“Leaving it Behind” by Mary Jo Gonzales

I have been writing this blog in my head for most of my adult life.  The incentive to finally go public: seeing the look on my best friend’s face when I challenged her about not being very forgiving.

Her story starts simply enough. A trust that was brutally betrayed, disillusionment from shattered dreams, and enough regret to hold her back from being the woman she wanted to be. As she talked, the words sounded more and more familiar. It was my story too. It reminded me of the one fallibility, the one weakness that does more damage to my hopes and dreams than any action another can take.

I am not very good at forgiving others who have hurt me.

I am even worse at forgiving myself for mistakes I have made.

As much as I want you to think that I am better at forgiveness, I am not. None of us really are who we think we are. During this time of introspection, I want to be clear. This is about me getting real with me. Not just living authentically with others, but living authentically with myself.

I need to let go and leave some things behind. 

I haven’t always lived out forgiveness in my everyday life. I also don’t want to be trite. Too often I have heard the phrase “let it go” as an easy remedy to forgive someone, mostly from those who didn’t understand what I was going through. For those of us who have experienced any form of violence, I am not talking about that either. Those pains are lifelong struggles to recover our sense of self, our sense of identity, our sense of safety and security, and in a lot of ways, our ability to reclaim hope once again.

What I am talking about are those grudges, those slights (both perceived and real), and those injuries which makes us see another human as our enemy instead of who they are. Flawed, frail, fallible and, just like me. Their failures become our siren call for not moving on, moving through, or moving past – we have been let down, we can’t trust anymore, we can’t risk… again.

It has held me back… not just from living and loving fully, but from leading fully.  

Forgiving Others…

Let’s be honest. In challenging my friend’s lack of forgiveness, I was being hypocritical. Like many others, I engaged in forgiveness as an intellectual and academic exercise. I liked to entertain the notion that I was more gracious, better and stronger (fill in your word of choice) because I forgave.  “Oh, look at me, I am so full of mercy” is not something I ever said but it was what I believed.

What does being unforgiving look like? Bitterness, rage, caustic, cruel, harsh, judgment, defeat, envy. Gifts that keep on giving. Each of these, when unaddressed, has a way of stealing, killing, and destroying us. Envy is particularly powerful because I spent more time wondering how someone else “got away” with something rather than contemplating “how did I get away with that?” Unresolved, we tend to lash out at one another. It goes beyond bullying (especially the Tall Poppy or Queen Bee syndrome), it becomes a sanctioned form of violence.

In reality, it is those we love and those who love us who pay the price for our lack of skills in the area of forgiveness. Our… no, I need to own it. My bitterness, rage, and pain do more damage than I care to admit. In an unforgiving state, I am numb to the impact I have on others.

What I also failed to recognize was that being unforgiving is really about me rejecting others. When I don’t forgive, I reject the idea that you are human. I reject the idea that you are going to make mistakes. I reject the idea that you must to be true to yourself, rather than who I think you should be. I reject the idea, and my most egregious error, that the pain I have inflicted on others is equivalent to the pain that has been inflicted on me. In reality, I will never know the damage I have done to another by my careless words, my wavering attention, or putting my priorities ahead of someone who really needed me to be there. It is true that the most devastating form of contempt is neglect.

How many slights, judgments, and criticisms have caused pain and damage that is irreparable, whose hopes have I squashed, what opportunities have I squandered, and which dreams have I devastated?

I am grateful that I will never fully know the damage I have done to others. But because I don’t know, it makes it easier to remember others’ injuries against me.  The question I should be asking: why am I entitled to restorative justice when I won’t allow others to demand it of me?

Forgiving myself…

My deepest regrets are not usually what others have done to me, they come from the wounds I inflict upon myself.  It is the accusing finger of the woman in the mirror reminding me of the times that I wasn’t all that I wanted to be. She can inspire a level of mortification like no other. There are things I have done which still bring tears to my eyes.

Sometimes they are “small” things; when I failed to reach out, return a phone call, or pay attention to someone who was sharing their heart with me. Other times, it is the moments where I was not the woman I thought I was or aspired to be. Times when I have let down and disappointed others in ways that I never would have imagined myself doing. Times where I have failed miserably, didn’t live up to my core values, and hurt others in ways that I am ashamed to admit. Or, in a moment of hypocrisy, when I failed to practice the advice I had so freely “imparted” to others.

Not forgiving myself has also held me back as a leader. The fear of disappointing another provides refuge and allows me to hide – to live less genuinely, openly, and tenderly. We all live and lead with a limp. We all hurt, and hurt others, at times. Being unforgiving about what I have done creates the illusion of my own perfection and masks my flawed sense of self from others. What does it really mean when we say “I don’t ever want to make that same mistake again” or “I won’t let someone inside because I was hurt so badly before.”

