Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Personally, I’m tired of paying the price for other people’s mistakes and bad behaviour. We’ve all been hurt in big and small ways by others, either intentionally or unintentionally. There’s no denying it—horrible things happen in life.
This article in no way denies the scars and damage life’s atrocities, both big and small, have created for people. It’s about offering ourselves the best Christmas present ever by ending our own suffering for another’s mistakes.
I believe hurt people hurt others. This doesn’t excuse them, but we don’t have to perpetuate the suffering in our own lives. The bigger question is, how can we stop our own suffering and paying the price for the actions, or inactions, of others? How do we free ourselves?
If we had to wait until someone apologized or felt sorry for us to forgive, we might be waiting a long time and we’d be held prisoner. Sometimes, they aren’t sorry, they don’t even know the pain they’ve caused, or they’re dead. Waiting for another to feel sorry will only keep us trapped and locked into our own pain.
The place to begin is to be clear about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t:
• Forgiveness is not saying what happened is okay.
• Forgiveness is not saying we must ever seek out or reconcile with the person who has harmed us. Others don’t even need to know about it. It’s an internal process.
• Forgiveness isn’t “forgive and forget.” It’s letting go of our own pain.
• Forgiveness liberates us from the shadow of another’s mistake and we take our power back. It’s a strength and not a weakness.
Forgiveness is a process, it’s not an event, and it can take time. It’s often done in layers and starts with willingness to let go of our own suffering. It’s a gift we give ourselves. Bottling-up hurt feelings doesn’t work and creates stress on our minds and bodies. This can make us sick.
Suppressed emotions often spill over into our lives in other ways. We shouldn’t over-ride or deny our own hurt and pretend. We should hold ourselves tenderly and know we deserve to be free from suffering.
Many of us use a self-critical voice with ourselves. But when we’re hurt, it’s important to be kind with ourselves. Imagining we are our own best-friend is helpful. What would we tell someone we really loved who’s hurting? How would we be with them? Be nice to the right person—yourself.
When working with forgiveness it’s best to start with smaller hurts, not the big things.
It’s important to acknowledge and feel emotions, and to pause to ask ourselves what we need. We may need to share and feel heard and supported. Writing about it, or sharing with a caring friend or counsellor may be helpful.
It’s helpful to name the feelings that arise. Naming the emotions helps to turn the volume down on the emotional centre of the brain and invite the rational part of the brain into action.
The adage “holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent-free in our head” applies here. As best we can, it’s important we stop having conversations with the offender within our own minds. When we’ve been hurt, there’s often a tendency to go over-and-over what was said or done in our own minds, and rehearse what we’d love to say or do. This often seems to happen in the wee-small-hours, just when we’re supposed to be sleeping. Each time we do this, we will feel a shot of stress chemicals in our bodies, causing us to become wide awake, ruminating on what’s been painful, and creating internal suffering.
Taking the time to heal after an injury is important to allow yourself to gain some clarity about what happened. Deep, slow, belly-breaths are helpful. I’ve found power and liberation in pausing, taking a few deep breaths, and turning toward my hurt feelings with self-compassion. I name what I’m feeling, and don’t pretend nothing happened. Sometimes, I just silently whisper “ouch” to myself.
Deepening our understanding about what forgiveness is and isn’t is just a starting point. Getting clear forgiveness is about ending our own suffering, and not about the other, is helpful.
I hope you consider offering yourself this precious gift.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.