Happy Thanksforgiving: Forgiveness Tips for Surviving the Holiday Season with Family

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Internationally renowned clinical hypnotherapist and mindfulness practitioner, Sherly Sulaiman, shares helpful holiday tips on forgiveness.

Forgiveness allows us to choose peace, happiness and harmony over resentment and fear.

For many, spending time with certain family members can reopen old emotional wounds, even if they thought the scar tissues had healed for good. The holidays seem to be a particularly vulnerable time for old scars and delicate hearts. According to clinical hypnotherapist and mindfulness practitioner, Sherly Sulaiman, it is during these times of joy and giving, that one needs also to be generous when it comes to forgiving.

"Everyone has at least one person they still need to truly forgive. It's possible to know, intellectually, that forgiving is ultimately better for us; but we don't always practice what we know to be better," says Sulaiman. "While we’re constantly letting go when we excuse friends, colleagues or strangers for irritating or even offensive behaviors, when it comes to certain family members or loved ones, letting go may not come so easily."

Sulaiman postulates that most people have someone in their family (call her Aunt Wendy) who “means well” when she criticizes their appearance, significant other, career, or anything else she finds counter to her strong opinions. "Aunt Wendy's" untimely remarks can feel like her pumpkin pies, presented as something sweet, but after several servings, the recipient is left with an ache and a heaviness in their belly that’s hard to digest.

"Unfortunately, it can be the actual person or merely a reminder that may emotionally trigger us. During holiday gatherings, we’re often exposed to other people’s issues, the dynamic of various relationships, and our own issues. Now that can be a lot of issues in one room. It’s hardly surprising that people experience so much stress, anxiety and depression during the holidays," explains Sulaiman.

She argues that accessing mental and emotional tools to prepare for holiday gatherings in order to cultivate calmness, stability, detachment and healthy boundaries, especially within families, usually begins with forgiveness. She suggests there are several reasons people may overlook or resist the notion of forgiving:

1.    They think it means condoning the “bad” behavior that hurt them.
2.    They see it as a threat to their values. For example, forgiving someone for cheating on them may unconsciously represent a compromise to the value they place on loyalty or honesty.
3.    They may feel forgiveness makes them appear weak or “the loser.”
4.    They lose a form of protection that prevents them from being hurt in the same way again.

According to Sulaiman, none of these are true. "Forgiveness sets us free emotionally and mentally," she says. "It allows us to see people for who they are and not who they were or who they remind us of. We can enjoy the present moment as it is, unburdened by fears of the past. This helps make gatherings with family and loved ones an enjoyable experience, from an authentic place. We can decide to let things go, the same way we do on a daily basis with friends, colleagues and strangers."

During challenging "forgiveness crossroads," Sulaiman tells her clients to consider these two questions: "Is my desire for happiness and harmony stronger than my attachment to my past suffering?" And, "Is it more important for me to have peace or to be right?"

Forgiveness allows people to choose peace, happiness and harmony over resentment and fear. When they let things go from a space of love and compassion, it’s easier to understand that “Aunt Wendy” is who she is and is simply doing the best she can. They can appreciate the time and effort she took to bake those pies…and enjoy every bite.

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Tina Davis
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