Often, we think of forgiveness as something we do for the other person- the one who caused us hurt or harm. But, forgiveness does not have anything to do with them. Whether or not we forgive them, their lives are not likely to change. But, ours are. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves.
Forgiveness means we are freeing ourselves from holding on to feelings and emotions that no longer serve us. We do it so that we may feel more peace and calm.
I have been focusing on forgiveness over the past year, and I wanted to share with you some of the lessons I learned through the process.
How Forgiveness Helps to Heal
I focused on forgiveness because I realized I was hanging on to feelings that were weighing me down, and I could feel this “weight” on an emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical level, and I knew I needed to release it.
When I forgave and released the feelings I was holding on to, I felt lighter and freer. As I did so, I noticed my health improve. I shared part of my healing journey in one of the lessons I learned since I started this company. But, what I did not share at the time is that forgiveness played a part in that healing.
When someone “does” something to us, and they hurt, damage, or limit us in some way, it is normal for us to feel pain, anger, disappointment, sadness, or frustration. In fact, feeling these emotions is a normal part of us learning to deal with these situations.
The problem occurs when we hold on to these feelings. We do so because we lead ourselves to believe that these negative emotions are our way of “getting back” to that person, they are our way of not forgetting, and they are our way of making sure that “it” does not happen again.
And this is normal. Somehow, we have to find a way to balance our emotions because we feel wronged. And the truth is that we do not have to forget. Forgiveness is not about correcting a wrong. It doesn’t mean that by forgiving we are saying to the other person that what they did was acceptable. Rather, forgiveness is about letting go of something that is weighing us down. If someone did something wrong, it is their cross to bear, not ours.
When we do not forgive, we hurt ourselves. That person likely has gone on with their lives, but we are stuck. We don’t feel happy, at peace, calm, or free.
When we hold on to these negative emotions, when they take over our thoughts and feelings, and when we cannot let them go, they accumulate. Holding on to emotional pain, hurt, sadness, anger, frustration, resentment, or any form of resistance, creates a buildup of negativity in our bodies. This buildup eventually manifests as anxiety, stress, depression, or other chronic conditions.
Science has proven that stress is a factor in most illnesses, and stress can arise as much from our day to day lives, as from not letting go of negativity that comes from not forgiving.
“Forgiveness is a cleansing process, a ‘Shifting’ of the Heart. It is a reclaiming of your inner self as your True Self that as it ripples out into the world becomes a healing agent; a pathway for peace; inner and outer.” (Neumann, 2017).
Forgiveness is essential for us to feel mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual peace. When we let go of the resentment, bitterness, frustration, and sadness, we allow ourselves to reach for happiness.
Steps to Forgiveness
I went through several types of forgiveness exercises, and what I am sharing are the best practices I gained from them:
1. Evaluate Who to Forgive
Start by thinking of anyone or any situation in which we felt slighted, hurt, attacked, or wronged. Simply list them out, and we can do this mentally or we can write them out. Do what feels best.
My process of forgiveness was exhaustive, and I went as far back as I could remember to list every person and situation that came to mind. You don’t have to be as exhaustive. In fact, start with the most recent person or the most pressing situation that comes to mind. Try forgiving that one person first, and then go back to others if the need arises.
2. Recall the Situation & How it Made Us Feel
Recalling what happened, and particularly how it made us feel, helps us to bring the situation into our consciousness and into our awareness. This allows us to see these experiences for what they are, which are simply things that happened to us. They are in the past, and they don’t define us. Bringing up our feelings, and making ourselves aware of them, makes it easier for us to release them.
This is the hardest step in the process of forgiveness- at least it was for me. Releasing means cutting the cord. Some people recommend visualizing the person who hurt us, thinking of the feelings they created in us, and imagining a big pair of scissors cutting away at the links between us and that person.
It may help to say or write “I am aware of how you (insert name/situation) made me feel, and I am letting you go now.” Imagine the feelings- the hurt, the pain, the resentment, the anger, the frustration, or sadness- leaving our bodies.
If this too is hard, write or say out loud, “I no longer feel (insert feeling).” But, don’t just say, “I no longer feel hurt.” Say it and mean it. Repeat the statement for every emotion that came up.
4. Replace Those Feelings
Instead of harboring negativity, replace those feeling with kindness, compassion, and love. Write, think, or say out loud all of the things that we appreciate about that person. Write at least 10 things, and every time we think about each item on the list, genuinely feel appreciation and compassion for that person. Once we are done, mentally embrace the person one more time, and lovingly let them go.
It may help to write them a letter, in which we list out these items and we describe how we are lovingly releasing them. You don’t have to send the letter. In fact, it’s ok to discard the letter after completing the exercise.
Please note that this exercise doesn’t mean that we have to physically embrace the person who hurt us. In fact, we don’t ever have to see, speak, or interact with that person again, unless we want to. But, it is not necessary. This is an exercise we are doing for ourselves to help us replace negative emotions with positive ones, so that the next time we think of the person who hurt us, it doesn’t stir up ill feelings.
5. Don’t Forget About Ourselves
This was another key learning for me. I realized that part of the forgiveness also involved forgiving myself. We beat ourselves up for allowing ourselves to be hurt. Perhaps we feel we trusted when we “shouldn’t” have, or we got close to someone when we “shouldn’t” have, or we let ourselves be weak or vulnerable. Whatever the situation, we can’t hold these negative emotions against ourselves. Every experience we have helps to shape who we are. Being kind, gentle, compassionate, and forgiving of ourselves is part of the healing. We also need to let go of negativity towards ourselves. It helps to do the above exercise with ourselves.
6. Repeat as Often as Necessary
I have realized that forgiveness does not always work in one try. Often it takes several attempts, particularly if we have been harboring negative feelings for a while, or if we feel the hurt in a deep way. Do not be surprised if the negative emotions or resentment come back at a later time. If and when that happens, repeat the exercise.
Forgiveness takes time, but we decide to embark on the journey, it can be a freeing experience that leads to much more joy and happiness.
“Forgiveness is ‘for giving.’ First to yourself and then to others.” (Neumann, 2017).
Neumann, M. (2017). Forgive to Live: Making Peace to Live in Peace.USA: First Printing.