This had always been a big concept to me which I was incapable of acting on. How do we forgive those who have caused extreme hurt, maybe not just to us, but many others who cannot speak for themselves.
It is only in the few years that I have experienced its power in my life. And it took time to learn from different sources and create a method that worked for me. To be honest, I did not even know what I was doing was piecing together a way for me to forgive. I just felt my way forward slowly.
But before I share what works for me, why bother to forgive? Forgiveness really helps the forgiver. Research shows that forgiveness has huge health benefits. Forgiveness expert, Dr Fred Luskin’s website mentions that forgiveness training has helped improve productivity, reduce hypertension and improve immune and cardiovascular functioning.
How I forgive - and grow
This is what helps me —
1. First, I allow my feelings to flow, whether they are hurt, anger or fear. I don’t block them. I write. I speak to wise people. (As I have used the following steps more, these feelings have been replaced by more peace.)
2. I have changed my self-talk from: “These are mean-spirited people” to
- “This person has a Story. He was taught to be this way by his family, teachers and others who shaped his mind, heart and soul. That is what he knows. This is the best he could do at this point in time. Some of my own weaknesses were also developed this way. As I extend compassionate understanding to myself, I do it towards him.”
- “This person has a Struggle. He has an emotional/psychological wound. He has been hurt and hasn’t healed his hurt. He may not even know this and may even deny he has wounds to be healed. But he is functioning from his wounds, which causes pain to me and others. I also have emotional and psychological wounds which I inflict on others. As I extend compassionate understanding towards myself, I do the same towards him”. (Please see my ex-professor, Donna Hicks’ work on dignity for more information on dignity violations. It has helped me greatly in understanding why people act unkindly.)
- “This person has some unmet needs.”
- “This person is a mirror to me in an important way. I am particularly upset by his actions and traits because I have done or been those things to others, even if it may not look the same. Alternatively, I may have an unhealthy version of the opposite trait. For example, if someone’s irresponsible action is upsetting me, either I have been irresponsible myself or have an over-developed sense of responsibility. This is very difficult for me to accept but when I do, it offers me an opportunity to grow deeply.
- “This person has Strengths, just like I do. He may be over-using some of his strengths. But he is certainly more than his wounds. He has gifts to offer the world, which if given the opportunity, he could do more of.
- “This person is my Teacher. I can learn some precious lessons which could help be become better, not bitter from this experience. I need to discern what these life lessons are. I am grateful to him for these lessons.”
3. Finally, I send them loving and positive thoughts. I wish the person well; I intend that they will heal and be happy and thank them for helping me become a better person. I NEVER thought I would be able to do this for some people but I do try now and it feels liberating.
Don’t wait for an apology
None of this requires contact with the person who has hurt us. This took me a while to digest that it does not require an apology from them. This work is done in our hearts and souls. It may result in us making or having new dialogues and connections with people who have hurt us. Sometimes they may not be ready to speak of the past. They may not even know that they hurt us or how badly. And we need to accept this. It is not easy – but it does get easier.
I have found that extending this compassionate understanding gets more difficult with people close to me since they have the opportunity to cause more intense hurts. But I am trying and it’s a process.
I found a way that works for me pretty well. There are other ways that may work for you. Dr Fred Luskin has a nine-step process.
Forgive when you are ready
I think forgiveness shouldn’t be forced on anyone. If you ask me to forgive when I am not ready, I might withdraw from you because you don’t seem to understand my pain. But when we are ready to forgive, there are tools available, which is what I’m making available here.
Forgiveness also doesn’t always mean I need to stay in a relationship with someone. That needs to be assessed case by case.
Hardest person to forgive
For me, hardest of all is to forgive myself for mistakes or weaknesses. In the Fetzer Institute’s website, they write something I find very useful:
“In Spiritual Rx Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat recommend a simple practice to help you recognize the big picture of who you are; it can be very helpful when you are down on yourself. “The next time you tell a story about yourself, instead of saying ‘I am’, substitute the phrase, ‘Part of me is.'”
When it is just one part of me, it is more manageable and I look at it like a child who doesn’t know what to do and made a mistake. Then I can teach this child gently to act in a different way next time.
I’ve discovered that the more forgiving I am of myself, the more forgiving I am of others.
Here are some excellent resources on forgiving yourself:
Have a story on forgiveness to share?
The Fetzer Institute’s Campaign for Love and Forgiveness has an excellent website with podcasts, ideas, e-cards and more.
Below are some stories of people who have forgiven under what most of us would consider unforgiveable circumstances. They give me hope for how strong the human spirit can be.
Related – Video: Joan Borysenko on Forgiveness
Forgiveness helps heart health
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