How Forgiveness Made Me a Better Man
'It wasn't easy to express my pain and find positive meaning in the heartache caused by my father' — but this writer persevered
As a child, I was given away by my father.
When he put me into an orphanage, it created a scar. I was just seven years old, and I had already lost my mother and sister.
This year, 25 years later, I returned to Colombia and reunited with my biological father. Despite all the time that had passed, I still harbored an immense pain. That anger, like a small shadow, had tinted my happiness with dark shadows.
As a man, it wasn't easy to forgive, to express my pain and find positive meaning in the heartache. After working with hundreds of men from all backgrounds and of all different ages and creeds, I've seen on countless occasions that it's harder for us men to exculpate those who have wronged us. Yet it's forgiveness that makes us whole.
Countless research has found that stored anger affects our ability to fully feel joy, and more importantly, it negatively impacts our health. According to Chris Aiken, M.D., "In the two hours after an angry outburst, the chance of having a heart attack doubles." Just this little piece of information reveals how crucial it is for all of us, man or woman, to learn how to release stored resentment and anger.
When I returned to Colombia, I wasn't fully ready for what would come. The day I entered my father's home, he rushed to me, picked me up like a bear with his cub, and squeezed me tightly to his chest. Tears poured from his eyes, and many foreign words praised me in Spanish.
"Mijo. Te quiero. Lo siento. Eres mio!" ("My son, I love you! I am sorry, so sorry. You are mine. Please forgive me.")
With his words, a fresh of breath of air moved into me and I finally felt free.
The two months we shared together resulted in an inexplicable release. It's hard to explain how much the pain and anger had captivated pieces of me, always robbing me of some freedom.
For nearly a decade I've spent days and nights sitting with with over 300 couples — and each time I see someone let go and forgive, I notice their body change. Years of anger melt away, and years of sadness lift. In some cases, as the forgiveness occurs, you can literally watch wrinkles disappear and a new person emerge. When an individual or a couple finds a way to express his or her pain and confront it, the sadness grows wings, and a way out of darkness is made. It may not happen instantly, but surely it happens.
Learning to forgive is a process and not an easy one. It takes digging deep to find where love is. Forgiving is a brave act of love, or as Gandhi put it, "Love is not for cowards." To let the pain go, we must be courageous.
Becoming friends with my father took decades. The full release happened slowly. One of the first keys to freedom was uncovering how the past also had a gift hidden. Much like hunting for gemstones, it takes patience, but by adopting the thought that there is a blessing in all things, we empower ourselves to unshackle ourselves from a painful past.
In the fantastic book "Radical Forgiveness," author Colin Tippings says, "Nothing happens to you, it all happens for you." This simple change in perspective will do wonders for you. It's the step that every person must take when they are strong in their resolve to find the path to letting it all go.
In my journey with my father, learning to see the gift in what happened was the key to undoing the large knot in my heart. When I turned my past into a blessing, I saw that being adopted helped me come to the USA, have a whole family, and escape the turmoil of Medellin, Colombia, in the 1980s and '90s. By being adopted I escaped the mass epidemic that robbed my country of safety for just about everyone who lived there. When I came to the United States, I was gifted amazing parents and was given privileges that neither my father nor Colombia could have given me at the time.
As I write this, I feel great joy sharing this revelation with you. As the words ink out onto the page, I feel a sense of liberation, transmutation, and I hope it touches you, too. Just like any story of redemption, I've found the pearls in the murky waters of my past. It's my hope that my story, like a message in a bottle, reaches every shore possible and gives hope to those who are ready to untie those pains moored to their hearts so they can sail away into the vast spaciousness of freedom.
Those who heal give purpose and meaning to their pain.
After decades of studying my trauma, and that of hundreds of survivors, I've learned that in every case the ones who heal are those who give purpose and meaning to their pain. In the famous play "Hamlet," the brilliant poet Shakespeare gives us some great words: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison. Well, then it isn't one to you, since nothing is really good or bad in itself — it's all what a person thinks about it."
The answer to forgiving my father was seeing how his act of 'abandoning me' was my saving grace. That simple mindset shift didn't come easy, but once it clicked, it turned my father into a saint. It made him my father and not my enemy. It set me free and allowed me to love him.
Finding that space and openness with my father rippled into my relationship with my adopted family and most of all with my partner. It's been a game-changer that helped me become a better man, parent, and member of all my communities.
To help you reap the rewards of what I'm sharing, let me give you a recap of the most useful tips I've found for creating space and forgiveness.
1.) Everything happens for you, not to you. By taking on this mindset, you stop being the victim of circumstance and shift to being the receiver of some miraculous gift. It may take some work, some thought, some tears, and lots of conversations, but at some point as you excavate and clear out the pain, you will find a gem, and that will be a precious stone that was bestowed upon you with benevolence.
2.) People are trying their best. When I reflect on the circumstances of life for my father and the position he was in when he gave me away, I realize he was trying his best. He was not much older than 25 — and I was his third child.
Colombia was in mass turmoil at the time, with the largest epidemic of narcotics sweeping the streets and a very violent mafia controlled just about everything. He didn't want to give me away, but at least I understand him better — and even have an immense level of compassion for the suffering he endured. No father or mother wants to give his child away. He made a decision that he thought was the most helpful to him and me. When I consider he was doing his best with what he had, it's much easier to understand and forgive him.
3.) People cannot hurt you unless you let them hurt you. Once we see the past is just that — the past — we take away its power over us. We diminish the sturdiness of the past and can become owners of what occurred, which means we can stop being victimized or hurt by others' past actions.
After working on myself and watching hundreds of individuals find forgiveness, I am positive that hidden inside all traumas is some gift. It may take time, and it may require mourning — but it's there.
When I spoke with three-time New York Times bestselling author Marianne Williamson about her book "Tears To Triumph," she gave me this pearl: "We've grown to believe that we must always be happy, must push through the pain, and that we should not mourn. Freedom, though, is only found when we are able to give space to the tears and the sadness. In that process, we eventually find healing."
As I've sat with couples and numerous people, I've discovered that by finding forgiveness, we also receive the ultimate gift: freedom. It's my hope that whatever life brings you, that you are empowered to find the gift, the blessing, and the love necessary to forgive.
Luis Congdon helps entrepreneurs live their dreams. He travels the world most of the year but on occasion can be spotted in his earthen home on San Juan Island.