Before I talk about forgiving, let me just say a quick thank you to all of you who are participating in the Reveal Your Dream Meme, which started at the end of last week and is off to a great start. I am really loving my new journey out over the blogosphere, as I follow tags to read about people’s aspirations, and the dreams that they secretly (or not-so-secretly now) have been wishing would come true. My experience has been that writing a dream down – and especially stating it publicly – makes it seem so much more possible. I hope that all of you are finding that to be true for yourselves as well. And I forgive all of you who, for whatever reason, haven’t been able to write despite your having been tagged. How was that for a segue? Now let’s talk about forgiveness!
Let’s face it, life doesn’t always turn out the way that we’d like it to happen. I mean, in the END it does, if you’re intentional about what you desire – but along the way there are often bumps in the road. And those bumps can leave you with scars, especially when they’re caused by others who, for whatever reason, have hurt you, offended you, angered you, etc. Whether or not that person ever apologizes to you, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to forgive them – and move on. First we’re going to talk about why to forgive a person who has “wronged” you, and then we’re going to talk about HOW to forgive that person.
Why it’s important to forgive – even if you don’t get an apology.
Emotions are meant to come and go. Your feelings are the product of your experience, in the moment, and they help direct the course of your action in response to whatever the world throws your way. While there are all sorts of different qualities of emotion, we can generalize into two distinct categories: emotions that make you feel good, and emotions that make you feel not-so-good. Now the good-feeling emotions are easy to handle – you feel good, after all! You revel in the feeling, and perhaps you’re even compelled to do things that amplify the feeling, or bring about its recurrence. Ultimately the “flow” of that feeling will end, but you will have the memory of enjoyable time well-spent. Perfect! But what do you do when something makes you feel bad?
Since many of our natural responses to a “bad” feeling (crying, shouting, fighting) are repressed when we’re kids, as adults we’re often re-learning ways to respond to these feelings. Until we do, a bad feeling often makes us tense up, both physically and emotionally, and that tension restricts the flow of the emotion through (and out of) our bodies. So our anger/hurt/etc. stays within us, stored as stress and waiting for an outlet. While the stress is stored within us, it churns and churns – and can become an obstacle to our emotional and physical health. How many illnesses do they now say are caused by stress? And how many emotional problems are the result of too much stress? Answer to both questions: LOTS!
So clearly it’s in our own interests to get rid of the stress in our lives. Since the stress is caused by pent-up emotion, the best thing that you can do is to RELEASE the emotions that you’re holding within yourself. When your “bad” emotions are directed at another person, there’s only one way that you can break free of their grip: you guessed it, through forgiveness.
Oh sure, you might really think that other person owes you something: an apology, a new Van Morrison CD, a few thousand dollars, several years of your life back – but you may never get ANY of those things. Instead, by walking around with all that anger and resentment within you, you’re almost guaranteeing that you’ll encounter more situations that breed anger and resentment. It’s ye olde law of attraction at work. Plus, who knows what ailments the stress of unreleased emotion could cause?
The only person you’re affecting by refusing to forgive that other person is yourself. Here’s an important fact: holding onto your anger and resentment has NO effect on that other person. Absolutely none! In all likelihood, that person has probably forgotten about the incident in question and moved on with their life. If they haven’t forgotten, perhaps they just read my article on how to apologize and a call with that apology is just around the corner? Then again, maybe it isn’t. Are you waiting around for an apology because you want something from that person, some acknowledgement of their own “badness”? Why wait? Why give that person the power over you? You can take all of that power back for yourself by accepting what happened, forgiving the other person, and moving on with YOUR life. You’ll be stronger for it, guaranteed.
How to accept and forgive in four “easy” steps – plus a bonus step at the end!
- Accept that what happened…happened. Ultimately I do believe that people do the best that they can in any given situation. Sometimes the best that someone can do really SUCKS! The point is that we ALL are trying, even when things aren’t as good as they “could” be. That doesn’t mean that things can’t get better in future moments – of course they can. They get better through an honest assessment of what works (and what doesn’t) and conscious attention to improving one’s response to similar situations. Something that helps when it comes to accepting what happened is to try to think about the other person, the person who hurt you, objectively. Can you figure out why they did what they did? And once you see the reason(s) why, can you have compassion for them? Can you see that person as a product of their circumstances, of making the best choices that they knew how to make – even if those choices hurt you? Were those choices a product of their own unresolved emotions? Spend some time in contemplation of that person’s humanity, that person’s imperfections – for that person made a mistake just like how sometimes YOU make a mistake. You have that ability in common, after all. Since psychologists speculate that a lot of our thoughts about other people are actually our projection of how we think about ourselves, you can also try this exercise: write down all of the qualities of that other person on a piece of paper that you don’t like. Then, before each of these qualities, write the words “I am”. Read through your list “I am <quality>” and see what resonates for you. Are there qualities about yourself that you’re wishing were different?
