A friend once asked me, “How did you manage to learn to forgive, and live a normal life?”
We were seated on her sofa, with packed boxes surrounding us. She had just left an abusive relationship, and she knew about the darkness of my past.
I have recovered and survived abuse from my childhood, and had shared my stories with her, over our years of friendship. She seemed lost and confused, as she sipped her coffee with tears in her eyes. The struggle for her to move on seemed to be a hurdle she wasn’t prepared to jump over.
I told her my method of the “Ladder of Forgiveness”.
When you have been hurt by others, you have two choices. You can accept what has been done to you and feel bad for yourself, or even for the other person. The other choice is to rise above it and choose to live your life in a healthy way, leaving the pain and regret on the ground.
In order to rise above it, we need something to climb. It can be a mountain, a step stool, or a staircase. Whatever you choose, you take one step at a time and make every step count.
Set up your ladder among the grief, fear, sadness, and worries that you feel. Visualize where that ladder is and make yourself aware of how the environment makes you feel. Picture the person or people who have made you feel the way you do. Imagine the moment when you felt disrespected. Feel that moment again.
Now step on the First Rung. Place both feet carefully together and take in your surroundings again. The first rung may put you at eye level with your emotional trauma. Embrace your emotions for that moment, and think about why you have fears, anger, or pain. Acknowledge your feelings about why you were hurt.
Rung two is next. Take a step up and plant both feet, solidly. You are a little higher than before and can see over the top of your trauma and pain. This is the step that you have acknowledgement of your pain or heartache, but you have started to ascend above it, slowly. Look around and notice that you have risen slightly above your emotions. Take a deep breath, in and out.
Step up to rung three. Rung three is one of the more powerful steps. This is where you have faced the pain, have risen above slightly, and now you can see beyond the pain. Your climb has officially taken you to a new height, where you can see the trauma below, and have accepted it. Now, you can see past it all. Looking down at your trauma, shouldn’t hurt anymore. In fact, you should be able to see the top of it all and feel empowered that you have come this far.
Plant both feet on rung four and have another look. You have pulled yourself out of the storm, by facing your pain, establishing how and why you felt hurt, and, it is all beneath you now. You should now know, that what is on the ground cannot harm you anymore. You are “just” out of reach.
Rung five should be enlightening. Look how far you’ve come! The people who have hurt you are in the distance below you. You should feel lighter now. You should look down at the ground and feel safe that you are no longer there. The steps you have made have distanced you from the pain and memories, and your emotional attachment should seem almost insignificant now. Look up your ladder and see how many more rungs you can climb. You are too high for them to reach now. This rung is where you try to move forward. You have worked so hard to get to the top step, that you need to stay there and move on with your life.
My ladder has 6 rungs, but you can add as many as you need. Some people may need 4 rungs, and some may need 20. On the 6th rung, take time to reflect. Sit down and perch on the apex of your climb and watch the environment below. They can’t hurt you anymore. This rung is your safe place to work on forgetting the events that hurt you. Forget the damaging words or actions. Throw them on the ground, but keep the lessons they have taught you, in your pocket. Your heart should feel clearer of the pain, and you should begin to feel lighter, as you peer down at the turmoil.
The higher you rise above all of the pain, the safer you are, and the lighter you feel. Once you have seen the sorrow from a lens above it, it makes it seem less traumatic. Those who have hurt you can stay on the ground. It is so much easier to forgive when you can rise above the pain.
The one key ingredient to forgiveness is to work on climbing out of the pain and anger. Once you have climbed out of it, the rest falls into place. This is where you have accepted that something negative has affected your relationship with another person, and it is imperative to decide whether or not that person deserves your trust again. With trust and faith, comes forgiveness and strength. Forgiveness empowers us to keep on climbing or to stay above the emotional trauma.
As I told my friend about the ladder analogy that I have used in the past, she quietly dabbed her eyes with a tissue. I sat beside her, waiting for her to say something. She never spoke.
Once her eyes were dry and she finished her last sip of coffee, she rose from the sofa to put our mugs in the kitchen sink. As she stood up, she quietly giggled to herself for a moment and then started to giggle out loud. I followed her gaze and the point of her finger, as she bent over with laughter.
The painting crew had left her apartment that morning, saying they were all done applying the last coat of fresh paint to her new apartment walls.
In the corner of her tiny entryway, leaning up against the wall, was a tall ladder with 6 rungs. Neither of us had noticed it before we sat for our coffee and chat, as it was half hidden by the coat rack by the door.
The funniest part of spotting the 6-runged ladder was the note that was taped to it. It was bright yellow with large bold letters, meant for the safety of the painters.
It warned: Plant Both Feet Firmly on Rungs- Beware of Objects or People Below.