I want to make some changes and improve myself this year. If you could recommend one thing (I could work on) that would have the greatest impact in my life, what would it be?
I answered this same question in January 2013 and my answer was to improve your communication skills, thereby improving your relationships at home and work. You can read that article here.
Improving your relationships will make a huge difference, but I would like to re-address the best way to do that. I now believe, after a year of personal growth myself, the best resolution you could possibly make (that would have the greatest impact on the quality of your life) is to forgive yourself and others.
Forgiveness is the key to happiness.
Think about what you really want most. Do you want peace, confidence or happiness? Do you want a better marriage, a greater sense of self-worth, a sense of safety and security, or just some hope?
Forgiveness will give you everything you want.
Forgiveness is not easy, though, and I am not going to make light of the horrible things people have done to you. I know firsthand how difficult it is to let go of these grievances, but you must do it if you want peace, self-esteem and joy.
To make forgiving easier I am going to teach you some principles that will help you look at these situations from a fresh perspective.
Principle 1: You alone are responsible for the pain you are experiencing. No situation can cause you pain, because your thoughts about the situation are in your control. No one can take away your peace or give you peace. You alone have that power. If you struggle to understand this principle, read my article about choosing to be upset.
You have the power to choose peace, joy and confidence. You cannot be hurt or diminished unless you choose to be.
Principle 2: You cannot be diminished because your value is infinite and absolute. Whatever mistakes you have made, they don’t change your value. Your value cannot change because life is a classroom, not a test — and your value isn't on the line. You are always perfect as you are, where you are, right now in your journey of learning and growing — and so is everyone else.
At least you have the option of seeing people this way if you want to.
If you hold onto anger and the right to condemn others because you think you must do this to defend yourself, you are actually giving power to the idea that you can be hurt or diminished. You are choosing to see yourself as vulnerable and thereby giving people power to hurt you.
When you see yourself as bulletproof, you let attacks roll off because they have no power.
Principle 3: Life is a classroom and every offense or mistake experience is here to teach you something. Every situation that shows up in your life is there to teach you to forgive and love at a deeper level. We know this because learning to love is why you are here. When you make a mistake you should learn from it, then forgive yourself and let it go. When someone else does, you point it out in a loving way so they can learn, then forgive and let it go.
(Just FYI, your spouse and children will be your greatest teachers. Your family is your primary forgiveness classroom. When you see your family life this way, you will finally be seeing it accurately. Every fight or disappointment is a chance to practice and all marriage problems are forgiveness issues.)
Principle 4: Real forgiveness means seeing yourself and other people accurately — as innocent, completely forgiven, struggling, scared, messed up, but perfect students in the classroom of life, with lots still to learn.
Forgiving does not mean seeing these people as guilty and condemning them for their mistakes, and then trying to pardon them because you know you should. If you try to forgive this way it will never happen. You will still be hung up on the fact that they don’t deserve it.
Forgiveness cannot be a gift undeserved, because that mindset is still wrapped up in judgment. Real forgiveness only happens when you let go of judgment.
Real forgiveness happens when you understand that perfect love has already forgiven all the wrongs, pain, and hurt on both sides anyway. It is about understanding that the entire past has already been wiped clean of all fear-based behavior and every moment is a chance to start over and do better.
We are all scared, struggling students in the classroom of life, doing the best we can with what we know — and more learning, love, wisdom and understanding will come to all of us eventually. We will figure out what we did wrong and why. In the meantime, we must give each other permission to be a student who is still learning. We must not crucify each other for every mistake or fault.
Real forgiveness is about giving the gift of innocence to others because you want it for yourself. It is about understanding that you get what you give.
The key to forgiveness lies in one very simple choice that you must make over and over, every moment of your life, and it is a simple choice because there are only two options:
1. You can live in judgment of yourself and others, condemning and crucifying yourself and others for every mistake. But if you choose this, it will also mean experiencing guilt, pain, self-pity, anger and low self-esteem. This happens because when you choose a judgment mindset toward others, you will also feel subconsciously judged and suffer from a fear of not being good enough.
If you want to escape that fear, you must choose option two.
2. You can choose to forgive yourself and other people, and let go of every misconceived, stupid, selfish, fear-based mistake either of you has ever made. You can choose to see these mistakes for what they really were — bad behavior born of fear, confusion, self-doubt, and lack of knowledge. You can choose to see everyone as innocent and forgiven by perfect love, and in doing so let them and yourself start over with a clean slate every day.
If you choose this mindset you will feel safe, loved, whole and good enough all the time, no matter what you do.
How do you want to live?
(You should not put up with mistreatment or abuse though. You should ask other people to honor your value the same way you will honor theirs. If someone refuses to do this, you may choose to love them from afar and not maintain a relationship with them, but you must still see them accurately and forgive them, if you want peace.)
