There’ve been times in my life when the list of people I should forgive was longer than my to-do list. That’s pretty long if you know me. My to-do lists have lists!
I don’t know one person who hasn’t struggled to forgive someone in their life. There’s feelings we’d rather not face. Misunderstandings that will never untangle themselves it seems. Best intentions end up in arguments. There’s answers and closure we may never receive. Grudges older than your kids. Believe me, I feel your pain.
We may never get our ‘Why’
‘Why would someone do this to me?’
‘Why can’t we just work it out?’
‘Why can’t they apologize?’
“Why won’t they change?
We mistakenly believe forgiveness has something to do with the other person, but forgiveness is our own personal struggle within ourselves. No one else but you is hung up on whether or not you forgive.
Don’t wait for closure or answers from the other person.
Forgiveness is just another step in your growth process. Everything that has occurred in your life, especially of significance, is a chance (and choice) to grow. When you don’t forgive or move on from the trauma, you remain stuck. Sometimes we push against growth because true growth is not sunshine and rainbows. This refusal to grow is one of the reasons forgiveness is so tough.
Chances are, someone you still need to forgive is also struggling with forgiving someone else.
Abuse, betrayal and trauma are where many people remain stuck only to repeat those situations either as the perpetrator or the victim. Realize those who hurt us are hurting too.
We repeat what we cannot forgive:
What we don’t learn, we are destined to repeat. That means we keep on hurting others the way we were hurt or we continue the role of victim.
Forgiveness is an official, or I like to say a symbolic way of moving forward instead of spending more time in the past.
If you deny forgiveness, trauma resurfaces somewhere in your life through adult relationships or limiting beliefs about yourself. You may have not had a choice in the matter of the original circumstance, but you do have a choice going forward.
We also struggle to forgive when we are still tolerating the behavior from the same person or someone else. This adds to our inner turmoil (cognitive dissonance). In order to forgive, we need to discontinue the patterns and make a clean break. Stop tolerating certain people and behavior in your life. We must refuse to allow that behavior into our lives in any shape or form. If we allow it, then we are also “guilty” and we let the past persist.
If you are with someone who reinforces your trauma (trauma bonding) then you must distance yourself or hold firm boundaries…and keep holding them. If they don’t have a mental illness (narcissistic or personality disorders) then they will eventually catch on and respect your boundaries.
It’s not you, it’s me:
The first thing about choosing whether or not to forgive is realizing that you have a role (and responsibility) in your encounters that resemble and repeat your trauma (read more about Empaths and codependency).
Part of the growth process is acknowledging how you “allowed” any additional hurt to enter your life after trauma, abuse, or betrayal occurred (I’ll show you how to identify the signs later). Maybe you dismissed the signs in someone else. Maybe you thought that person would change or they were different than the person who originally hurt you.
If you have childhood trauma inflicted by parents and loved ones who were supposed to protect you but didn’t, that was not your responsibility. The original trauma is rarely our responsibility.
Accepting your part means realizing that you may still be suffering longer than you need to, and this is typically due to not forgiving yourself for carrying that hurt far too long, for letting it affect many decisions and areas of your life. (Loving meditations)
Not Forgiving is Torture…For You
Another reason forgiveness is incredibly difficult has to do with all the emotions intertwined with our experience. The struggle between resentment and forgiveness is real!
Hanging onto hurt when you haven’t forgiven someone enables those painful feelings to stay fresh like an open wound (stuck in victim mode). This means they emerge frequently, causing additional pain; when your spouse hurts your feelings, it stings more if it’s related to pain from the past because the wound is unresolved. Forgiveness is one way to resolve what can’t naturally occur between two healthy individuals.
Feelings like anger, resentment, shame, and hopelessness continue injuring your soul and psyche, but more than that. Resentment is associated with heart issues and interfering with our hormonal systems. It also affects our immune system causing us to be susceptible to illness and disease.
Resentment is probably the most damaging because it’s like chronic stress, but its chronic anger.
The best way to release these negative feelings is through forgiveness, but in a twisted way we perceive emotions like anger and resentment as a faithful armor of protection. For some, hanging onto anger in particular produces a false sense of power and control over the person who wronged you.
Resentment and anger only harden us and build walls. Funny thing about walls is they keep everything out, the bad and good. You could be missing out on some really great things!
