“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
There is not a magical recipe for forgiveness. You can’t force forgiveness by going through certain steps. Forgiveness is a process you complete at your own pace on terms you are comfortable with. Every situation needs to be handled individually.
That being said, taking comfort with anger and resentment to the point where it keeps postponing your letting go isn’t healthy.
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 acknowledging you were hurt and felt like you were treated unfairly. Clearly define what happened. Journaling is a great way to help organize your thoughts and release some of the emotional pain associated with the situation.
Identify All the Emotions Involved
Being hurt comes with a full range of emotions. It’s important to identify what are you feeling due to the offense. You may be experiencing hurt, shock, anger, resentment, regret, jealously, fear, sadness, or anxieity 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.
Create The Foundation for Forgiveness
Now that you’ve come to a better understanding of what you’re feeling, it’s time to release those emotions. Some people find writing what happened and how it felt then burning it is a symbolic way to start the process.
Whatever you choose, this step is when you’re doing the actual forgiving. You may say this to the person or keep it to yourself depending on the situation. This is where you begin to clear the dark space created by the offense and make the conscious effort to start moving forward.
Set Boundaries for the Future
Decide what you need to do to keep the individual from hurting you like this again. You may choose to part ways with the person. If this is someone who will remain in your life, you may discuss how the event hurt you and why you felt you were treated unfairly.
You may also choose to make changes to the relationship to prevent situations like this from happening again. This will depend on the type of relationship and how close you are to the person.
Make the Commitment to Forgive and Move On
Now that you acknowledged the offense and resulting emotions, set the foundation for forgiveness, and set clear boundaries to protect yourself if or when something similar happens, you commit to moving on.
This won’t mean you won’t have thoughts or feelings related to what happened. But it’s how you react when they happen. Instead of feeding into the hurt or resentment, say to yourself, I’ve forgiven. I’m moving on.
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 more free, be more empowered and aligned, and have better results in their professional and personal relationships.