- Think about the situation. Feel the feelings. Feel the sense of loss. Grieve. You need to recognize exactly what emotions you’re feeling beneath your anger. Are you hurt? Are you scared? What are you scared of? What did you lose? Feel the feelings, and let them move through your body. Breathe deeply. Spend time relaxing. If need be, have a pillow in your lap, close your eyes, and pound the pillow with your fist to get out some of the anger and frustration, as an aid to your getting PAST your anger to the fears beneath it. After you’ve experienced the feelings, noticed what they were, and let them move through you – do something PHYSICAL. Go out for a brisk walk, get your heart (and endorphins) pumping, and focus on the physical feelings that doing something good for yourself creates. Notice how different it feels, and notice how you are in control of your life and your choices. You made the choice to head out for this brisk walk, right? Doesn’t it feel good? You have a choice about how you’re going to feel at any moment. You can even think about one of the best days of your life as you’re out on your walk, to summon up positive emotional vibrations.
- Forgive yourself with gratitude. Now for some more mental work. Is some of your hurt and anger directed inward, at yourself? Are you blaming yourself for what happened, tied up in statements like “if only I had <fill in blank>” and “what I should have done was <fill in blank>”? It’s time to revisit #1, although this time you should take the time to focus on accepting yourself as you are, and as you were when the offense transpired. It’s not your fault – you were doing the best that you could do! Can you have compassion on yourself, and the choices that you made? What were the lessons that you learned from going through that situation? Develop understanding for why you found yourself in that situation – even more, practice gratitude towards yourself for having given yourself the opportunity to learn the lessons that you learned from that situation. Literally say something like “I am grateful for having had this experience. Now I’ve learned that the next time this kind of thing happens, I’ll do <insert what you’d do instead>. I forgive myself for what happened before.”
- Once you’ve forgiven yourself, now you can forgive the other person – just let it go, and use gratitude to boot. You’re well on your way to healing from the experience now. You’ve examined the literal facts of what happened, you’ve speculated about why it might have happened, you’ve developed an attitude of compassion towards the other person, and you’ve forgiven yourself for your own role in the situation. You’ve also realized some of the important lessons that you’ve learned from the situation, lessons that have helped you grow and made you stronger than you were before. You’re probably already feeling that your grip on your anger and resentment is loosening. Try these words on for size: “I forgive you for <what happened>. I recognize that you were just doing the best you could do in that moment. I accept that what happened happened, and I’m willing to let it go, for my own sake. I’m thankful for the lessons that you taught me. I choose to love you as you are, and though I hope that one day you’ll be different, I recognize that day may never come. I forgive you, and I’m going to get on with my life.”
Now just because you’re forgiving them it doesn’t mean that you ever have to interact with that person again. Once you’ve forgiven them, though, you will probably find that they have much less power to affect you than they did before. And with all of the awareness that you just developed, it’s certain that you’ll never repeat the mistake again – whether it’s with that person, or with another person. I recognize that the “I love you for who you are” might be a stretch for you, but I believe that if you try it out, if you try to love that person for who they are, you will find that your loving energy towards humanity will attract more love into your life. It’s the opposite of what was happening with the anger and resentment that you were harboring. It’s not like you have to offer them a backrub or anything – I’m just talking about love in the “altruistic love of humanity” sense – in case you were confused about that. Your love for yourself, after all, might tell you to steer clear of that person for the rest of your life. You can definitely listen to your intuition in that case.
Create a new memory for yourself: a bonus post-forgiveness technique
This is a technique borrowed from hypnosis and re-parenting therapy. Close your eyes and get really relaxed. Breathe deeply, and do whatever it is that you do to bring your awareness to a relaxed, focused place. Focus your attention on your breathing, in and out, and imagine a slow wave of relaxation starting at the top of your head, and working its way down your body to the tip of your toes. After you’ve relaxed, you’re going to go back to the situation where you were wronged – only this time, you are going to imagine the situation going the way that it SHOULD have gone, if everything had gone right. You could imagine the other person doing the complete opposite of what they did. You could imagine a completely different response for yourself. You could also imagine your present self to be there beside you, in that moment, offering you the help that you need to get through that situation unscathed. Create an entirely new memory of the situation, as if it had been a positive situation in your life. Your subconscious mind is very impressionable, and your reconstruction of the experience for your subconscious will have effects that will ripple out into your conscious awareness. Should thoughts of the situation come to you later on, go back to the “new” memory that you created, and use that new memory to summon up a completely different emotional experience than you would have otherwise had.
That anger that you’re carrying around is doing you more harm than good. Why wait for an apology from the people who have offended you? You don’t need an apology in order to forgive those people, and by using your power to forgive, you are reclaiming the power that you lost in that situation. You can’t change what happened, but you can change your attitude about what happened – and you can even change your memory of what happened. Once you’ve forgiven those people who have hurt you, you’ll be able to focus your reclaimed energy on the positive things in life that are important to you. Having let go of your resentment, you might be surprised by how much free energy you now have! Please, if you have a moment, use some of that energy to let me know more about your experiences with forgiveness. 🙂