When was the last time you leaped out of bed and said, “Man! What a great day to forgive Hank!”? Probably like, oh, never. But did you know that forgiveness is one of the post powerful means available for freeing all kinds of juicy, creative energy that you have trapped inside you?
Try this experiment: Think about someone you need to forgive. Go ahead. Just think of them.
Got someone? Maybe a few someones? Well, the fact that anyone at all came to mind means you have some forgiving to do. And until you do, you’re keeping a lot of perfectly great energy locked away where it’s not having any fun at all. I say we do a jailbreak; let it loose. You with me?
Here’s the deal. Most of us avoid even thinking about forgiveness as if it were some horrendously painful process like, say, getting a root canal without anesthetic. In fact, avoidance is one of the two parts of forgiving that we have to overcome before we can unlock its fabulous healing powers.
The other part is–get this—“a resistance to benevolence.” Believe it or not, we actually dig in our heels and fight against opening our hearts to anyone who caused us pain–even when that anyone is us.
For the most part, we avoid forgiving because we don’t really understand what it means. We carry around a lot of false notions about it. And like all the untruths we tell ourselves, they really get in our way. They keep us small and locked in.
Myths of Forgiveness: Why We Resist
He Doesn’t Deserve It
One of the biggest mistakes we make when we think about forgiving someone is that believing that it’s something we’re doing for them, the ones who hurt us or made us mad. Why should we do anything nice for that rotten piece of . . . Well, you get the idea. But the truth is that forgiving is a gift we give ourselves–a gift of wondrous beauty, and freedom, and release.
I Won’t Feel Safe
Another false notion we have about forgiving is that we’re protecting ourselves from future wrongs and pains by holding on to what happened in the past. It’s almost like a superstition; we hold on to the pain from the past as if it would prevent the same things from happening again. But the irony is that by holding onto our bitterness and anger, our fear and blame, we generate the very quality of energy that will bring us the same kind of problems until we “get” how to rise above them. It’s like using the Law of Attraction to magnetize more difficulties toward ourselves.
Instead of shielding us from hurt, by maintaining that inner barrier against the one who did us wrong we’re really allowing the hurt to take up precious space in our consciousness. The energy we could be using to revel in life, to create joyous, satisfying experiences for ourselves is locked up maintaining our illusory defenses. Think about it for a minute. Who is all your anger hurting? Hmmmmm?
It’s My Revenge
Okay, we don’t want to let the bad guys off the hook. If we forgive them, we think, they’ll go scot-free. But in reality, what we think and how we feel about them is stuff that only lives inside us. We’re the ones who suffer the pain, the hurt, the resentment, the anger–over and over, until we release it, until we let it go. While we think, on some level, that we’re getting revenge (“I’ll fix him! I won’t ever let go of how he hurt me!”). But in fact all we’re doing is keeping our own hurt alive.
Whether it’s someone else who did us wrong, or some part of ourselves who betrayed us, nursing our resentment only ties us to the pain. As long as we make that person or that part of ourselves into a monster, it’s always there to poke at our fear and our pain. The monster is always there, forever feeding on our energy, keeping us from the peace and clarity and wholeness we desire and deserve.
Forget About Making Up
Another reason we resist forgiving is that we think we will have to befriend whomever hurt us, to smooth things over and pretend everything is okay between us. But–and pay attention; this is important–forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t the same things.
You can forgive someone and never have to tell her or ever have to see her again. That’s because forgiveness–just like its absence–is something that you do within your own heart and mind. And it can stay there, remaining as private as you want it to be.
Sure, forgiveness opens the door for the possibility of reconciliation. You could decide to renew the relationship that was damaged by the hurt. In many cases–when the person who hurt you is someone you really love, or when the injurious act was something you did to yourself–restoring the free flow of communication and enjoyment is a spontaneous and welcome result. But sometimes you can simply let go of the pain, of clinging to it, and never plan to be in relationship with the person who evoked it again. And that’s perfectly okay. Forgiveness doesn’t always have to mean reconciliation.
