I recently spoke to a colleague, let’s call her Sage. We were having a great discussion about the future of pharmacy. As we chatted, the topic shifted to Sage’s past employer. She had an incident with a former employer that led to her leaving the company. Her boss didn’t threaten or harass Sage, rather, he went above her head instead of speaking to her directly about the way she ran the pharmacy.
Sage felt as if she was wronged. From what I understand about the story, she probably was. Even though this incident occurred 8 years ago, Sage was still holding onto it. She still had anger and resentment. Sage and I never returned to the original topic about the future of pharmacy. Our past hurts can actually stop us from moving forward. In this specific case, Sage needed to forgive her former boss.
Looking Back to Move Forward
While the above story is about Sage, you too need forgiveness in your life. You might not need to forgive a former boss, but there’s probably a relationship or two that has become fractured over time. You might even need to forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness is an important part of self-care. You’ll be more lighthearted when you let go of grudges. When you allow room for mistakes, employees will feel safe coming to you and you’ll become a better leader.
Instead of beating yourself up about past mistakes- which is very common if you have anxiety or depression- you can actually be aware of what you hold on to and let the past go.
Here are a few things that can help.
Put the Past into Perspective
My colleague Sage has a wonderful new job. But she is worried that her new boss will wrong her in some way. Naturally, she is on guard. But this burden is one that she doesn’t need to carry. Her current boss has done nothing but support and praise her.
How can she begin to let go of the past? One thing she can do is consider that this previous boss taught her valuable lessons. She knows to trust her instincts now. She is less naive. She can choose to be grateful for the lessons learned in this situation. She may even consider herself lucky that it happened. She got a promotion and a pay raise with this new opportunity. Her new boss appreciates her and thinks she’s brilliant.
Clearly, there are many things to be grateful for here. Focusing on these areas could make her happy instead of resentful.
If there is something that someone did to you that led to you being better off, be grateful. So, the next time you think about a time someone hurt you, you can say out loud or in your mind, “Thank you for that lesson. I’m a better person because of that situation. I forgive you. I release all the negativity I’ve carried around about what happened.”
Sometimes a past infraction requires you or another person to make amends. Sometimes it’s not enough to say you’re sorry or to accept another person’s apology. Please understand in this piece I am not talking about the kind of serious hideous things that can be done to a person. That is the realm of a trained therapist. I’m talking about the day-to-day crappy things that we hold onto or refuse to let someone off the hook for.
If Sage had chosen to stay in her current position, her relationship with her boss would have to change. At some point, she might have to confront him about his actions. It may have involved that he acknowledge what he had done and promised her that he would handle things differently moving forward. He would have had to make up for what he did to Sage in some way.
Sometimes we rehash mistakes we made because we left something unfinished. Is there someone you need to ask for forgiveness? If what you did was particularly harmful and time has passed and resentment has built, you may need to bring in a mediator. However, for simpler offenses, I can offer some help.
Maybe there’s a relationship in your life that isn’t bad, but you know you could make it better. Maybe it’s with your in-laws, a coworker, or even a neighbor.
A “Right the Wrong” Ritual
Sage could write a note to that former boss. Maybe it would say something like:
Dear former boss, what you did to me was really crappy. You caused me to doubt myself. You violated my trust. That is true. What is also true is that because of what happened, I am stronger and wiser. I have a better job and more money. I no longer hold onto the resentment I felt toward you. I will only remember you with gratitude from now on. I release you and myself from this burden.
Then burn the note. You could choose to send the note if it makes sense. In most cases, the other person isn’t even aware they’ve done anything wrong. They’ve forgotten about it. Remember this exercise is more about you forgiving someone else so that you feel better.
What if you’ve done some wrongs to yourself. For example, you don’t rest when you’re tired, or you keep thinking about things you’ve done wrong, or maybe you don’t stand up for yourself. Go ahead, write down your mistakes. Really go for it. Get it all out on paper. Then in a safe place, take that piece of paper and light it on fire. Say to yourself, “These mistakes are in the past. I release them. I am free.”
When you don’t forgive what is forgivable, it becomes a burden. It leads to resentment and self-doubt. Wouldn’t it be incredibly liberating to start the new year unburdened by memories of what wrongs were done to you? It would feel so good to move ahead unencumbered by the weight of the mistakes you’ve made.
Letting go is not passive. It’s active. You must make the hard decision to let someone (including yourself) off the hook for having wronged you. Acknowledging that there was a lesson there. You’ve learned. You’ve grown. You’re better now and better is good.
Practice forgiving yourself and others. It’s worth it to feel lighter, freer, and more confident. Do it for you.