“Forgiveness allows us to let go of the pain in the memory and if we let go of the pain in the memory we can have the memory but it does not control us. When memory controls us we are then the puppets of the past.” – Alexandra Asseily
When you’ve made the decision to live your best life, it’s time to consider letting go of the things that don’t serve you well, so that you can make room for good things to come into your life.
One of the things you should consider doing is forgiving those who have wronged you—whether you’ve experienced rejection, ridicule, deception, or abuse–, and clearing out the mental clutter that comes from holding on to grudges and resentments. After all, the person that you hurt the most by holding on to resentment and anger is yourself.
Forgiving someone who has mistreated or wronged you is hard, isn’t it? So, how do you forgive someone who has hurt you? Below you’ll find five ways to embark upon the journey of forgiveness in order to release yourself from past hurts and rid yourself of any emotional baggage which may be weighing you down and holding you back.
Rethink Your Definition of Forgiveness
You might think that forgiveness is about the following:
- Condoning what the other person did.
- Giving in.
- Turning the other cheek.
- Pretending that nothing happened or that it really wasn’t such a big deal.
- Admitting that your anger isn’t justified or that you’re not entitled to it.
- Forcing yourself to get along with someone who you feel may hurt you again.
If so, then you’re probably going to be very reluctant to forgive. And with good reason. Instead, try changing your definition of forgiveness to the following:
- Forgiveness is about freeing up and putting to better use the energy that is being consumed by holding on to grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing old wounds.
- Forgiveness is about moving on.
- Forgiveness is about choosing serenity and happiness over righteous anger.
- Forgiveness is about refusing to replay past hurts in your mind over and over again, like a broken record.
- Forgiveness is about realizing that anger and resentment don’t serve you well.
- Forgiveness is about giving yourself a clean slate.
If This Hadn’t Happened, My Life Would Be Perfect
In “Forgiveness: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Get on With Your Life”, Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon explain that for many people, not forgiving provides them with an excuse for everything that is wrong in their life. That is, they use the fact that so-and-so did this-or-that to them to explain why they can’t achieve certain life goals. If only that hadn’t happened to them, their life would be much better than it is. That is, they use the hurt that they experienced to get off the hook. If they forgive and heal, then they’re out of an excuse.
Stop telling yourself that because certain things happened to you in the past, you can’t have what you want in the present or in the future. Instead, take responsibility for getting on with your life, in spite of anything that anyone may have done to you. You can do this by shifting from a Victim mentality, to a Creator mentality, which I wrote about in great detail in this post: From Drama to Empowerment.
What If You Don’t Want to Forgive?
Is forgiving the only way to heal the hurt that someone else has caused you? What if the person who hurt you won’t admit what they did, or they just won’t show any remorse? Or what if you simply can’t get yourself to genuinely forgive the other person?
Psychologist Janis A. Spring argues in her book “How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To”, that you can heal yourself and clear your head of emotional clutter—such as anger, resentment, and thoughts of getting even—without forgiving. She adds that you’re free to decide who you will, and who you won’t, forgive.
Lots of people argue that there are only two options:
- Forgive, and release yourself from the hurt.
- Refuse to forgive, and be forever trapped in a prison of your own poisonous thoughts.
However, Spring explains that there’s another option. It’s acceptance. Acceptance helps you do the following:
- Clear your head of emotional poison.
- Be true to yourself.
- Forgive yourself for any of your own failings which led you to allow yourself to be placed in harm’s way.
- Choose to get along with the person who hurt you—even if you don’t love or even like them—if it’s in your best interest to do so.
Acceptance involves the following:
- Honor the full sweep of your emotions.
- Give up the need for revenge, while continuing to seek a just resolution.
- Stop obsessing about the injury. You can do this by challenging your negative thoughts, using relaxation and meditation, and implementing a program of self-care.
- Frame the offender’s behavior in terms of their own personal struggles.
- Look honestly at your own contribution to what happened.
- Take any necessary steps to protect yourself from further abuse.
- Decide what kind of a relationship—if any—you want with the offender.
Questions to Ask Yourself to Help You Forgive
Jim Dincalci, the author of “How to Forgive When You Can’t: The Breakthrough Guide to Free Your Heart & Mind”, has spent the last 16 years putting together methods to help people forgive. He integrates not only the effective thinking and emotional processes of psychology, but also time-proven spiritual methods and perspectives.
One of the exercises he includes in his book is talking with the person who hurt you directly, if it would help you come to a better understanding of what happened. In particular, what happened from their perspective? Also, what’s their emotional intelligence? Is there something in their background that led them to take this action?
He also suggests that you turn the situation around and ask yourself the following:
- How would an impartial observer see this?
- Have I done the same thing to another or to myself?
- Is this similar to a pattern in my family?
- Has something like this happened to me before? Am I reliving a situation I’ve gone through before, but with different players?
- What can I learn from this?
- Can anything positive come from this? Am I stronger or more resourceful as a result of this having happened?
- What do I get by holding on to this resentment? Who benefits and how?
- Am I keeping the situation alive by refusing to let go?
Nine-Step Forgiveness Exercise
This exercise is a modified version of the 9-Step Exercise recommended by the Stanford Forgiveness Project. Here are the steps:
1. Make a list of all the people you feel have wronged you in some way; write down what each one did and why it’s not OK.
2. Acknowledge that those things did happen, and that they did hurt you.
3. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you need to do in order to feel better.
4. Recognize that your distress is coming not from what happened, but from the thoughts that you have about what happened. Your thoughts are within your control.
5. When you feel yourself getting upset over what happened, practice stress reduction techniques to calm your body’s fight or flight response.
6. Another thing you can try when you start getting upset about a past experience is to ask yourself, “What am I thankful for?” Ask this repeatedly until you feel better.
7. Put your energy into looking for ways to achieve your goals, instead of wasting your energy by continuously reliving the negative experiences in your mind.
8. Know that the best revenge is a life well lived. Forgiveness is about taking back your power.
9. Amend your grievance story to include how you moved on.
To conclude, I once heard an interview with former President Bill Clinton in which he was talking about Nelson Mandela. Clinton was recalling the time in which he asked Mandela how he had forgiven those who had unjustly deprived him of his freedom for so long. Mandela answered, “I didn’t want to be in prison anymore.” When you refuse to let go of hurts from your past, you’re keeping yourself imprisoned.
When you have a few minutes, watch the video below (it’s less than 4 minutes long). It’s an interview with Sunny Jacobs who was found innocent of murder after 17 years of incarceration. During that time, her husband—who was also found innocent–had been executed in the electric chair. She shares her journey to forgiveness.