I’ve learned that forgiveness is a journey. When our heart becomes too heavy with the burden of our bitterness, there are distinguishable steps we can take that lead us to inner peace.
What about you? Is there something from your past that is hard to forgive? Do you want to let it go? Do you want to live your potential more fully by releasing the past? If so, try these steps:
Acknowledge your feelings
First, acknowledge your feelings related to the situation and actually feel them. Move through them. For 15 years, anger, depression, resentment and bitterness were subversive hijackers of my life. Once I learned how to acknowledge and feel these emotions, they not only lost their power, but also subsided.
Here are a few ideas to help you dive into your feelings about your situation:
- Make a list of the prevalent feelings you have related to the experience and/or your perpetrator. Be gentle with yourself
- Talk to yourself as if you were your best friend. What advice would you give to yourself?
- Find an outward expression for each of these feelings such as
- expressive arts [collage, writing, ceramics, music, dancing]
- physical expression such as punching a pillow, working out, running
- spiritual expression such as meditation or prayer
From the opposite perspective
Second, see the situation from the other person’s perspective. Our myopic view of the situation keeps us stuck in the past. Looking at the situation from the other person’s perspective is a very powerful exercise. Shifting our viewpoint allows us to understand others, put ourselves in their shoes and possibly have some empathy or compassion for them. This does not mean that we condone what that person did or that we completely understand it. When we imagine the experience from the other person’s point of view, we are acknowledging that there was another viewpoint to the experience, another set of values and morals at play.
Here are some ideas to help you shift your perspective:
- Write about the experience from your own perspective. Then, sit in a different chair and try to embody your perpetrator. Write about the experience from his/her perspective
- Write a letter to yourself from your perpetrator with him/her explaining what happened from his/her perspective
- Retell the story, not the one where you’re a victim, but the one where you are a hero
- Think about what was right about this experience. What have you learned from going through this experience?
Release the bitterness
Third, release your bitter feelings. In order to do that, you may need to also let go of your identity in relation to it. We all create an identity in relation to what happens to us. Perhaps you are a scorned wife and feel vindicated by expressing your anger at the husband who cheated on you. Perhaps you are the victim of childhood abuse and you still feel like a victim and don’t know how to let go of that identity. You were not born feeling angry, resentful or vindictive. You were not born a victim. Let go of these accumulations and allow yourself to return to your pure humanity.
Here are some ideas to release your feelings:
- Write down all the benefits you would have if you let go of the bitter feelings
- How different would you be if you released all this blame and resentment in relationship with yourself? With others? At work?
- Ask yourself this question: given everything this person had to work with at the time, can I assume this person did the best he/she could in that moment?
- Bless and release. When feelings of resentment and blame surface, imagine what the feeling looks like and put it in a big bubble. Bless the bubble and blow on it. Watch it float away.
And fourth, make the choice to forgive. Yes, forgiveness is a choice. It doesn’t just happen. And you may need to forgive a transgression again and again until that becomes your new normal.
Here are a few ideas to foster forgiveness:
- Bless this person when they come to mind instead of cursing them
- Connect with your compassion. Can you extend some to your perpetrator? It may feel contrived at first, even false, but that’s often the case when we are retraining the brain. Fake it till you make it
- Stay committed. Forgiveness is not a one-time experience. Once you make the decision to forgive, you will be challenged and tested to stay committed to that decision. When the familiar bitter feelings return, remind yourself that you are choosing to forgive; you are choosing love.
- Maintain a forgiveness attitude. Instead of immediately getting angry at someone who cuts you off in traffic, get into the habit of blessing that person, understanding that there is a reason s/he did that that has nothing to do with you.
- Write out an intention statement to reinforce your intentions. Start with an “I am…” sentence that states who you are as you would like to be in relation to the situation. Example: I am compassionate and forgiving OR I am safe and strong OR I live my life with joy and involvement… Now add a sentence that includes how this makes you feel. Example: I feel free and empowered.
When it comes right down to it, forgiveness is a choice to release the past and walk into the future. It is an internal experience; your perpetrator never needs to know that you have forgiven him or her for you to feel the positive benefits of forgiveness.
When we live in a place of fear, we embody debilitating emotions such as resentment, bitterness, apathy, blame—the list goes on. The more serious the transgression, the more vindicated we are in feeling these emotions. But when we live from a place of love, those emotions don’t have a home, they can’t land in our heart because there’s no room.
Forgiveness is not about condoning another’s actions or absolving them of restitution. Forgiveness isn’t even about the other person. The choice to forgive is always a gift we give ourselves.
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