The Freedom of Forgiveness
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
― Nelson Mandela
“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”
― Oprah Winfrey
Forgiveness is not about pretending something didn’t happen, surrendering, accepting injustice, or being weak. It is about acknowledging what happened and moving past it, hopefully with more wisdom and enlightenment.
When we hold onto the feelings caused by a wrongdoing—anger, resentment, fear, hurt, shame—we keep ourselves imprisoned in that story. We relive the injustice and its effects on us, which prolongs the pain and can even cause it to grow. Releasing our feelings through forgiveness releases us from the story.
The following are some ways to facilitate the process of forgiveness:
Try to separate the facts from the story. Think of how your situation would be presented in a scientific journal. Only things that could be proven would be included, and anything not directly observed would be considered a hypothesis or prediction. Anything related to emotions, feelings, and hearsay would be useless to a scientist. This exercise can help untangle emotions from events to provide a more objective view of what happened.
Remember that this involves another human being. We all make mistakes. While being human doesn’t excuse us when we do something that is considered “wrong,” it is helpful to remember we all have faults, weaknesses, and errors in judgment.
Examine why you feel the way you do. Perhaps your feelings are tied to a previous betrayal, or the person’s actions brought up issues with which you are struggling but have nothing to do with this person. Knowing specifically what you are upset about and why can shed light on the real issue. It can also allow you to have a clear conversation with the person you want to forgive, if you decide to talk with them about it.
Make a commitment to forgiveness. Sometimes we say we want something, but don’t really want it or aren’t ready for it. To forgive someone and move on, we have to truly want to forgive that person. Give the same kind of focus and energy to forgiveness as you would a meaningful goal or intention. Imagine your desired future relationship with that person, or if dissolution of that relationship is in order, imagine yourself making peace with that decision and moving on in a way that is supportive to you. You may want to try Loving-Kindness Meditation.
Be gentle with yourself. Forgiveness can be difficult when the wounds are fresh. If you do not understand the reasons behind the injustice, or you can’t find any positive light from the experience, you may not be ready or willing to forgive. It often does not happen overnight, and it is also not something you master like a learned skill. Forgiveness is the subject of many spiritual teachings and can be viewed as a daily spiritual practice. Therefore, allow yourself to see forgiveness as a journey, not a destination you must reach. Try to release any self-judgment in the process. Forgiveness starts with you.