Here are the other blogs in this series:
Resilience – Science-Backed Strategies from a Dyslexic / ADHD Perspective
Resilience Part 2- Change the Narrative – what are some ways we can do that? What about being neurodiverse would make that different from other people?
Resilience Part 3- Face Your Fears – Ways to do that and being neurodiverse
Resilience Part 4- Practice Self-Compassion – How do you do that while being neurodiverse?
Resilience Part 5- Meditate – Ways to do that and being neurodiverse
“Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the offender off the hook or even reconciling with them.” –Kira M. Newman
Welcome back to the sixth blog in this series about resilience, prompted by Kira M. Newman’s article ‘Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience.’
Cultivating forgiveness is the fifth and final category in Newman’s article ‘Five Science-Backed Strategies to Build Resilience.’ You might wonder how forgiveness increases resilience. It is because holding onto a grudge also means holding onto the pain. It can hold you back from moving on. Resilience is all about being able to move through and heal from hardship, and holding onto pain gets in the way. According to Newman, forgiveness “means letting go of resentment and ill will for your own sake.”
I once heard a great quote that said. “Forgiveness is what you do for yourself, not anyone else.” Until I had applied that to my own life, I didn’t know how right they were. Once you forgive someone, YOU get to move forward, who cares what happens to them. This is about you taking care of yourself and I promise, learning to forgive is a gift you give yourself.
The Nine Steps to Forgiveness process that Newman suggests emphasizes that forgiveness is for the person who was harmed, to allow them to move forward and find happiness. The first steps are taking the time to reflect on what happened, feeling your feelings, and using stress management tools like mindful breathing. Next, comes acceptance that you are not in control of your circumstances, but you can move forward by working towards your goals in positive ways. Shifting your focus towards your dreams and appreciation of the good things in your life will enable you to move forward and not get stuck in feelings of hurt and anger. Finally, take pride in your decision to forgive and your resilience.
If you are looking for another forgiveness technique check out the Letting Go of Anger through Compassion exercise that Newman suggests for when you are stuck and struggling to forgive.
It is important to note that forgiveness does not invalidate the harm someone has caused or felt, and it does not mean all consequences are waived. You can aim to forgive people and maintain boundaries that protect you from being hurt in the same way again.
Now let’s dig into forgiveness in a neurodiverse context. A lot of the forgiveness tools Newman suggested can work for neurodiverse people, and while using those exercises it is validating to keep it in perspective that forgiveness can be extra challenging for neurodiverse people. Remember to practice self-compassion, and respect your own process and speed when it comes to forgiving.
This ADDept article talks about forgiveness in the context of ADHD. They offer some tips for people who struggle with forgiveness. One step that keeps coming up in many different articles, is reframing your thoughts about the person who harmed you. I like their explanation of why this can help. They explain that when a person harms you, they have power and you are vulnerable, so considering their hardships and pain can level out the vulnerability. Once you feel like you can see them more fully for both their vulnerability and power, it becomes easier to empathize. At this point, you can start trying to let go of anger. This article suggests practicing mindful self-compassion where you let these negative feelings flow out of your body. You can visualize this process and picture these feelings melting away and positive feelings pouring into you to take their place.
Forgiveness isn’t just for other people. Self-forgiveness is so important and can be just as hard as forgiving others, if not harder.
Lex T. Lindsay’s article ‘Now I know: I’m not a failure, just a person with ADHD,’ explores shame and self-blame for struggling in school and work because of undiagnosed ADHD. Lindsay’s experience is a powerful reminder that in a neurotypical world that punishes neurodivergence, neurodivergent people are taught to blame themselves for thinking differently. Discovering your neurodivergence is a lot to process. It can be validating and invites the opportunity to forgive yourself for struggling without the support you need and deserve. Holding on to anger at ourselves holds us back. Self-loathing blocks our ability to be resilient. It blocks self-compassion and limits our ability to bet on ourselves and pursue our goals.
Another insightful perspective on self-forgiveness through late-in-life diagnosis comes from Lauren Burdett in her article ‘Why an Adult Autism Diagnosis Would Mean ‘Forgiveness’ for Me.’ Burdett shares how she processed her upcoming Autism assessment and the perspective that diagnosis brings to a lifetime of struggling in school and relating to neurotypical family and peers. Diagnosis can be an opportunity to forgive and let go of the shame that comes from a lifetime of struggling to measure up in a neurotypical world. That shame really piles up without the understanding that your brain has unique strengths and weaknesses that the people and systems around you don’t account for or accommodate. Burdett finds self-forgiveness for past mistakes that were made while trying to force herself to behave “normally,” when “normal” was actually unnatural for her. She puts it beautifully stating, “I can finally forgive myself for that deep and unsettling feeling that I am different. I am different, and I am all the more wonderful because of it.”
I love finding these first-hand neurodiverse accounts of healing and self-forgiveness. This process is so important for neurodiverse resilience. I hope these resources and anecdotes offer some validation and tools for your resilience toolbox.
As a coach I often see the damage caused by holding on to past resentments, shame, blame, and abuse by others. My clients often hear me say, “Forgive them, if they knew better they would have done better.” This doesn’t apply to everything, but it does apply to many situations. Do you really want to spend one more day holding on to all that pain and anger? I know I don’t. Years ago I did the 21 days to Forgive Everyone by Iyanla Vanzant with a friend. Instead of 21 days, we worked on that book for months. It taught me how I could forgive in minutes if needed. One of the best investments of time I ever made.
Thank you for joining me as we dove into the importance of resiliency and how it connects with people who have a neurodivergent brain. I wish you well and you explore and sample these resiliency tools. Thank you for joining along.