If you struggle with forgiveness, I encourage you to work with a counselor or coach this year who can help you battle the issues that make forgiveness difficult. I also have some forgiveness worksheets on my website that may help.
You may also want to follow me on Facebook or Twitter this year. Starting Jan. 1, 2014 I will be posting daily lessons from the “Course in Miracles.” Practicing these simple lessons will change the way you see yourself and your life forever and help you to escape fear.
You can do this!
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought-after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in eliminating drama in the workplace. She offers free coaching calls every Tuesday night.
Every Christmas my family throws a big party (at their big house) and expects us each to bring expensive gifts we cannot afford. I have tried to explain this doesn’t work for us, but they keep doing it. I am really upset, hurt and offended by this. This year I finally stood up for myself and told them we would not be coming nor exchanging gifts with them. Now, they won’t talk to us. How can I get them to understand our position and be more understanding?
You will need to have a conversation with them to straighten this out, but you must be able to do this calmly, without going to a victim place, or attacking them or you will only make things worse.
The first thing you must do is step back and make sure you are seeing this situation accurately and have let go of your upset feelings. You must have this conversation from a place of trust (feeling safe) and love (compassion for them). You must also get accurate about why you are hurt.
I learned a powerful lesson reading "A Course in Miracles": You are never upset for the reason you think. You are not upset because they keep doing this every Christmas and aren’t listening to you. You are upset because of the meaning you are applying to their actions.
You probably think their behavior means they don’t care about you, they are selfish, they don’t understand your situation or they think they are better than you. But these ideas aren’t necessarily true. And these ideas only hurt you, because you are already afraid you aren’t as good as they are or as blessed. These fears already cause you pain. Their actions only aggravated the pain you have already chosen to suffer with.
Their actions hurt you because they hit your self-inflicted sore spot. You must understand you made up these sore spot fears (of not being as good or as blessed). They are coming from you and they are not real — and they are not their fault. These family members hurt you only because you take what they say or do, make it into a dagger and stab yourself with it.
You need to autopsy your thoughts about this situation and these people and check them for accuracy. Some of this hurt and upset is your own fault.
I am going to give you a Christmas gift today. This is a tool you can go through every time you get upset to give your thoughts a check for accuracy:
Download the "To Be or Not to Be Upset" worksheet on my website.
1. What did the person say or do?
2. What meaning am I applying to their actions? What am I thinking this means?
3. Is this really true? Do I have any reason for wanting to believe the meaning I applied is true? Does it do anything for me? Does it earn me victim status or sympathy love?
4. Could there be any other reasons they might be behaving this way? Something that is totally about them and not about me at all? What are they focused on or afraid of?
5. Are you diminishable? Can their actions, thoughts or words actually hurt or diminish you or make you less than who you are?
6. If you cannot be hurt or diminished (unless you choose to be) is there really anything to get upset about? Can you let this situation just be what it is without letting it hurt?
If you could see yourself and the other person accurately (as infinite, absolute, perfect students in the classroom of life) you would see there is nothing to fear and therefore no reason to ever be upset. Everything is a lesson to serve you and your value isn’t on the line.
(Unless you need to create victim drama to feel validated or get attention, but this would be a very immature choice and you would have to own that you are creating the whole thing to serve that purpose alone, and this has nothing to do with them.)
7. Are you really upset about what they did? Or are you upset because of the thoughts and fears (that you have chosen to create, own and live with) from you and their actions only brought to the surface?
8) Do you have any other options? Could you choose to experience this in a different way?
I realize you might not be ready to see this situation accurately. You may want to keep casting them as the bad guys and playing the victim, but I’m hoping you would rather feel better.
The path to feeling better is through love, forgiveness, honesty, accuracy, kind communication and respect for yourself and others.
My advice is to call those family members, own the fact that you let your own fears create this problem and you want to apologize. Own the fact you interpreted their actions inaccurately and chose to take offense. Ask them if you can start over.
Ask them if you can explain your current situation and why these parties and the gift exchange is uncomfortable for you. Tell them you want to spend time with the family, but you don’t want to spend money you don’t have, or feel inadequate because you can’t.
Ask them for their ideas on solving this. Share your honest feelings without going to a victim place. One option is not going to the party, but with an understanding that it’s not personal and you are fine with it. See what other win/wins the two of you can come up with.
If they chose to be offended and cast you as the bad guy (which could happen), you will have another choice to make. Remember your value is infinite, and you can still choose love and forgiveness again. It is not worth being upset over other people’s choices. Love them where they are and choose peace.
You can do this.
Remember these principles of truth:
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought-after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in eliminating drama in the workplace. She offers free coaching calls every Tuesday night.
