All my life I have heard the well-intentioned advice about forgiveness of others being truly a gift for yourself. That holding on to resentment hurts me more than the other person. I understood this intellectually. But that was never enough for me to actually act on that advice. When I tried, I would do so by cajoling myself, or criticizing myself – trying to talk myself into letting go of the hurt feelings. That never worked. I knew I “should” forgive, and had the belief that I could simply decide to do so, but inevitably found that it was not that easy.
Then, about 6 months ago, I asked a colleague of mine to be my coach – I wanted to learn how to be better at leading change. I had seen him do an excellent job of this, and thought he could teach me. He was gracious and said yes. I thought he would share some skills or techniques I could learn and practice. Instead, at our very first meeting, he reframed the entire endeavor. One’s capacity to lead change, he said, was due to three things: passion, integrity, and relationship strength. Because he works with me, he sees me in action, and the mirror he held up to me was an incredible gift. His feedback was that my passion was clear to all those I work with, and my integrity was sound – but the strength of my relationships could use a little work. Not all of them, but in some key areas, I was carrying what he termed “emotional debt.” Part of the reason was because I had opinions about how others should change – I was not very accepting, even though I believe that acceptance of current state is needed before change is possible. But instead of this being something I owed someone else, it was something I owed myself. He helped me see that when I walked into a room to join a meeting that included someone I was carrying some resentment about, I am the one who pays – I am the one who feels the pain of being there, not the other person.
This brought home in a very deep and personal way the weight of carrying emotional debt in the form of resentment, even the smallest, against others. And helped me see how I could let it go, by really examining my stories about the other, and how those stories caused me pain and were not in service of either me or my relationship with the other, and often those stories were not true. Only after taking a true accounting of the size of the debt I was carrying, could I then forgive. And then it was not a decision I made, but rather something that had already happened, a shift that took place since became clear that the debt was not worth it.
I have spent the past few months paying down my emotional debt, and I feel so much freer and at ease in the world. That is not to say that I have paid it all down, or that I don’t create new debts. It is an old habit to jump to stories about others that don’t hold them kindly. But I am working on it.
My deep gratitude to my relationship and emotional debt coach.