This month’s focus is on Forgiveness. What is forgiveness? That’s actually a really important place to start.
Webster’s Dictionary defines forgiveness as: “to pardon; to give up resentment of; to cease to feel resentment against.” I also define it as “letting go; releasing yourself emotionally from a negative experience in your life.” The words may sound relatively easy. But it’s the actions of “giving up, releasing, and/or ceasing” that cause people the most difficulty.
Let’s start with forgiving others. How do we forgive? How do we let go of resentment? Most of the time we want to (or think we need to) know that whoever caused us pain feels sorry for what they’ve done. We want them to admit that they did something wrong. We need them to acknowledge that they have hurt us.
Notice that each of these statements is about the other person, not about us. That misses the most crucial part about finding full resolution, because as wonderful as it is when someone acknowledges their wrong-doing, their apologizing can actually lead us to overlook that we still feel the pain that was inflicted.
If you were the injured party and you haven’t truly forgiven them, you’re still carrying the scars and the burdens of the injury. In other words, you continue to suffer, and therefore you are not free.
It’s in our letting go of this pain where true forgiveness resides. Sounds so simple when people say it, right? Often it turns out to seem impossible in practice. Sometimes the suggestion “let go of the pain” is interpreted as “just ignore what they did and pretend it doesn’t hurt.” That is NOT forgiveness; that is denial. Denial doesn’t work, because our subconscious mind knows it’s not true – it does hurt!
We need real resolution to actually let go, but how can we accomplish that? No one ever taught us how. Well, I’m about to do just that.
Take a moment and think about a time when someone hurt you. It needn’t be a huge offense – perhaps someone said something thoughtless or hurtful, or someone was neglectful of your feelings or needs, or maybe your boss overlooked you for a promotion. Does it still sting, even just a little?
Think about how you felt at the time of the “injury.” Feel how hurt, angry or disappointed or resentful you felt. On a scale of 0 – 10, with 0 being no reaction at all and 10 being the strongest reaction you have ever felt about anything. How intense is your feeling right now? Sitting and thinking about this particular event, does your system still react as strongly today as it did when the event occurred? If you still feel any reaction, try the following process to help you release it.
The Process of Forgiving
The following four steps can be used in any circumstance where either you have been hurt, or you have hurt someone else.
1. “I acknowledge who you are, and that I have no control or power to make you be someone different.”
Who is the person you’re thinking of? Without judgment, list the qualities this person has. Is he/she sensitive, shy, hostile, controlling, insensitive? Just list the qualities, and acknowledge that this is who this person is to you, and that you do not have the power to change him/her.
Take a deep breath and note how difficult or easy this step is for you in this case. Do you hear any “Yes, but…” arguments coming up? (i.e., “Yes, I know he’s arrogant, but he shouldn’t be!!”). Take a deep breath, and just sit with who this person is and how you feel about them. Is it someone you respect, love, admire, need, resent? Pay attention to your feelings without judging them or yourself. This step frees you from the unrealistic belief or expectation that you can “change” the other person.
2. “I acknowledge my part in this event.”
Even if you were the “victim” in the circumstance, acknowledge your part or role in whatever happened. Acknowledge whether your feelings were, or are now, related to having felt powerless, or maybe not knowing better, or your lack of awareness, or your wish to have handled the situation differently. Whatever it was in that event, just write down whatever you remember your part as having been.
3. “I acknowledge whatever pain and suffering I have endured as a result of this event.”
Write down the feelings, beliefs and thoughts you have carried within you about this person or event since it occurred. When you feel the judgments creep back in, STOP! BREATHE! FOCUS! Allow yourself to be aware of where you carry these feeling in your body, and how strong they are. What do they tell you? How do these feelings keep you stuck in the past – and still reactive in the present – whenever this circumstance or person are remembered or mentioned? Breathe deeply and move on to #4.
4. “From this event I learn something valuable for myself and my life going forward.”
What can you learn about yourself, other people, and your circumstances that will enhance your life? Every event is a learning experience IF WE ALLOW IT TO BE. A famous philosopher is quoted as having said, “Life has to be lived forward, but it can only be understood backwards.” So, what do you now understand about that person or event that will help you move forward in your life?
Did you experience a shift?
How did that process work for you? Did you see some new perspectives? Did some new possibilities for feeling more peaceful show up?
Please understand, I’m not looking for you to say “I’ll never do that again,” but rather to see the event as a life lesson. What did you learn about how you communicate, how you listen, how else you might like to handle a situation like that in the future?
Once you get past the judgments of yourself and others, and you are sitting with just your awareness, learning can take place. What is your desired outcome? Do you want to feel more empowered within yourself and be open to new possibilities for yourself?
Allow yourself to learn something new, even just one small insight…and stay tuned for more on this topic, including just how seriously not forgiving can affect us and others, and what to do when you’re the one who needs forgiving…coming soon!
In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our free teleseminar on September 11th called “Anger, Grudges or Forgiveness?” – you can read about it here. On that call we’ll be sharing additional tips for incorporating forgiveness into your life, and details about our in-person workshop coming up on September 22nd: “Living Free and Letting Go: The Fine Art of Forgiveness.”