Do you ever find yourself stuck thinking about what someone did that hurt you and you find anger and frustration building up inside? Does forgiveness seem impossible because the person doesn’t care about what they did or they haven’t asked for forgiveness? Maybe they have asked for it, but their actions hurt you greatly and seem too big to ever forgive.
Forgiveness is about being at peace. Forgiveness is about you and your happiness, not the one who hurt you. When we forgive, we are no longer controlled by the things that happened to us and we can move on with life. When we continue to carry the hurt and pain around, the person that hurt us continues to have space inside our head. DON’T give them that space.
Holding onto past hurts is bad for your health physically and mentally. The more you are under stress, the less you are able to think creatively and clearly. Stress also suppresses the immune system, causing you to get sick easier. Forgiveness can relieve depression and anxiety and lower blood pressure and heart rate. Holding onto past pain can damage future relationships because you aren’t able to give of your full self. It’s hard to fully enjoy the present.
What forgiveness is NOT:
- Condoning bad behavior. You don’t have to hang on to the pain to prove it was “that bad.”
- Forgetting that something painful happened.
- About justice or whether or not the person that hurt you received “fair” punishment.
- Denying or minimizing your hurt.
- Giving up feelings or staying numb.
- Being unsafe. “You need to feel reasonably sure that the act won’t reoccur. That might mean an apology, reassurance from the person in question, distance or stronger boundaries.” (Angela Haupt)
- Forgetting. You will remember but the sting will be gone.
- About whether or not an apology was given or about whether or not the person who hurt you has changed.
- Reconciling with the offender unless the offender recognizes what they did and you both want to repair the relationship. Then, it may be possible.
When you refuse to forgive, you choose to remain a victim, always at the mercy of someone else’s actions. As a result, the world becomes a scarier place, filled with random hostility you are powerless to do anything about. Forgiveness is “a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge, and perhaps even reaching a place of understanding, empathy and compassion.” (Robert Enright, author of The Forgiving Life).
How do I forgive?
- Let yourself grieve and feel what you feel. If possible, talk to the person who hurt you. Write a letter or talk to someone you trust. Release your emotions by shouting them aloud in an empty room or car.
- Try not to personalize it. Most (not all) of the time, the person that hurt you did not specifically choose you to hurt. Their actions caused the hurt but they likely did not set out a goal to hurt you. (There are exceptions).
- Realize you’ve likely created a “grievance story.” This is the story about what happened that you repeat over and over in your head and tell to others. It likely puts yourself in a victim role. Instead of putting yourself in the victim role, change it to the hero or victor role. Find your inner-strength and shift the story to how you overcame hardship when you were wronged. Focus on the lesson this experience has taught you and how you can become a better person because of it. Perhaps it has allowed you to love deeper, see clearer, be more compassionate, or find acceptance.
- You can remember but do not re-live it. Let it go. Don’t give it space in your head by focusing on it for too long. Feel the feelings and then release them. Occupy your mind with good thoughts.
- Practice daily thoughts of gratitude. Keep a gratitude journal. Focus on your blessings and express your gratitude to others. These blessings can be as small as being grateful for running water, a sunny day, or a hug from a friend. Gratitude is like healing balm for the soul. It puts our focus on the right place. Here’s a link with Gratitude Journal prompts and ideas to make it easy. http://goodthingsrealized.com/25-gratitude-journal-prompts-and-ideas/
- Turn your pain over to God. Let Him take it from you. Pray, meditate, ask for forgiveness as you forgive others.
How do I know if I’ve forgiven?
- You will have released feelings of resentment, bitterness, and thoughts of revenge, feeling a sense of relief and ability to move forward.
- You will have feelings of understanding, acceptance, and possibly compassion.
- You will feel at peace and that you are not waiting for anything else.
Psychology Today, “How to Forgive Others”
Fred Luskin, “Forgive for Good” 2002, Berkeley Univ. notes
Angela Haupt, “Why You Should Forgive”
Kevin Hinckley, 2015 BYU Education Week