The Little Death: What It is and Why You Need It

Authentic forgiveness requires a little death. The pain felt is required to heal.

Mourning. Grief. It looks different for everyone. It’s also the underbelly we don’t want to look at and feel. Much better to hide behind the minutia of daily life, running toward a future we’ll never get to in order to escape the painful ghosts of the past.

Kinks in Our Armor

The problem with running from pain: eventually, we wear out. Whether it’s hiding behind alcohol or an obsession with cleanliness, our beloved addictions can only stave us off from the inevitable negative emotions for a limited quantity of time.

Our psychological armor develops chinks over time. The more stubborn of us might be able to manifest a Botox-reminiscent smile, insisting that everything is fine, fine, fine. But the body doesn’t lie. The body keeps score, housing all the flavors of pain in our mortal coil: regret, shame, grief, blame, revenge, anger, guilt–all the negative emotions surrounding those memory ghosts simmer below the surface.

Watch for Fake Forgiveness

Fake forgiveness is the cubic zirconia of genuine forgiveness. It looks like the real thing. It may even sound like the real thing. But it won’t feel authentic.

Could you fool the ones you love with fake forgiveness? I’m sure you could.

The problem? You’re the one who’s continuing to suffer. You’re the one who, as Billy Joel famously said in his song, My Life:

“sooner or later you sleep in your own space
Either way it’s okay, you wake up with yourself”

Fake forgiveness is almost worse than admitting we aren’t able to forgive. It’s a lie we carry in the cells of our bodies, an invisible albatross weighing on our heart.

The Little Death

We can’t live this life without getting bruised and cut. But the same is true for our hearts and minds. Those painful memories we hold will continue to fester until we are willing to remove the Band-aids stuck in place.

The very thing that terrifies us and we try to avoid at all costs — pain — is often the very thing we need to experience in order to heal.

The little death is the acceptance that arrives with our pain. It is a spiritual surrender to what happened, to the choices we made that affected others and ourselves. Authentic forgiveness requires the death of what is no longer or what never was. Perhaps it is the death of hope and expectation, so new life can flood in. The little death allows us a rebirth.

If I tell you to think about anything BUT green elephants, what happens to your mind? Likely, all you are thinking about are those darn green elephants.


Our minds try so very hard to protect us. They are overthinking machines, working oh-so-very hard to help us. And, as in the case of our “Green Elephant” example, they don’t often do a very good job at this.

Pain is our brain’s Green Elephant, working overtime to protect us. But we need to embrace the pain if we want to get to the other side and experience true peace.

Brene Brown on Hurting

We live in a culture where immediate gratification reigns supreme. Lose weight–quickly. Get rich–quickly.

But while technology has greatly and rapidly improved in a short time span, the human soul timelessly needs what it needs: forgiveness, compassion, kindness, empathy. And there’s no Instagram or Twitter account that will acquire those things for us.

Peace arrives when we are willing to remove our psychological armor in a compassionate, patient light, trusting that the hurt will pass.


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