A reminder from the previous blog: Forgiveness is for you. You choose to forgive in order to foster your inner peace, to focus your attention away from the past and into the present, to move from surviving into thriving and empowerment. Forgiving does not necessarily mean reconciling with the person who hurt you, nor does it mean condoning their actions. The path to forgiveness is a commitment you make to yourself to feel better.
While researchers and clinicians offer many different routes to reach forgiveness, they share four basic components.
1. Acknowledge the pain.
The first step to healing your hurt and pain is to accept that what happened was not ok. You need to move past any denial you may have in order to recognize how you feel about the situation. Talk to people you trust about the emotions you are feeling. Let out these emotions by venting with a neutral and empathetic listener.
2. Release the emotions.
Once you have vented, you are ready to let go of the feelings. Here is a parable that can be very helpful in the releasing phase:
Two monks were journeying home when they came to the banks of a fast flowing river. At the riverbank they came upon a young woman unable to cross. Without saying a word, one of the monks picked up the young woman in his arms, carried her through the current and set her safely on the other side. Then the two monks continued walking without talking until the end of the day. When they reached their destination, the monk who crossed the river alone could not restrain himself any longer, and rebuked his brother, “You know it is against our rules to touch women. You have broken your vows.” The other monk replied, “Brother, I left that young woman on the banks of the river. Why are you still carrying her?”
If you are still carrying the pain from the past offense, it is time to “leave it on the river bank.” Recognize that your current distress is due to continuing to hold on to the hurt feelings and thoughts of an event that is over. Ask yourself if there is a reason you are still holding on to the pain. Read again the previous blog about the myths of forgiveness, as this information can help convince your rational side that it is time to move on.
3. Keep Working on it.
Moving towards forgiveness is a process that takes time and patience. Now that you’ve released the past feelings, it is time to make a commitment to feel better, to actively acknowledge your forgiveness so you can be free from the past. In the spirit of feeling good, here are some suggestions to keep you moving in that direction: daily prayer, meditation practice, gratitude journals, inspirational movies and books, relaxation cd’s, stress reduction techniques. Because forgiveness is a process, you may need to return to steps one and two above. This is a natural part of the journey.
4. Reach for the positive.
Forgiveness can be a transformative process, taking you to new levels of personal growth and positive change. Here are some concepts to help cement your upward spiral experience:
- Remind yourself that you made a choice to forgive. This is the ultimate in personal empowerment.
- There is no revenge as sweet as a life well-lived. Forgiveness sets the stage for you to thrive and succeed.
- By choosing to forgive, you have freed up an enormous amount of psychic energy that you can now focus on positive endeavors. Use this energy to practice random acts of kindness, for both yourself and others!
Some instances are easier to forgive than others. It is certainly easier to forgive your spouse for forgetting your anniversary than for having an affair. As you put these steps into practice, you should start to feel relief from the pain and a new sense of hopefulness. If you find that you are unable to move past the hurt, pain or betrayal of a past event, this may indicate the need for counseling. A trained professional has the experience to help you move through these steps.
For more information on forgiveness, check out these two books:
Dare to Forgive, by Ned Hallowell
Forgive for Good, by Fred Luskin
See next week’s blog for an exploration of self-forgiveness.