A little about forgiveness
In our progress toward peace of mind and freedom of spirit, one of the most difficult skills to learn and practice is “forgiveness.” Many people simply do not understand what forgiveness means. Nevertheless, forgiveness is essential to psychological health. As long as we are unable to forgive, we keep ourselves chained to the unforgiven. We give old hurts, resentments and anger rent-free space in our minds, shackles on our hearts, and the right to torment us in the small hours of the night.
When you are in a close relationship with another, forgiveness is required quickly and often. You cannot expect to dance closely with a partner and never have your toes stepped on. If you hang on to the pain and never forgive the other’s misstep, the relationship is emotionally cluttered and diminished. When it is time to forgive, to move on in our lives, but still too hard to do, you may want to try some (or all) of these steps below:
1. Understand that forgiving does not mean giving permission for the hurtful behavior to be repeated. It does not mean saying that what was done was acceptable. Forgiveness is needed for behaviors that were not acceptable and that you should not allow to be repeated.
2. Recognize exactly who is being hurt by your non-forgiveness. Does the other person burn with your anger, feel the knot in your stomach, experience the cycling and recycling of your thoughts as you re-experience the painful events in your mind? Do they stay awake as you rehearse in your mind what you would like to say or do to “punish” them? No! Focusing on revenge is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die.
3. Do not demand to know “why” as a prerequisite to forgiveness. Knowing why the behavior happened is unlikely to lessen the pain, because the painful event came at a time when you did not know why. Occasionally, there are times when knowing why makes forgiveness unnecessary, but those times are rare. Don’t count on it. Don’t even count on the perpetrator knowing why s/he did it.
4. Make a list of what you need to forgive. What was actually done that caused your pain? Include what you may have done that caused your pain. Do not include what you only felt was done.
5. Acknowledge your part. Were you honest about your hurt or did you hide the fact that the behavior hurt you? Did you seek peace of mind by reassuring the perpetrator that what s/he did was “all right?” If so, then you too have some responsibility. Forgive yourself and you start to move away from being a victim.
6. Make a list of what you gained from the relationship prior to, and because of the painful event. Looking back, you may be focusing only on the negatives (hurts). When we focus our attention only on the negatives, we strengthen the painful memory and it comes alive again in our minds.
7. Write a letter to the person who hurt you (no need to mail it). Acknowledge what you gained from the experience, and express your forgiveness for the hurts. However, allow yourself to express all your feelings fully. Do not focus only on the hurts.
8. Develop a ceremony in which you get rid of your lists and the above letter. The ritual should symbolize the end of the link between you and the painful event now past. You may choose to visualize placing all your resentments on a raft and watching it drift gently away down a river. You may prefer to burn them and scatter the ashes. You may invent some other form of ritualized separation.
9. Visualize the person you are forgiving being blessed by your forgiveness. Keep in mind that forgiveness is for your sake alone, for your own healing, and not for the sake of the perpetrator. Your forgiveness frees you from the behavior that hurt you and diminishes the pain of the memories.
10. Now that you are free from the painful links between the past event(s) and of your memories about them, you feel yourself growing lighter and more joyous. Feel yourself free to move on with your life without that burden of hurt. Do not look back in anger. You cannot change what has happened in your past. Nevertheless, without dragging all your painful memories along with you, you can move into your future free in spirit and with a peaceful mind.