The Forgiveness Triangle

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I’ve been up against some constructive criticism, lately. Ouch!  One thing’s for sure…I typically don’t take criticism well. My first instinct is to get sensitive and defensive when confronted. (Just ask my sisters or boyfriend.)

Knowing how to humbly own our mistakes and faults is one of the biggest keys to creating and maintaining successful relationships. In our being human, it is inevitable that we will hurt someone, even unintentionally.

This week, I inadvertently offended a very dear friend and my boyfriend called me out on some rather unattractive, myopic tendencies (he prefers to call it narcissism).

I often read blogs about being “the forgiver”, but what about when you are the one needing to be forgiven? How can you ask forgiveness and, hopefully, receive it so you and the other person are free to move forward without blame or resentment? Here’s the forgiveness triangle I turn to when I need to ask for forgiveness:


1. Track Back + Forgive Yourself.

This is your first priority. In seeking someone’s forgiveness and asking them to be compassionate, we need to turn in on ourselves first. When you hurt someone, pause to look inside. Track your actions back to see where this behavior originated. What was the underlying cause? Where have you felt this before?

In my case, I had to go back at what I had done that disappointed my friend and really assess what my motivation was, why I did what I did, approach and accept that part of my shadow that was acting out.

Get with yourself and get some language around your actions. Fill in the blank: “I acted like this because I was…” “I realize that I did this because I was …” (e.g. selfish, angry, impatient, greedy)

Tune into yourself first. Take a step away from the other person, do your inner work to clean up your side of the street. Fully own your action and why you did it. Then, acknowledge you are human. You have a shadow and forgive yourself.

2. Ask for Forgiveness

Once you’ve taken some time out to assess your actions, own them and get humble – ask for forgiveness as quickly and honestly as possible. When we have nothing to hide (i.e. you’ve already made peace with your actions), than we have nothing to prove. We don’t need to be right.

With complete transparency and softness, approach the other person; explain what you did and why it was wrong. I always find it helpful to take 3 deep breaths before I make a call or have a conversation. Physically, soften the front of your body, your shoulders, brow and jaw.

Your words are powerful. Use statements like “I think this is why I acted this way.” “I was wrong. I am so sorry. I take full responsibility.” This allows the other person to feel your ownership of the situation.

I was just listening to Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), author of “A Mindful Nation” talk about the feuding in congress. He said, “How often do you actually hear someone say: ‘I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.’? Not very often, right? Imagine if we all had the mindfulness to simply admit when we’re wrong.” 

These are sweet words to the ego. Saying, “You’re right. I was wrong.” creates miracles!

3. Change your Approach for the Next Time

Absorb your lesson. Integrate your shadow. Glean wisdom from the gemstone being offered, and figure out what you specific action you need to take to change and shift for the next time around. Wrap awareness around your actions to break the pattern.

Take a vow. “I will start getting ready 15 minutes earlier than I think I need to, so I’m not late.” “I will put my iPhone after 6pm to pay full attention to my kids.” Have someone hold you accountable. The key is to move from judgment to understanding.

Become as honest, humble and compassionate with yourself as possible and other people will be as well. Forgive yourself for your discrepancies and shadowy corners that come out in your interaction with others.

Start transparency now:

  • What helps when you ask for forgiveness?
  • What have you had to ask forgiveness for?
  • What action step did you take to ensure the same offense did not recur?

As always, your experience and insights helps others, so please share!



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4 Responses to “The Forgiveness Triangle”

  1. I LOVE THIS! Forgiveness is a topic that is extremely important to me. As a species we have such a hard time with it and really struggle – probably because so many of us have different ideas as to what it truly means.

    As someone who has always been EXTREMELY hard on herself, these pointers are very useful. When it comes down to it, all you can do is keep your side of the street clean, like you mentioned – how the other person takes it is their thing and their responsibility. I know this isn’t the popular viewpoint, but everyone deserves forgiveness – even if it’s not asked for. I truly, honestly believe that. This applies even to ourselves.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ashley,
    Great article…. most everyone can learn from this for sure. As I was perusing your page I just wanted to say – you do not need to name your workshop “The SEXIST trip on Earth”…. I’m sure it’ll be fabulous – and folks will want to go – without using the S word.

  3. Yvonne says:

    Thanks Ashley,

    I find that i sometimes ‘share’ my opinions with others or what I feel they could be doing to get healthy in their life and then I realized that I was actually the one who needed to lose weight, get in shape and stop projecting this onto everyone else.
    I am also really really practicing shutting my mouth even when I know what the person is saying is so wrong because of my old nursing training (it happens a lot) and I used to want to be right but then I remind myself of the Course In Miracles saying…Would you rather be right or happy…I choose happy from now on :)

  4. Jasmin S. Kuehnert says:

    I really enjoyed this piece. Thank you. Like you, I’ve a tendency to get defensive when faced with constructive criticism. I used to slouch away hurt and sulk in a corner nursing my wounded ego, but with practice I’m learning to be open, look back at my actions/words, ask for forgiveness and say I’m sorry. The ego has nothing to do but take a super back seat and disappear! (By the way, the name of the Ohio congressman is Tim Ryan, Paul Ryan is the Republican Congressman from WI.)