Stubbornness and anger runs in my family. Forgiveness--not so much. I've known relatives who have gone years without speaking to each other. I've known family members who have burnt bridges, blocked numbers, and cut ties, never to associate with one another again. I used to think this kind of behavior was normal because I witnessed it all the time. I didn't think there was anything wrong with holding a grudge or pointing a rigid finger in blame, until I started to express the traits and experience the repercussions myself.

As a teenager, I lost many friends because of this inherited habit. I switched groups often, ditching old friends for new ones in an effort to protect my ego and avoid pain. I thought I was strong. I thought my ability to drop friends and stand firm in my beliefs showed strength. I thought I was protecting myself and instilling lessons in others on how I deserved to be treated, but in truth, I was the one who needed the lesson. I was the person who most needed to change.

Each time I blamed and pushed someone away, I cut myself off from deep, long-lasting love. I didn't understand the inevitability of disagreements. I didn't understand that arguments and differences are not only to be expected in long-term relationships, but are what in fact deepens and enriches a relationship. A lasting friendship is one that survives the rough patches and grows stronger. A real friendship delves below the smooth, superficial surface to the messier, more vulnerable stuff underneath--a truth I didn't understand until after college. In my teenage years, I was afraid of this buried vulnerability, both within myself and within others. I chose to remain surface-level, putting up my thick shield of anger and running away every time an opportunity for growth and a disagreement came up.

Because that is exactly what a disagreement is: an opportunity. Sounds strange, but it's true. Disagreements provide us with the chance to listen, learn, take the blame, and forgive. They allow us the opportunity to face the tension together, feel it, grow, and let go.

We can justify holding a grudge all we want, but in the end, we are only denying ourselves love and wasting energy. Holding on to anger takes a lot of effort! The jaw muscles tighten, the body constricts, and the mind begins to race, but as soon as the heart opens up to forgiveness, all tension melts away. The body relaxes and the mind eases, pouring out loving energy and welcoming it back just the same. As soon as I began paying attention to and breaking my old, stubborn, familial patterns, I started to feel more energized. I noticed the people around seemed more open and energized as well.

So crack yourself open, let down your walls, and put away your blaming finger. Let go of the automatic reaction to protect and shield. It's not worth it. Life is too short. Instead, welcome vulnerability. Welcome the chance to own some of the blame so you can be the one to open your arms and let it go. Your body will thank you. Your friendships will heal, deepen, and grow. And you will show those around you--the people who have yet to break free from their self-destructive ways--the beauty of a life opened by forgiveness rather than hardened by blame.


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