9 Things to Remember to Achieve Forgiveness
1. You must really want to forgive someone. Many people try to forgive because they think they should. That never works. When you know in your soul that you want to forgive, you can make it happen. Carrying around anger, loathing, hate, or other negative feelings toward someone is like renting that person space in your head and not collecting rent. It never hurts them; it only hurts you. Forgiveness will begin your healing process and set you free.
2. Understand and accept that forgiveness is for your benefit, not the person who wronged you. I had a client once who for 10 years carried around a major psychological wound and thought I was crazy when I suggested that she forgive the person who hurt her. She finally gave in, did her forgiveness work, and her life turned around. She was no longer depressed and fearful. She could laugh and enjoy life more. Her soul was released from its bondage for so many years. Studies have shown that forgiving someone can lead to healthier relationships with others, and reduce anxiety, stress, anger, cholesterol, sleep, and blood pressure. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain when you forgive someone. Love yourself enough to forgive the person or persons who wounded you.
3. Do not involve the person whom you are forgiving in the process, and don’t expect him/her to change. This is your internal process. It is between your psyche and your soul. I unknowingly offended someone once. He called and told me that he had been attending personal growth classes and realized that he needed to forgive me for something. He asked me to meet him to discuss it. My first thought was “Why do you need me there? Forgiveness is between you and the Lord.” I met him anyway. I was curious about what I had said or done, and I did not want the negativity of his upset with me floating around in the universe. When we parted from the meeting, I was glad for him that he got it off of his chest, but in no way did it change my thoughts and feelings about what I had said and done.
4. As long as you have not forgiven, you are seeing yourself as a victim. I said this to a client once and she said, “But I am a victim.” My response was, “Yes, you were victimized, and it was terrible, but you don’t have to carry that burden forever. If you do, you will set yourself up for pain and suffering for the rest of your life. You wouldn’t be here in therapy if that is what you want.” Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you approve of what happened. It doesn’t mean that you have to let the person in your life again. It means that you are no longer willing to let the issue cause you pain, distrust of others, depression, and unhappiness. She got the message and did her work.
5. Start the process of forgiveness by writing a letter to the person who wounded you. Say everything in the letter that you have been thinking about the situation. Tell the person how his/her actions have affected you. Express all of your feelings. Curse if you must. An 85-year-old woman came into therapy. When I did her intake form, I asked if she was married, and she responded, “I am widowed.” I gave my condolences and asked, “When did your husband die?” She said, “Not soon enough.” She went on to say that she came to treatment because her anger toward him was eating her up and she could not shake it after 10 years. After hearing all of the stories about their marriage, I asked her to write a letter to him saying everything she needed to say to him and had never said. I suggested that she not be nice and ladylike. The very next week she came in and told me that she did not need treatment anymore because she wrote the letter, tore it up, flushed it down the toilet and her anger went away. She stated that she felt free for the first time in many years. If it worked for her, it could also work for you or at least get you started in the process.
6. Do not expect the other person to change. As I said earlier, the purpose of forgiving is to help you to release your hurt, to move on with your life, and to experience more peace and joy. There is most likely nothing you can say or do to help him/her change their thoughts, feelings, or actions. They will probably blow you off as too sensitive, weird, or making up an incident. It’s possible that they won’t care what you think or how you feel.
7. Forgiveness does not mean that you have to trust the person again. You can forgive and still resolve never to see or communicate with the person again. If the person is a co-worker, a family member, or someone you cannot avoid, treat them with dignity and respect, but keep your guard up.
8. Forgiving yourself may be more difficult than forgiving others. Forgiving yourself requires empathy, compassion, and kindness to yourself. It is important that you acknowledge your mistake, and what you learned from it. It might help to do this out loud. I am sure that you learned something from this mistake, so explore and appreciate what you learned. Your inner critic will need kindness and understanding to stop beating yourself up. I once lost a lot of money that I inherited trying to rehab houses in low-income neighborhoods. It was a wonderful idea, and I loved doing it, but I knew little about construction, the houses were all 100 years old or older, and I spent more money than they were worth. There is more to the story, but you get the idea. I did get an education out of the fiasco and as we all know education is expensive, so I have forgiven myself and moved on.
9. Remember that forgiveness is not forgetting, excusing, or condoning. I was visiting and talking with a friend who was dying of cancer. At one point in our conversation, she talked nicely about a woman in her church. Several years before, I held my friend in my arms while she cried about this same woman and her husband having an affair. So, I stopped her and said, “Joyce, it sounds to me that you have forgiven her.” She responded, “I had to forgive them both. How could God forgive me for my sins if I don’t forgive others for theirs? Forgiveness is letting go of stress, anger, memories, and negative thoughts. Always remember that you deserve the peace that forgiveness will bring to you.
Diane Henderson, MSW
Local Author of All God’s Children Got Issues—A Woman’s Guide To Turn Her Issues Into Assets
Available on Amazon.com and the websites of Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million.