A gift to yourself
The idea of forgiveness makes many people shout, Never!! Indeed, resentment, blame, recrimination and desire for revenge seem so much more natural than forgiveness.
Is there anything to be gained by forgiving an offender?
Formerly associated only with spiritual wellbeing, it is now known that it also enhances emotional, mental and physical health. Releasing resentment, hatred and bitterness breaks the troubling connection with the offender. No longer consumed by what was done to you, you can move away from and beyond the offense. Without the crippling emotions, wounding can turn into strength and wisdom.
Some facts about forgiveness
Forgiveness does not demand you forget the experience. It does not mean you are condoning what happened or minimising the offence. It will not make you look weak or vulnerable. In fact, if possible and appropriate, you can clearly express the impact the harmful actions had on you. Your forgiveness does not depend on the offender deserving it, asking for it or expressing remorse. It does not mean reconciling or trusting if there is no sign of change or sincere regret.
Are you ready to forgive?
Forgiveness can’t be forced. It is a choice you can make or not make. You may never be ready or only many years after the incident that hurt or harmed you.
You are ready to let go of pain and bitterness when –
- You are willing to let the past be past
- You are prepared to look at the incident rationally and from a broad perspective, taking all factors into account
- You are tired of feeling like a victim
- You question the idea that the past is responsible for your present unhappiness
- You realize that it’s up to you whether you accept stagnation or move forward
Choose your kind forgiveness
If you think of forgiveness as a benevolent emotion you might never be able to feel it for an offender. But there is another form of forgiveness where the negative emotional charge is replaced with matter-of-fact acceptance and indifference. It is based on a rational and realistic assessment of the painful incident, how it came about and each person’s part in it. This is often enough to release the negative bondage to the perpetrator/offender so they no longer play a role in your present and future life.
The four steps of forgiveness
- Tell your story. Describe what happened. Acknowledge that an offense has taken place and assign responsibility appropriately. Clearly identify the person(s) who caused you harm.
- Acknowledge the pain you are feeling. It may fluctuate, rise in intensity or recede into the background. Don’t try to suppress your emotions. But also don’t disappear into them. Witness your feelings and hang in there until they subside. Watch and challenge your thoughts connected with the feelings. Are they rational or dramatizing the situation? Are they true and realistic or merely loud and insistent? Are they making you feel worse or helping your emotional release?
- Understand what happened. Why might the other person have behaved the way they did? What is their story? Was the offense intentionally directed at you or was it a result of their own failing? Did they set out to hurt you or were you in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people?
- Tell the story differently. Without condoning the offense, use your new perspective to reframe the experience with greater understanding and detachment.
- Create closure. Use whatever gives you a sense of completion:
- Write a forgiveness letter to the offender. It can be sent, burnt or symbolically released in some way.
- Create a ritual that symbolizes your shift. For example, draw a symbol of your pain onto a balloon and release it into the sky.
- Celebrate your new perspective by doing something special you enjoy.
Acknowledge that you had the strength and courage to extend forgiveness to someone who may or may not deserve it. That no longer matters. Forgiveness is about you, not them. The most important part is achieving your own inner freedom, whether it is based on compassion or neutral acceptance.
What if you have to forgive yourself?
Sometimes it is easier to forgive the actions of another person than your own transgression or mistake. You may be beating yourself up, stuck in self-recrimination, guilt and shame, because of something you did or did not do. But there is no benefit to self-condemnation. It does not change anything. Only choosing different behaviours or making amends for your actions will make a difference for the future.
For self-forgiveness you need to extend compassion or at least understanding to yourself.
Acknowledge that you did the best you could, with the knowledge you had, in the circumstances, with the resources available, at the time. Choose self-acceptance instead of a destructive self-assessment and apply the steps described above.
Creating a state of forgiveness can be done in private or with a trusted person, through writing, artistic expression, imagination or specific therapeutic approaches. Whatever your way, remember your ultimate aim — to lift the emotional clouds within you and free yourself from the negativity that keeps you tied to the past.
If you were able to forgive someone, how did you benefit? Did you try to forgive, but found it too difficult? How did you forgive yourself when you had tripped up? What is your experience with forgiveness? Feel free to share your thoughts and leave a comment.