I have something to confess. I’m an Autumn denier. I try to hang on to the feeling of summer time for as long as I can each year. Living here in San Diego, California it’s a pretty easy thing to do. T-shirt and beach weather lingers well beyond the official turn of seasons in September. But even here, the coming of fall is unmistakable. The migratory birds have returned to our beaches and parks for the winter. Halloween is over and the seasonal costume shops have closed. This past weekend, daylight savings time ended, undeniably marking the end of summer as darkness now descends around 5 PM.
With fall clearly here, winter inevitably on its way and the end of another calendar year looming, we’re moving into holiday season. Here in the States, we celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of November, then hurtle right into the December holidays and New Years. For most of us, this time of year means getting together with family, visiting, celebrating and enjoying the company of the people we love most.
It can also be a stressful time, a time when close proximity with relatives brings up of old hurts, resentments, anger and blame. It can be a time when we find ourselves inextricably caught up in squabbles or arguments originating from incidents that occurred years or decades ago. What we hope to be a time of joy and pleasure in the company of family can easily devolve into unpleasantness, pettiness, anger and frustration.
Change the Dynamics
If you ever experience anything like this, perhaps it’s time for you to take some meaningful steps to change your family dynamics. By now you’ve probably discovered that you can’t effectively change the beliefs and behavior of others. But the good news is that you can always choose to change your own thoughts, words and actions. You can alter your relationship with family and create a new way to experience them by choosing to forgive and let go of the past.
Forgiveness is the key to letting go of both the petty grievances and the seeming insurmountable hurts of the past. It is a path to freedom from the snares of resentment and blame through healing and reconciliation. But far too many people seem to be unclear about what it means to forgive, why they should forgive and especially how to forgive. That’s why I wrote The Forgiveness Handbook – to serve as a simple guide to the what, why and how of forgiveness.
Most people don’t really understand that forgiveness is something that you do for yourself – it’s really not about the other person at all! Even with family members, when you choose to forgive you’re the one who’s set free from the old grievances and unhealthy patterns of relationship.
Excitement or Dread?
So this autumn as we move toward holiday season, notice if you have any little niggling feeling of trepidation or dread as you consider attending family gatherings. If you do, make a choice to set yourself free to be more fully expressed, joyful and relaxed with those you love. As you start to think about sharing time together and giving gifts to one another, you can also make a choice to give yourself the gift of forgiveness.
Of course I’m going to recommend that you start by getting a copy of The Forgiveness Handbook. It’s filled with stories and examples of the benefits you can gain by choosing to forgive yourself and others. In it you’ll also find a series of journaling exercises you can do and structures you can use to help you forgive.
Let’s be clear that forgiveness is a choice. You have to want to and be willing to forgive. Below is a short exercise you can do right now to help you open your mind, soften your heart and find more desire and willingness to forgive a family member who you resent or blame for some past hurt.
A Forgiveness Exercise
Sit down in a quiet place with a notebook or journal. ive yourself 10 – 15 minutes to complete this short process.
• Think of one person among your family or relatives who you most have problems with, someone who you resent or hold negative judgments about. Write their name at the top of the page.
• Make a list of all the things that you actually like or enjoy about the person. What are their good qualities and character traits that you normally tend to overlook or minimize due to your negative judgments?
• Make a list of all the good experiences from your relationship with the person throughout your life. For example this list might include the love, caring, good times and activities you’ve experienced together.
• Make a list of any other ways that the presence of this person has benefited you or your family, for example through some sort of support or even life lessons or wisdom gained.
• Once you complete your list, go back through it and consciously give thanks and feel gratitude for the good in them and the ways in which they’ve enriched your life.
When you “count your blessings,” recognizing the wide range of positive things you’ve received and acknowledging the value of the relationship, it’s much easier to let go of the negative judgments and feelings so that you want to forgive. Once you want to forgive and choose to forgive, you’ll find a way.