The Difference Between Emotions and Facts:
Like many people, I’ve struggled to forgive. I used to be afraid that if I let go of the resentment and anger then I’d be letting my guard down; that I’d be vulnerable again. The opposite is true. When we declare we’re done suffering, we empower ourselves.
As you can see, emotions are deceiving. They attach us to the past. So what we can do is unravel emotions from the “facts” and the person/perpetrator themselves.
Get the ball rolling on forgiveness by separating past emotions from “facts”. Emotions do not always reflect reality. Facts are more reliable. Facts, as indicated here, are signs, traits, and actions/behavior you recognize in someone that hurt you. This, more than emotions, helps you identify someone who may potentially hurt you.
The idea is to feel safe enough to release the past pain and make it a part of your valuable growth process instead.
Old emotions steal our present reality. By identifying “facts” (I’ll show you how below), and separating them from emotions, you can slowly detach from the painful past.
In order to move forward on forgiving and stop punishing yourself with emotions of the past, make a list (see, I love my lists!)
Finally Forgive and Release Past Emotions:
- Think of someone you’d like to forgive.
- Remember what they did to you and how it made you feel. It’s ok during this exercise to dive into emotions and how it made you feel when the trauma, abuse, or betrayal occurred, but choose a less hostile event, one that you can revisit without causing your distress. How does it make you feel now? How do you feel about that person?
- Fold or draw a line, dividing a piece of paper into two parts. On one side, label it “Emotions” and write down all the emotions that came up in the last step.
- On the other half of the paper, label it “facts” and write down how this person hurt you. What tactics did they use? What words did they use? Write down any methods you recall, words or phrases, boundaries they consistently overstepped, traits and behaviors reflective of them. Describe the situation and how it occurred as if you’re writing a police report. Write this part as factual as you can.
- You can now see before you the difference between emotions and “facts”. Facts arm you with wisdom and learning opportunities. With the list of facts you can reveal the behaviors, habits, verbal and physical language this person uses. Even now when someone triggers old emotions or a loved one in your life hurts your feelings, you can see they are not a real threat if they do not embody these traits.
- You now have a cheat sheet (a guide) of signs that someone may potentially hurt you. Your emotions and pain do not have to be your record-keeper anymore.
The more we can separate the old pain and emotions from the facts (traits and signs of a toxic individual), the more we can guard ourselves against true threats and distinguish between those that merely trigger old emotions and those who can potentially cause us harm. We are better equipped to see our present reality through a clear lens.
How I used this exercise:
My dad recently passed and I knew I was probably harboring some unresolved feelings toward him. I had long ago made peace with our past together, knowing it would never be the relationship I had hoped for, and I always questioned whether I truly forgave his hurtfulness.
Taking the steps in this exercise helped me see now that he’s gone, forgiveness was never dependent on him. My happiness has never been based on whether he treated me the way I wanted to be treated, but my happiness is on the inside and comes from the inside. It is not dependent on another. Just as forgiveness is not dependent on another person either.
I realized there was no way my dad could (or would) assist me with my forgiveness, as I mentioned that’s our own personal inner work. The sooner we realize forgiveness is about us and the struggle within us, the sooner we free up room for transformation.
WHEN YOU CAN’T FORGIVE SOMEONE, DON’T.
There are always exceptions and I have two for you. One is that you can forgive the situation and events; forgive them to move on…for you. Forget about the person/perpetrator. Leave them out of it for now, but forgive what happened.
The other exception is to not forgive. That’s always an option. But find peace in your own way. Try “I don’t forgive you, but I understand.” This is what you can say to yourself to attract the peace you’re looking for. Trust they had their reasons, and they were not good reasons, but you understand…on a mutually human level, nothing more.
Meditate on this:
Next time you sit for a meditation or a moment of contemplation…and you take that deep satisfying breath in…then exhale, imagine what it would be like if the event you can’t seem to forgive never happened. What if someone who betrayed you was never in your life to begin with? All you need is to feel this… is it peaceful…do you feel more loved…relieved? What if this betrayal or trauma was not part of your story…just for moment…imagine.
Build upon these feelings in your quiet contemplation and meditation. these new feelings and emotions are healthy…keep moving forward with them…and seek them out where you can.
(Here’s how to invoke more love in the process of forgiveness: Meditations For More Love)
It’s my sincere hope the thoughts and exercise in this post help you as much as they have me.
Peace and Be Well,