The Healing Powers of Forgiveness
Let's talk about how to forgive... How do you forgive someone? How to forgive yourself? True forgiveness is one of, if not the best way to heal after a negative experience and let go of debilitating feelings of upset, anger, bitterness, emotional pain or fear. So why do we not practice it more often?
Forgiveness has always been part of our human society and is featured in multiple historic religious texts but many people do not realise its powerful healing powers for inner peace and personal growth. How to forgive and forget takes a little effort.
When someone wrongs us, they will usually apologise to us. However heartfelt or not, we will accept their apology but we don’t always move on. We hold a grudge or create a grievance and don’t practice true forgiveness.
A grudge is usually caused by not getting something you want, like a promotion at work, respect from your friend or good weather on a tropical holiday; or getting something you didn’t want, such as being lied to by a friend or bad traffic which causes you to be late and you allow this to ruin your entire day.
Holding a grudge
Shelley*, 39, had had a bad few months after a break-up and was really looking forward to two weeks away with her friend. When her friend pulled out of the trip 10 days before they were due to fly, Shelley was hurt and upset. She didn’t want to go away on her own and felt she had no option but to stay at home and miss the vacation altogether.
She held her friend responsible for her not having a holiday and created a grievance – a grudge – against her friend. Every time Shelley thought of her bad break-up, she blamed her friend for not enabling her to have a holiday to get over it, which kept Shelley in the same pattern of sadness and hurt.
Shelley couldn’t move past the fact her friend had ‘let her down’ and her grudge eventually ruined their friendship.
Forgiveness is a choice
Holding a grudge or creating a grievance - big or small – is not good for our mind and body health. It creates anxiety, stress, emotional pain and even depression.
By choosing to forgive, we open ourselves up to more self love and love for others. Forgiveness frees us from these emotional ailments and allows us to move forward.
It is a process of healing which builds our strength and resilience by helping us to identify negative behaviourial patterns, in turn allowing us to learn and grow.
Be a hero not a victim
More often than not, when we create a grievance or grudge, we put ourselves into a position of victimhood, when in fact if we reframe the situation and forgive, we become the hero instead.
Several years ago, Andrea’s* ex-boyfriend cheated on her. She felt deeply hurt and she held him responsible for her daily sadness and heartache. She harboured a grievance and repeated her story to anyone and everyone who would listen.
But after a few months, she finally realised what she had created… both a repetitive upsetting story and her own continued pain. After time, she looked at it from a different perspective and could see that his actions were in fact out of her control and ultimately nothing to do with her. She recognised that she was in control of her reaction to the situation and she chose to forgive him and release the sadness of the past.
“It was a revelation to me as forgiving such behaviour wasn’t in my usual make-up. I haven’t even seen or spoken to him since the day I found out about his unfaithfulness, but that doesn’t matter; I have healed myself from the pain and if we did meet again, I know it would now actually be a pleasure to see him and catch up.”
Andrea turned herself into a hero by rising above the infidelity and forgiving her ex for the hurt he caused her.
It is important to remember that forgiveness does not condone bad behavior or excuse intentional hurt such as lying or cheating. You probably won’t forget the experience but you can forgive it; you can let go of the heaviness and pain to feel light and free again.
How do you forgive yourself?
Forgiving others works for us so why do we often hold a grudge with ourselves, punishing ourselves with self blame, guilt or shame?
Self forgiveness creates a more loving and positive relationship with yourself and therefore others. It enables the same benefits as forgiving others – releasing stress and anxiety and allowing ourselves to breathe deeply and easily in our learning and growth.
My personal experience of self forgiveness has been powerful. Last year, I formed a very judgmental view of a particular female that I thought was chasing my partner. I created incessant dramatic, hurtful stories in my mind and a harmful lack of trust in my relationship. I gave my power over to a made-up story and let it run circles around my life.
It took a while to see what I was doing and that it wasn’t the true situation. It was all in my mind.
I decided to forgive myself for my bad judgment and negative feelings towards another human being. I said out loud ‘I forgive you, it’s okay, I forgive you’ several times to myself which was hard at first but eventually felt soothing and real.
Afterwards, I genuinely apologised to the woman and in fact, we are now good friends with a beautiful connection which I cherish. If I hadn’t forgiven myself, I would not have this new friendship which has genuinely enhanced my life.
How do I forgive myself?
For self forgiveness to be genuine and for you to truly benefit from the process, you have to be ready to forgive. Sometimes we need days, weeks or even months in extreme circumstances to feel ready. There’s no point pretending or rushing into the process.
Firstly, look at what caused your issue; your upset, anger, shame or guilt. Be specific about it; generalising won’t work. It’s like setting a goal; something general is unachievable but something specific is in reach.
Own your mistakes, errors and misjudgments. Recognise when you incorrectly place blame on others for your own actions, for example ‘I said that because she did this’.
Then see what negative story or stories you have created around the issue. Ask yourself do I really want to be carrying this heaviness around with me? Realise how lighter life will be without this story. Know the past is the past and re-focus on the present.
Take your power back. Giving your energy and attention to a grudge or grievance means you have given away your power to the ‘perpetrator’. By transcending the grievance to forgiveness, you regain power over your life and your experiences.
Find a quiet place and do what you need to to feel calm. Say out loud to yourself ‘I forgive you’ or ‘I forgive myself’ ‘it’s okay’. Repeat as many times as you feel necessary to truly feel forgiven. Notice any resistance that may arise and be aware of what messages you are telling yourself to create this resistance.
If someone else is involved in your self grudge and you feel it will cement your self forgiveness, apologise – genuinely - to the person involved. It will aid your healing process. They may not accept your apology but that is their story.
Implement the learnings from each self forgiveness process to improve your future behaviours and reactions. See how it positively enhances your character and existence. Over time, this will become natural.
* Names changed for confidentiality
This article was originally published in Planet Mindful magazine in the UK. Planet Mindful is available in Tesco, M&S, WHSmith, Waitrose and Sainsbury's
What can you do now?
Sign up to my monthly inspiration & advice newsletter
Book private NLP and life coaching sessions with me
Try a free 30-min Strategy Session with me on Skype
Take my 1-hour online course ‘The Power of Positive Thinking: How To Think & Live Positively’