Does your family drive you crazy sometimes? Does the holiday season make it worse?
For many, the season usually means more time with family. Holiday gatherings are typically portrayed as happy times filled with laughter and love. But what if your experience doesn’t meet those ideals? What if the love you feel for your family is mixed with madness, irritation, hurt, or hostility?
One reason this time of year can be difficult is the rub between the picture-perfect postcard and reality. If you carry pain from past experiences, holiday-related or not, family gatherings will tend to poke at that, if not full-on dredge it up.
One solution? What some call forgiveness, or what I prefer to call Acceptance.
Too often we are told to “forgive and forget” when we harbor anger and pain from having been hurt in some way. Good luck with that.
Repressing hurt, anger, resentment, etc. is not forgiveness, it is denial and avoidance. Being resigned, tolerating, ignoring, or pretending that we have forgiven – these are some of the ways we fool ourselves into thinking we have let go. But if the pain is still there, it can drive us crazy because until it is healed there is always the potential for re-injury.
Unfortunately, some religions and cultural norms have distorted the essence of this practice by pressuring people to forgive without helping them through the process, causing them to pretend rather than heal.
We are not truly free until we have reached a place of acceptance. Acceptance requires understanding, compassion, faith, healing, and detachment. This takes time, effort, patience, dedication, and self-awareness. It is a grieving and completion process. Not only must you deal with what happened, you must also mourn a past that didn’t happen. And acceptance doesn’t mean you have to tolerate hurtful behavior. It does mean you have the power to take care of yourself and set boundaries appropriately.
To get to peaceful acceptance, it helps to acknowledge the feelings that belong to the original experience (e.g., hurt, anger, sadness, betrayal), recognize the impact it had on you, and go through the stages of grief. Sometimes acceptance requires that you address the experience with the other person(s), sometimes it doesn’t. That’s up to you.
To be effective, you must do these things with the intent of moving beyond. Too many people are addicted to negative feelings and the role of victim, so they hang on rather than progress.
Most times, when we hurt each other it is not deliberate. Therefore, it helps to consider that no one has intentionally done harm. They have simply misused divine energy just as we all at times misuse divine energy. What if it were meant to happen, as a karmic lesson?
Acceptance recognizes that things that happen are the flow of divine life into personal experiences for the purpose of helping us grow. (See: Pain is Medicine)
Acceptance looks for the learning opportunity every experience provides. It is about integrating the lesson and letting go of pain and resentment. It is for you, not for them. Acceptance is the opportunity to gain inner strength, develop higher awareness, and practice detachment.
You know you’re done when you’re glad it happened. Acceptance is freedom and power, and it feels like nothingness: there is *nothing* negative left on a feeling or thinking level. The experience that caused pain is now just something that happened. This can be true even for abuse and other trauma situations. (That takes more time and effort, but it can happen.)
Therefore, the best way to view this concept is: from the spiritual perspective, forgiveness is not needed. Acceptance is.
Acceptance/closure/completion means you:
- Acknowledge what happened
- Honor the gift
- Feel affinity toward the other person and situation (no more negative feelings)
When you reach acceptance regarding past experiences that were painful, it makes for more peaceful and powerful holidays. You may never get what you need or want from your family, but at least you are no longer carrying around the weight of what happened. You don’t go to family gatherings as an open wound that is easily re-injured. You can have inner boundaries and an appreciation for yourself that allow for the freedom to enjoy the moment for what it is instead of what you hope it will be.