“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”
We’ve all been challenged to forgive someone we believe has wronged us. But, let’s be honest, it’s not always easy. Sometimes when the wounds still bring us pain (even after so long), it may seem impossible to forgive someone.
When letting go of a situation is difficult, it’s often because we don’t fully understand the act of forgiving. When we see forgiveness as a virtue–like honesty, self-control, and compassion– it becomes easier to accept difficult situations with grace.
Let’s take a little time to reframe our perception of forgiveness–gain an understanding of what it is and what it isn’t. With this new knowledge, we can then finally start the process that clears our resentments and negative feelings and move on to better things in our lives.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness creates a new response to a situation where you felt you were treated unfairly. It’s an act of extending mercy to those that harmed us, even if we don’t think they deserve it.
Forgiveness is also a process. Think of the grief process. When encounter a loss, we go through a mixture of emotions. Shock, denial, anger, bargaining…all the way to acceptance and processing the grief.
The act of forgiveness is a similar process. Like grief, it’s not always a clearly defined linear process. There are common milestones many go through during their journey. We’ll outline a verison of the process a little later in this article.
Ultimately, forgiveness is your opportunity to let go of the desire to control the past and make space for a more emotionally balanced future.
What Forgiveness is Not
One big misconception many have about forgiveness is that it’s a sign of weakness. Or that you are making excuses or condoning the actions of the wrongdoer. Forgiveness is not a denial of what happened. You are not a doormat, and nobody should treat you that way.
When we see forgiveness as an act of strength–an opportunity to exercise an important virtue–it becomes an empowering act. You are no longer giving this person your energy in the form of anger, hurt, or resentment. You are taking your energy back so you can move on–with stronger boundaries–to use your energy to pursue the life you want to live.
Also, forgiveness isn’t always about reconciliation. Reconciliation is a collaborative effort where two or more people come together to restore mutual trust. In some cases, it is not possible or advisable to restore trust. You can forgive without ever excusing. You are simply restoring your power over a situation.
The Act of Forgiveness and Compassion
When you forgive someone, you are acting out of compassion–for yourself and the individual that wronged you.
While you don’t necessarily condone their behavior, you view it with a more empathetic eye. For example, your partner cheated on you after two years in a relationship. It shocked and hurt you. You lost trust and don’t believe it ever could be restored.
At the same time, you see that your partner was going through a struggle. Maybe repeating past relationship patterns or the fear of commitment led to infidelity.
You don’t have to accept what happened to you was okay. But with a more compassionate perspective, you see this person was going through their own struggles and destructive tendencies that may have nothing to do with you.
You begin to see the person, not as an evil, malicious partner, but as one that–like most of us–is trying to figure out life while dealing with their own set of challenges.
We’re all human and prone to making both big and small mistakes as we’re going through life. As you start to see things this way, you also extend compassion to yourself. You stop blaming yourself for what happened and obsessing about what you could have done better. You realize that while you may not have been perfect throughout the relationship, both of you were trying.
Yes, it’s unfair. Yes, it hurt…a lot. You may or may not choose to stay with this person. Either way, you have compassionately forgiven them and consciously chosen to move on from the hurt.
We all carry wounds and burdens. And everything we go through is an opportunity to learn and improve ourselves.
Benefits of Forgiving Others
Forgiving others is one way we can improve and maintain our mental wellness. The act of forgiveness can decrease depression, anxiety, resentment, and unhealthy anger. Letting go allows improved self-esteem and confidence while helping you set healthier boundaries in the future.
But it’s important to note that this is a byproduct of forgiving.
In its essence, forgiveness is something you give to another person. Recognizing forgiveness is the best response to the situation allows you to let go and regain your power. With this, you allow yourself to be happier and move on.
How to Forgive and Let Go–Even When It’s Hard
Friends, I’m not going to pretend that the mindset shift from a pattern of unforgiveness to forgiveness is easy, especially if you’re coming from a perspective that is resistant to the idea. What I will share is my intention – that you would, eventually, be willing to move from an unwillingness to forgive, to considering how forgiveness can benefit your mental and emotional health, to you trying it out and practicing with it, to you integrating forgiveness into your lifestyle as a way of routine way of investing into your emotional and mental well-being.
The act of forgiveness is the experience of one human being making a conscious decision to release negative emotions (resentment, anger, vengeance, etc.) towards another human being for having been wronged, hurt, or otherwise harmed. Forgiveness releases the other person (or ourselves) and the situation and clears the energy around it so that you can move forward.
