t like to be vulnerable enough to share our pain, even though it might spark the light of understanding.

As it was when I forgave myself, understanding is the foundation for forgiveness.

And conversely, the inability to forgive is driven by one thing only: FEAR.

The fear that being vulnerable will make us appear insignificant, weak, stupid or unlovable.

The fear that questioning or changing our beliefs will make us appear insignificant, weak, stupid or unlovable.

Isn’t it ironic that the same fears that keep us unwilling to share our real stories are the same fears that keep us holding on to all kinds of detrimental beliefs?

FEAR keeps us stuck in our ways and ultimately stuck in our pain.  We often don’t listen to connect, understand or forgive, we listen to reaffirm our own beliefs and stories. We look for evidence that we are right and the other person is wrong. And we do all of this unconsciously.

This is how grudges and hatred start. This is how families can be split apart, never to be reunited in love. This is how a nation can be so divided, with no reconciliation in sight.

Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What’s silly about all this is that the origins of our differences actually highlight our similarities more than anything. We all want to be loved, appreciated, and feel significant. We all have fears and pain that influence our behaviors and we all have to learn how to navigate this thing called life.

So, my friends, all we need to forgive each other is right here.

We can use our common human experience to understand why someone would act out of pain, without knowing the other person’s source of that pain.

To me at the heart of forgiveness is the true definition of compassion. Being able to understand others not through the tangible things we know like, taste, touch, sight and smell, but being able to understand others with our hearts, in spite of what we don’t know.

Everybody, everywhere, is always doing the best with what they know. They just don’t know the same things as you.

NOTHING EVER GOES AWAY UNTIL IT TEACHES US WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW

~PEMA CHÖDRÖN

I can tell you from experience that those fears that keep us stuck are simply lies. Being vulnerable and challenging my beliefs has only allowed me to grow as a person and live an IMMENSELY happier and fulfilling life.

As with most things, we can’t force people to change their opinions or beliefs. It has to come from within. And as such, the only way we can impact or influence others, is to have the courage to step up ourselves.

We must take responsibility for our role in the past, whether we chose it or not.

We must take responsibility as human beings to acknowledge and heal our own pain, so we don’t transfer it to others or make our own pain worse.

We must recognize that our past has a purpose. To learn what your damaging stories and beliefs are, and to challenge them. To forgive. To learn true compassion and then teach others through your example.

Your future is bright; shining and gleaming with possibility. This is the gift of forgiveness. And it’s infinitely more powerful than any grudge.