I’m just being honest, but I think you make being positive about life sound easier than it is. When your life has been as hard as mine, anger is pretty justified. My mother was horribly bad at parenting and messed us up and life has never gotten easier. I’m angry and disappointed that my life has been so hard when others have had it so easy. I read your articles and you keep talking about trusting the journey, but it’s not that easy when it always disappoints. How can I when life always lets me down?
I agree with you. It’s not that easy to feel positive when things keep going wrong.
I know first hand how miserable, disappointing and discouraging life can be. Mine has not been an easy ride either, but a large part of our suffering is self-inflicted, in that, we are choosing to be frustrated that life didn’t meet our expectations (expectations we created that are nothing but figments of our imagination).
We made up these expectations about what our life “should be” and now we feel robbed that we didn’t get it. Is it any surprise this didn’t work? Life was never about meeting our expectations.
The answer to end our suffering does not lie in changing our situation and making it right (which usually can’t be done anyway) but in changing how we think about it. You aren’t going to feel better until you change your perspective and see your life more accurately.
I am going to help you do that by recommending you adopt a principle of truth about the nature of life: It is what it is. If it was supposed to be something else, it would be. There is perfect order in the universe and everything happens for a reason.
Everything from the smallest insect to the largest planet in this galaxy does what it does, when it does, for a reason. The entire universe is a system of order, beauty and purpose. Do you really think your life is an exception to that? Do you believe you (a one-of-a-kind, amazing, and eternal soul) are less important; that you are left to be kicked around by random circumstances with no meaning or purpose to any of it? Could your life really be a bunch of bad-luck accidents that mean nothing and serve no purpose?
I just can’t find truth in that idea. It makes no sense.
Not when I believe that you are loved, valued, divine and irreplaceable. It makes more sense that the whole universe was created to serve you. That this entire universe is here to facilitate your learning and growth.
With this mindset you could accept and embrace “what is” and spend your time looking for the lessons and the blessings instead of complaining about, resisting and regretting that things aren’t different. You must change your expectations.
Even William Shakespeare said, “Expectation is the root of all heartache."
Expectations are really nothing but thoughts and illusions you made up and to which you have become overly attached. They aren’t real. You must let go of your expectations so you can make peace with life as it is.
I recommend that you get some paper and write down all the expectations you had for your life (write every small thing you expected to be different than it is). Then tie that paper to a balloon and let it float away up into the sky and let those expectations all go.
Decide to embrace what your life is and stop suffering over made-up illusions. This doesn’t mean you give-up working to make things better, though. You will keep working on improving things, while at the same time understanding that you are where you are for a reason.
In this place you can accept people as they are and forgive them for being imperfect and disappointing you. They are in your life as teachers. This means your mother may not have been a perfect mother, but she was the perfect mother for you, for some reason. At least you have the option of seeing it that way.
Here are four things you can do to change how you feel about your life:
1. Accept responsibility for creating the expectation that your life should have been different than it is. You created this illusion so you can un-create it. Choose a mindset based in truth that produces less self-pity and suffering. You are here to learn and grow, this is not a vacation. Live in optimism that things will get better, but also in trust that what is — is perfect for some reason too.
2. Practice gratitude. If you are going to compare your life with others at least make sure you compare yourself with those who have less, or have it worse than you, not just those who have more. There are plenty on both sides. Choose gratitude for what you do have, and count your blessings daily.
3. Accept there is meaning and purpose behind every experience. See if you can list 10 positives that the bad situations in your life have created in the world or in you. Look for how your experiences have improved you. Choose to focus on being a better person not a bitter one.
4. Understand that your journey doesn’t define you or have any effect on your value. Your experiences are locations on your journey. They are classes you were signed up for, but they don’t have any bearing on “who you are” or your value. A hard life doesn’t mean you weren’t good enough or loved enough. It just means you signed up for some hard classes. You are not being punished with these classes. They are here to teach you things, but your value isn't on the line.
The process to forgive life for disappointing your is the same as the process to forgive another person. In the end you must make one simple decision: Do you want to live with bitterness, regret, rejection, resentment, judgment, criticism and pain or do you want to live in love, trust, acceptance, forgiveness and peace?
Every moment of every day you must make this choice and make it carefully, because whatever you send out — you get to live in.
I know it’s not easy, but it is that simple.
Just keep thinking about it.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in eliminating drama in the workplace. She offers free coaching calls every Tuesday Night.
My family thinks that I get offended and defensive too easily. I admit I may be a little over sensitive to feeling insulted, but I am not going to just let people hurt my feelings without saying something. If people say or do things that hurt me, I’m not going to just ignore it. They claim they walk on egg shells around me, which hurts to hear (and frankly offends me), but I am willing to work on this because it’s not who I want to be. Could give me some advice?
Don’t be offended by your family or friends bringing this to your attention. They love you and want you to experience more peace and less unnecessary suffering.