I have learned some powerful lessons from cleaning out those infected wounds related to forgiveness. Some of those wounds were actually gifts. The shattered image of who I thought I was has given me an opportunity to discover who I really am. A dream denied revealed my heart’s deepest desire. Losing something I treasured spurred me to more consciously act in alignment, internally and externally. Tested as iron sharpens iron, true friendships have been forged. Those lessons could not have been learned any other way.

Forgiveness is also about hope, strength, and freedom. Hope that I am not bound to the past. Strength because I have the courage to see myself as I am. Freedom to let go of the you I thought, wanted, hoped, and wished you would be.

Who do you need to forgive today?

Count the cost. Grieve it. Then, leave it behind.




Filed under general, women

11 responses to ““Leaving it Behind” by Mary Jo Gonzales

  1. This speaks to the child in all of us, that part of us that does not want to own our own stuff, that wants others to be at fault, that does not want to be called out. Thank you friend for doing just that. You are so right and say it so well. Hugging you today and thanking you for making me look in the mirror today.

  2. Mary Jo, thank you for writing this post–it spoke to me on so many levels! Recently someone close to me hurt me in a profound way and it left me feeling really raw…and pretty angry, to say the least! It has caused me to think about how my own actions over the years may have hurt others. I would never want anyone to feel the way I do right now. Your post has encouraged me to figure out ways to “let it go” (so much easier said than done, right?!) and move forward. Forgiveness is such an important lesson–thank you for the gentle reminder! We are all works in progress 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing this Mary Jo. Powerful words of advice for everyone. Your post is a challenge to me to try to rebuild relationships that I had given up on after issues had arisen where trust and loyalty were questioned in ways I would have never imagined possible. I don’t know if I’ll be successful or not, but your blog post at least has started a cycle in my mind of realizing that it’s time to forgive, move forward, and to not let these poisonous feelings have a negative impact on me. Thank you!!

  4. Bravo and thank you! I was recently betrayed by a very good friend of mine. A woman who supported me and my family during our son’s illness, was a fellow student, and professional colleague. While I do believe that her betrayal of me was more about her, my forgiveness of her needs to be about me. Holding on to that hurt allows her to steal even more from me and prevents me from really being free. Thanks for the challenging reminder.

  5. Finding your way after many instances of hurt, betrayal, regret, etc., is the hardest thing in the world to do. We all have these stories – and I know for me, coming to terms with them is overwhelming and frightening. Thanks for the push, Mary Jo, to own it, face it, push through it, forgive, and let it go. I will continue to lead with my limp, but I’m convinced after the hard work of forgiving (and let’s not kid ourselves – as you say – its hard and it is work), the limp won’t be nearly as pronounced.

  6. Kate Kinsella

    There is so much about this post that resonates with me. Thank you for having the courage to share these thoughts. They truly are applicable to all of us. Sometimes the guilt of the past, or the inability to forgive those who have done us wrong, is paralyzing. This is not an easy road, but knowing that there is such a strong, supportive group of women (and men!) facing the same challenges, makes it seem more attainable.

  7. Mary Jo, I really appreciate this post. Particularly to my gender identity as a cisgendered woman, I often respond out of stereotype threat. That is, when I finally feel comfortable expressing forgiveness (for myself and others), I have resisted expressing it because of being perceived as a passive woman who people can walk over. I sometimes buy into the mentality that forgiveness is also equated to being the person who “loses”. While I know it’s not true, I know it happens subconsciously. I think you present a different view of forgiveness that represents strength, trust, and love- all qualities I strive toward. Thank you for sharing your perspective with me and helping me to work through some of my own challenges about expressing forgiveness.

  8. I’m adding a second reply – I remembered this story and found it on-line – to me, it underscores your message, Mary Jo, in that if I don’t forgive, all the negativity will win:

    A Cherokee Legend

    An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

    “It is a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

    The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

    The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

  9. Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing!

  10. “Holding a grudge is allowing another person to live rent-free inside your head”. I love this post Mary Jo, because it reminds me that when it comes to not wanting to forgive others, the above quote becomes very relevant – it becomes something we inflict on ourselves over and over again, day in and day out. The same becomes true of what we do to ourselves, which can be even more poisonous. I think we keep punishing ourselves in some ways because we each think we deserve it, to remind us not to make mistakes again or allow others to hurt us (to assist us in keeping distance from other people).

    Thank you – this really spoke to me on a lot of levels.

  11. Just getting to this today. Thanks, Mary Jo! This is a constant struggle fro many of us and I appreciate your words.

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