Question: How do I deal with toxic people in my life? My spiritual community and counselor teach forgiveness as the answer…I feel I am supposed to forgive and open my heart to the people who have harmed me. My mind goes along with the concept of forgiveness but my body is “locked in place" and my heart isn't open. If I can't forgive a person that has hurt me in the past does it mean that I'm not spiritual? Have I failed the test of my spirituality?
Great question. Thank you for asking!
It's a complex question that can be answered from many different levels, directions and philosophies. I will offer my perspective as a body-centered psychotherapist. I am reminded of the work of John Welwood who talks about staying with the feelings and not doing a “spiritual bypass" or jumping over the pain.
I believe one of the dangers of a spiritual practice without adequate emotional awareness and, if necessary, support of trained therapist is that it can drive parts of the self that are in pain and suffering into deeper suppression while the individual tries to meet the expectations of their spiritual community and/or counselor.
The brain and the will can override the emotional body and drive the individual further into disconnection with parts of the self. This may occur through the need to avoid feelings of failure, non-belonging, shame, humiliation, inadequacy or a whole host of other feelings.
No… you do not have to forgive the people who have harmed you in your life…either those who you didn't choose or those who you did choose and things went painfully wrong.
In body-centered psychotherapy you are supported as you identify and express those “locked in feelings" which are held in your body (ie: your heart or your gut.)
Once you recognize, understand and release those difficult feelings you are then free to replace them with more positive experiences. The “charge" around each injury lessens as you work through it until you find yourself in a place of neutrality with the individual(s) and no longer attached to them…negatively or positively.
On a certain level the body does not discern love from hate, only intensity and stimulation. So if you have a “hate on" for someone in your past, likely you aren't finished with them and there's still something for you to learn from a further exploration of the relationship until you feel resolved within yourself and they no longer hold an emotional trigger for you.
Then and only then are you truly free to release them from your inner space….emotionally and energetically.
This allows you to fill that inner emotional, creative space with something or someone else…possibly to a new relationship or passion in your life.
I hope this has helped answer your question. Thank you for asking. We can all relate to and learn from your curiosity.
PHOTO: SOUL CARDS, Deborah Koff-Chapin