Learning to Forgive
7-10 minute read
We have all been wronged or hurt at some point in our life. Perhaps someone betrayed you, cheated on you, lied to you, or mistreated you in some hurtful way. All of us who have experienced something hurtful have felt the initial surge of emotional response ; anger, resentment, humiliation, sadness, powerlessness, despair, and even emptiness. It certainly doesn't feel good and the process of recovery can be painful and difficult...but, know that forgiveness is possible. With time, understanding, and acceptance, you can set yourself free even if it feels impossible.
There is no fixed time table for learning to let go and forgive. It's a gradual process. Everyone experiences feelings and emotions differently in their own personal way. For some, it may take a little longer than others. Some people may even choose to hold on to grudges or resentment and never forgive as long as they're alive! But one thing that we all must clearly understand is that forgiving someone isn't something that you do for the person who betrayed or hurt you, it's something you do for your own healing.
There is tremendous healing power in forgiveness. It truly allows us to move on. Similar to the grieving process, forgiveness has its stages of healing too. We go through feelings of anger, resentment, sadness, and even denial. And then there comes a time when you may learn to accept what happened in the past. Anyone who, day after day, remains trapped in the grip of resentment and hatred, whether from the fallout of a particular event or from a specific individual or individuals, will continue to deprive themselves from feeling and being truly free. Forgiveness is an act of courage and strength. It certainly may not be easy, but it is without a doubt possible. It's all up to you. Keep holding on or release it and be free? It's a decision that you have to make...when you are ready to do so.
Let's be clear about the act of forgiving. Forgiveness does not mean that you have to accept or excuse the wrongdoing that the person did. It does not mean to ignore or simply forget everything about what happened. Nor does it mean that you should wait for the person to acknowledge or apologize about what they did wrong. Sure, it may make it easier if they regretted and apologized about their action, but what they think or feel has nothing to do with you forgiving. Remember that forgiveness is NOT something you are doing for the person who hurt you. It's something that you are doing for YOU and your own healing. By forgiving and moving on, you are no longer allowing yourself to be a victim. You are setting yourself free. It's an act courage and strength if it is genuine. Keep in mind that forgiving is a process. It takes time and effort.
Now, let's talk about what forgiveness is. The act of forgiving is a conscious decision to release feelings of deep indignation, resentment, anger and vengeance. Hanging on to these types of feelings further harm you physically (stress), mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Try to recognize that your anxiety and suffering are coming from these types of negative feelings and thoughts. The event is done and over with. It's like the initial pain that you experience from burning your finger on a stove top. Now it's the lingering burning pain that you must attend to.
Harboring ill will and negative feelings keep us from letting go and moving forward. They hold us hostage from the very thing we are searching for; peace of mind and happiness. Learning to forgive is very empowering. There is indeed growth and strength in forgiveness. It may not seem that way at first, but with time and by working through the process you will come out a stronger and wiser person. Moreover, as you move through the stages of forgiveness, it is common that people learn to cultivate empathy too.
When I used to counsel clients who were trying to move through the healing process, there were a couple of strategies that I would consistently employ to help them. These strategies not only helped to release the build up of anger, resentment, indignation, feelings of vengeance, and stress over time, but they also sometimes helped them to learn to cultivate empathy. It is important and necessary to acknowledge, identify, experience, and express your feelings. In all of the strategies that I used, there were some common underlying principles that I would explain to the clients before starting:
1) Acknowledge your anger and the hurt that the person caused you.
2) Identify any self doubt or fear that you may feel .
3) Be honest to yourself and acknowledge any part that you may have played in letting the event occur or letting it continue (If it's the case! Only you know your truth).
4) Although it may be difficult to do initially, imagine yourself in the other person's shoes (This is an advanced exercise). Try to understand where he or she was coming from at that time, and what needs the person was trying to meet. Try to feel, sense, and/or imagine the remorse and distress felt by that person at some point in time after the fact. Most people do feel remorse naturally and know they've done wrong. If you are able to explore this exercise, you are more likely to feel or recognize a sense of empathy arise in you. Know that once you feel empathy, even just a little, the process of forgiving and healing can be much easier.
A little reminder again here: As I mentioned earlier, forgiveness is NOT something you are doing for the person who hurt you. It's something that you are doing for YOU and YOUR OWN healing. So even if it may seem difficult to learn to empathize with the person who hurt you, it can be pivotal in the process of healing and moving on. Being empathetic during this process IS NOT a sign of weakness but rather a sign of incredible strength and courage.
Learning to forgive takes time. It is not something you can do while you are still feeling the initial "sting" of the wrongdoing. That would be an incredibly difficult thing to do. Moreover, it would not allow you to fully identify your emotions and feelings and to start processing them, which is a vital component in the healing process. Be patient with yourself and with the process. In the beginning it may feel overwhelming but in the long run you will come out a better person.