That said, the act of forgiveness is not always one-and-done. It is a process that you agree to embark upon that you can complete at your own pace and on the terms that you decide are healthiest for you. No two situations are alike and not all offenses are of equal detriment. Your path to act of forgiveness is personal to you and every situation is handled individually.
That being said, taking comfort with anger and resentment to the point where it keeps postponing your letting go is simply not healthy and I do not recommend it.
Here are some steps to forgiveness you can use as guideposts. Just remember, the process is slightly different for each individual. This serves as a starting point, not mandatory instructions.
Acknowledge and Honor the Hurt
Start by creating your personal stage to acknowledge yourself in the situation. You can do this through journaling, recording your voice or a video, taking a walk, and talking about it out loud or to yourself. Do whatever feels right for you with the goal of expressing your thoughts and emotions about the situation. Take as long as you need. Do this part with yourself.
Identify The Offense
Sometimes we can become so overwhelmed with how we feel about the situation that we allow our emotions to drown out what happened. The problem with that is that focusing only on our emotions can deter us from getting ourselves into a position of clarity, solution finding, and boundary setting. What actually happened? Be specific. Do this part of the process with yourself as well.
Notice All the Emotions Involved
Being hurt comes with a full range of emotions. It’s important to identify what you are feeling due to the offense. You may be experiencing hurt, shock, anger, resentment, regret, jealousy, fear, sadness, or anxiety just to name some aspects of the experience.
None of the emotions are right or wrong. They are simply what you are feeling. In this step, journaling can also be a powerful tool to sort out the pain and explore your emotions more deeply. Talking to someone in your support network that can help you see things objectively without adding fuel to the fire of hurt can also help. Note: the person who will only see your side of the situation may feel more comfortable to speak with (and vent with) but may not be the best person for clarity and growth.
Create The Foundation for Forgiveness
Now that you’ve made the decision to forgive, given yourself permission to acknowledge what happened, identify the offense, and notice the emotions it brought up, it is time to take the actual step to forgive.
There are many different ways to forgive. Sometimes it is with or to the person that you are in conflict with. Other times, it can begin with a conversation with yourself and then include them later (if appropriate) in another discussion. It also depends upon the intensity of the offense and/or whether or not you want or need that other person to be part of your process.
For me, it depends upon the intensity of the offense. I’ve forgiven in as simple a way as saying “I forgive you” out loud or to myself, writing it out in my journal, or performing any of the forgiveness rituals that exist in the world. Ho’oponopono from my Huna practice is a common one for me. For more intense and hurtful issues, I sometimes create a ritual for forgiveness that includes space clearing, prayer, journaling, meditation, release work, and eventually forgiving the person (and/or myself) for what happened.
Whatever you choose is excellent. What really matters is that you’ve made the decision to forgive and that you’ve taken action on it as a way of not allowing the situation to take your power or to take up residence in your Being.
Ultimately, the goal is to forgive and let the thing go so you can clear the negative thoughts and energy about it and move forward.
Set Boundaries for the Future
The next step is to determine your next steps for the relationship and to identify the boundaries you need to set. You may choose to part ways with the person. For someone who will remain in your life, you may discuss the conflict, communicate your boundaries, and how you would like to move forward.
Bonus: You may also choose to identify what you’ve learned about yourself in the situation and what you know you need to do in order to mitigate the chances of this happening again.
Make the Commitment to Forgive and Move On
Now that you’ve taken the steps above (and any others that feel right for you), it is time to make the decision to move on and past this negative situation. Forgiveness means that the emotional and mental debt is absolved and that you are making a conscious decision and effort to move forward, with boundaries.
Note: There are times when depending on your feelings about the offense, you may need to repeat the steps above. Remember to give yourself grace and that forgiveness is a process and muscle that you can exercise. Trust that it will get easier over time and with practice.
Explore Forgiveness and Other Opportunities Watch Your Life Shine
Many times using your support system helps to make the forgiveness process a little easier. The Shaping Freedom community is full of individuals who, like you, are seeking ways to feel freer, be more empowered and aligned, and have better results in their professional and personal relationships.
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Ready to do the work? Want to forgive but don’t know how to start letting it go? Join us live or virtually for the Shape Your Foundation Workshop