“Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.” ~ Ann Landers
When the word forgiving is mentioned, who comes to your mind? Who is the person or what is the experience that you feel you will never forget, never forgive? Forgiveness is a subject that fascinates me and it’s probably because it is such a hard thing to do!
When I worked as a bodyworker for many years and treated clients using touch therapy, I witnessed over and over again how our experiences and our emotions can get locked up in the body and manifest in tension, pain and health problems. In my work as a therapist, it is not uncommon for me to hear clients say that they are feeling stressed over something that happened in the past. It may be because they no longer have something they had, because they were hurt, because something unpleasant happened, because they once did something they are sorry for, because they became angry over a situation in the past or were treated badly.
We have all experienced regret, sadness, hurt, fear, guilt, blame, anger and resentment. Sometimes we even have the desire for revenge. Author Louise L. Hay said: “Holding onto the past –no matter what it was or how awful it was – is only hurting YOU. Not forgiving someone else doesn’t harm the person. “They” really don’t care. Usually “they” are not even aware!”
What is forgiveness?
Wise people have shared their definition of forgiveness with me. So now I share them with you and hope that at least one of these resonates with you.
- Forgiveness is choosing to draw a line in the sand saying “I choose to no longer be negatively affected by this anymore”.
- Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different. “I forgive you for not being the person I needed/hoped/wanted you to be”.
- Forgiveness means giving up our hurtful feelings and letting the whole thing go. It is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. It has nothing to do with condoning behaviour. It is just letting the whole thing go so that it no longer governs you. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you to focus on other positive parts of your life.
- Forgiveness is accepting what is; or what has been and becoming willing to see it differently. You cannot un-hear what you have heard or un-see what you have seen. What you can do is choose to stop believing that what occurred has somehow left you broken, damaged and wounded as this belief is disempowering.
How can I forgive ?
Forgiveness is a commitment to a process of change. The past is over and we cannot change that now. It may also be helpful to consider the value of forgiveness and its importance in your life at this time. Forgiveness results in a shift in your perception. You do not need to know how to forgive, or you may not want to forgive, but the very fact that you are willing to try to forgive begins the healing process. When you feel ready to try to forgive say: “If you have hurt me or harmed me in any way, to the best of my abilities right now I forgive you. Or may I one day forgive you.” Repeat this exercise at least once a week until you reach the point where you can let go.
Research shows that journaling about the positives (what you’ve accomplished and the positive ways that you’ve grown) as a result of a negative situation can help you to forgive. Or you may want to write a feeling letter to the person/situation that you never send. When writing out a felt emotion, describe in short sentences what happened and then why you feel that way. Putting your feelings into words may help you to process the negative feelings you have against them and then when you’ve written it you can ceremonially burn it. People don’t need to know that you’ve forgiven them; forgiveness is more for YOU than for the other person.
Sometimes it can be difficult to forget about the past and forgive, particularly if the offending acts were on-going or traumatic. If you’re still having difficulty knowing how to forgive someone who’s wronged you in a significant way, you may have better success working with a therapist who can help you work through your feelings on a deeper level and personally support you through the process.
What are the benefits of forgiving someone?
Reflect on how this situation has affected your life, health and well-being. What does holding onto resentment cost you on a daily basis? Choosing to let go can make way for self-compassion and peace. Choosing to forgive or let go can lead to:
- Healthier relationships moving forward
- Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
- Less anxiety, stress and hostility
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present. You might become depressed or anxious. You may feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs. You might lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. You do it so that you can get well and move on. It frees you from the past, the past experience, and the past relationships. It allows you to live in the present moment. When we won’t forgive, when we won’t let go, we bind ourselves to the past and cannot live in the present moment and therefore we lose the experience of enjoying life and all that it has to offer in the here and now.