This problem is usually tied to a subconscious victim mentality. It is highly likely that you experienced being insulted, put down, treated unfairly or wronged at some point in your life that has made you overly sensitive to these types of experiences. Your subconscious mind is now constantly on guard to protect you.
This behavior is also tied to your fear of failure (not being good enough) and your fear of loss (being taken from). When someone says anything that could possibly be interpreted to mean that you aren’t perfect, or is a sign they might take from you, you subconsciously see this person as the enemy and treat them accordingly.
The problem is that if this keeps up, you will eventually push everyone in your life away and you will be safe from harm, but you will also be alone.
Here are five principles that will help with this problem:
(I recommend you read these daily and commit to adopting them.)
1. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of the people in your life are good people who love you and mean you no harm. When they have moments of selfishness you must remember these are driven by their own fears of failure or loss. In that moment, they are worried about their own safety and can’t see how their behavior affects you. They do not intentionally mean to harm you, they just experience moments of oblivious selfishness. (You do the same thing when your fears get triggered.) When someone offends you, you can choose to see their behavior as unintentional, oblivious selfishness driven by fear. If you do this, you can let most offenses go. This person is more scared, than mean or bad.
2. Don’t take anything personally. Understand that 90 percent of what other people do or say is about their own fears and is not about you. Even behavior that looks and feels like an attack is actually about their fear. Don Miguel Ruiz in the book "The Four Agreements" says, “Taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about me.” Don’t make everything about you. When someone offends you, stop and put yourself in their shoes for a minute. What are they experiencing? What are they afraid of? What do they need in this moment? Choose to make this moment about showing up for them. (I realize you may feel unprotected here, but you are actually safer than you would be if you were defensive. Defense makes real the illusion that you can be hurt. Letting go of your need to defend, makes real the idea that you are bulletproof.)
3. See yourself as bulletproof. You are a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable, infinitely valuable human soul. Your value is therefore infinite and absolute and cannot be changed by anyone or anything. Nothing anyone says or does to you can change your value or diminish you in any way, unless you choose to let it.
Because of this truth, any pain you suffer over the words or deeds of other people is self-inflicted. They can’t hurt you without your permission. Instead of getting defensive, which subconsciously means you see yourself as vulnerable, choose to put down your defenses and smile, consciously choosing to see yourself as bulletproof and indestructible. Remember how Superman just smiles while bank robbers shoot at him. He isn’t offended they are trying to kill him because he can’t be killed. Your ultimate protection lies in believing they can’t hurt you.
4. Decide not to be a victim. You get to choose how you want to experience your life and you have only two choices: You can see yourself as a vulnerable, weak, picked on, powerless victim in dangerous world, constantly at the mercy of all the bad things and bad people around you, or you can choose to see yourself as a strong, bulletproof, powerful creator of your life, in a beautiful world that is constantly serving you and who can’t be diminished by anything or anyone.
How do you want to live?
If you choose a victim mentality you may earn some sympathy love and pity from people around you, but you will not earn their respect. You will also be choosing a life of grief and unnecessary drama. I recommend you make it your official policy to see yourself as safe, and the world as a perfect classroom constantly conspiring to serve your process of becoming. Choose to see yourself and the world as safe and you will experience more joy and peace.
5. Choose a forgiveness mentality. You get to choose how you want to see other people and you have only two choices: You can see people as flawed, evil, guilty, messed up, mean and mostly undeserving of mercy and forgiveness, or you can see people as perfect, struggling, scared, divine, amazing students in the classroom of life, deserving of mercy, compassion and in need of education and learning.
But you must understand that what you choose for them you also choose for yourself.
If you choose a judgmental, condemning mindset toward others you will also subconsciously feel flawed, evil, guilty, messed up and undeserving of mercy and forgiveness. Your self-esteem will suffer and will never feel good enough.
That is just how it works.
If you choose to see all men as perfect, struggling, scared, divine, amazing students in the classroom of life, in need of more education and learning, you are going to feel better about yourself and have good self-esteem.
(If you don’t believe me this is true, experiment with it yourself.) I promise you get what you give. Choose to see everyone as good enough as they are and you will finally feel good enough yourself.
Understanding these principles will help you to see situations, people and yourself more accurately. You will now understand how fear affects their behavior and the fearful way you experience it. You will also have the power to choose love and truth instead.
If some of these concepts are new to you, you may need to re-read them and process them for a while. You may also want to work with a counselor or coach to improve your self-esteem and eliminate the fear behind your need to be offended.
(This article did not address serious mistreatment or abuse. If you are experiencing either, you should remove yourself from the situation and seek professional help. This article only addressed minor offenses and a propensity for drama and overreacting.)
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker. You can take a free fear assessment on her website to see if being offended is an issue for you.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.