Often times in therapy, a client I am working with is able to recognize the overall improvements they have made. They feel happier, the symptoms they once had are minimal or gone, relationships are improved and they feel more confident. However, they may still feel some underlying disappointment or pain, fear or trust issues, or something they cannot quite put their finger on. In trying to understand this with them, we sometimes come to discover that they may be experiencing blame, either towards themselves or someone who once hurt them. Anger and resentment build over time and may often surface in distressing ways throughout our everyday lives and relationships. This may be the perfect time to introduce the process of forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves for the “mistakes” we have made (I prefer to call these “learning opportunities”) or forgiving others for how they have treated us or hurt us at some point in our lives.
What does it mean to forgive?
- It means making the decision to do so when you are ready
- It does not mean forgetting or ignoring what happened or the pain that was caused
- It means freeing yourself of the toxicity of anger and resentment
- It does not mean becoming friends with the person or people who have hurt you
- It is individual work you practice over time on your own terms
- It does not mean you ever have to come face to face, or communicate with the other person
- It means you are letting yourself of the hook, not them
- It does not require you to make excuses for why they did what they did
- It allows you to understand how you and your life have been impacted by the hurt and turn that into empowerment rather than defeat
How to practice forgiveness towards others:
- Make a list of those who have caused you pain and rate how much they hurt you on a scale of 1-10
- Start with the lowest and work your way up as that may be the least difficult
- Reflect on the specific ways this person hurt or offended you and what affect that had on your life physically or psychologically. How did it make you question your trust in them and others?
- Allow yourself to feel the negative emotions
- Now make the decision to forgive them in this moment. You can offer this person mercy, kindness or even love and respect. Remember you are not doing this for them, but for you
- You may question, who is this person? What has life been like for them growing up? What pain has he or she suffered? The goal here is not to excuse their behavior but gain empathy for what led them to be so destructive
- Make a conscious choice not to turn the anger, hate or resentment you have felt for this person towards anyone else in your life
- Notice any lightening in your heart, change in your physical sensations or any relief of tension throughout your body
- Remember that forgiveness work takes readiness, time and practice, and requires active efforts to be kind and gentle towards yourself
How to forgive ourselves:
The following is an excerpt from a self-forgiveness meditation script by Eric Kolvig, a meditation teacher. You may wish to add a few of your own phrases or sentences to extend this practice and make it more personal. Repeat these phrases to yourself while practicing a few minutes of mindfulness meditation daily:
I allow myself to be imperfect.
I allow myself to make mistakes.
I allow myself to be a learner, still learning life’s lessons.
I forgive myself.
If I cannot forgive myself now, may I forgive myself sometime in the future.
Be kind and gentle with yourself and remind yourself that forgiveness work is hard and needs patience and practice. You will know it is working when you become aware of the fact that you are moving on.