November is a month that focuses on gratitude and being thankful which is highlighted in the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people express gratitude for what they currently have in their lives (health, family, stability, etc.).
But can you be grateful as well for your past, your experiences (good and not so good), or the challenges you faced? Can you feel thankful for forgiving someone who has wronged you or treated you in a way you didn’t like? These are areas people tend to avoid but ask yourself: Would I be the person I am today without those experiences? This is a question that takes reflection and some “what if” thinking yet it is worth exploring.
One can be grateful for who they are now without wanting to acknowledge their past due to past negative experiences. In that gratitude, there can also be a space for the experience itself as the catalyst to becoming who they are now.
While one would probably never say “I feel grateful for my parents not raising me in a way that was healthy,” one might say “I am grateful that I developed such strong skills in how to take care of myself and that I was able to navigate the world on my own which is due to the parents I had growing up.” This is powerful in the sense that you are acknowledging the role your experience played in the development of the person you are today.
It is also shifting the experience from negative to positive, which is empowering and allows you to have ownership over the outcome. This process can change your perspective of yourself and your capabilities.
Part of acknowledging the role of your past in the development of the person you are today is to have forgiveness. This can be in the form of forgiving the person who wronged you, your parents in how they raised you, and even yourself for not reacting in the way you wished or thought you would.
Forgiveness is an important piece of integrating experiences into your self-identity. Forgiveness does not mean that you need to have people in your life just because you have forgiven them, especially if they have not done any work on themselves and/or repairing the wrong. For example, forgiving a parent who did not show you the type of love and affection you wanted and needed as a child because of what their past experiences were is to help you understand and heal. It may also be an acknowledgment of who they are and that you forgive them because they were not able to be a different person or learn from their mistakes. “I forgive my father for not wanting to be a part of my life based on where he was in his own. He is who he is, and I understand that he either cannot or will not change.” This is a process of letting go of the hurt, anger, and sadness in order for you to be the best version of yourself and a whole person. The anonymous quote “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” is relevant in that forgiveness allows you to be free of the anger or pain of the experience while at the same time allowing gratitude in as an acknowledgment of what has resulted from the experience.
In this season of gratitude, I hope you find a way to be thankful for the amazing person you are today, for the forgiveness you have expressed, and for the acknowledgment of the experiences you have had.
Michelle A. Culver, LMFT