We can forgive without any expectation of a response from the person who hurt us, or of our responding to her. Sometimes, interestingly, when we forgive people they surprise us with a pleasant response even when we keep our forgiveness completely inside ourselves. Because we’re all connected on the quantum level, sometimes our forgiveness flows into the lives of people we forgive and touches them with a new warmth. They might approach us with an offer to start over again. But their response is wholly irrelevant to the act of forgiveness itself. Forgiveness is something we do to heal our own hearts and minds.
What Forgiveness Isn’t
Condoning and Forgetting
Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying bad behavior is okay or that you will permit it. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Forgiving empowers you to embrace the kind of self-respect that doesn’t tolerate abuse.
Contrary to the familiar phrase, forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, either. It doesn’t delete your memory of what happened. It just gives you a different, softer way to look at it. You bring healing to your wounds by smoothing them with love and compassion – for yourself.
You still see the scar when you look at that part of your life. But now it a symbol of your release from its pain, of your ability to have grown past it. Now you look toward your future with freshness and clarity instead of with apprehension and fear.
Forgiveness doesn’t change what happened. It changes your view of what happened. It changes you. It frees you.
They say that when you point your finger at someone, your three remaining fingers are pointing back at you. Sometimes we resist forgiving someone because we’re afraid we’ll have to admit that we have been capable of hatred.
The only was to overcome this fear is to be willing you recognize that all of us have the capacity for every human emotion–even the worst ones. Accepting that, you begin to see that the person who hurt you has that same capacity, too. When he hurt you, some of the worst simply got the best of him.
Facing the Pain and Understanding Motives
“But won’t I have to face the pain if I try to forgive it?” some part of you may say. “I don’t want to feel it all over again!” That’s why it takes courage to forgive. Instead of automatically putting up defenses of anger and resentment, we need to acknowledge that we were genuinely injured. But the part of us that keeps the pain alive, the part of us that is truly cowardly, is the part that wraps the memory in resistance and refuses to let it go.
Sometimes people think that forgiving means you need to get inside the offender’s mind and understand his or her motives. The fact is you don’t need to know the whys beneath the act or acts that hurt you. All you really need to do is accept that what happened, happened. What was, was.
A Better Past
In the final analysis, forgiveness is giving up the possibility of a better past. Some part of us believes that if we think about our old hurts long enough, maybe the past will somehow magically change.
Forgiveness is letting go of that belief. What happened did happen, and no about of remembering it or fearing it will change it. But we can learn to look at it differently. We can accept it.
We can begin to realize that our lives didn’t stop at the point of pain. We kept on having new experiences. Our lives went on. We continued to grow in other dimensions of our lives. And now, as we choose to let the pain go, we free ourselves to continue growing even further, expanding with more clarity and more openness than ever before.
How Forgiving Works
Forgiving is pressing the stop button on the old memory tape from the past. The endless loop of outrage, offense, bitterness and sorrow that’s played over and over in your mind finally ceases to run.
Instead, you make the choice to put the tape on a back shelf to gather dust. Your interest in it simply fades away. It’s like waking up from a trance and rediscovering the present moment, the moment where your genuine power resides.
Ways to Heal
- Start with the small stuff. Make an intention to notice when you react to someone’s behavior with resentment or blame, and practice forgiving right then and there. First, forgive yourself for your automatic response of taking offense. Just because someone is being offensive doesn’t mean you have to feel offended. That’s giving your power away.
Instead, remember that you can choose how to respond. You can offer an apology, or say that you’re sorry they feel that way, or see if a misunderstanding has happened and straighten things out. You can graciously recognize that they must be in pain themselves to be acting in such a rude manner and see if you can comfort or assist them in some way. Offenses aren’t about you; they’re about the offender.
- Practice forgiving yourself when you catch yourself acting in ways that fall short of your standards. Apologize to yourself and allow yourself to feel compassion for the part of you that misbehaved or harbored an unworthy thought. Try to discover what it is you need that generated your inappropriate thought or action. Are you tired? Hungry? In need of a change of scenery or some exercise?
- When you’re dealing with a big or long-standing hurt, one of the most healing methods for overcoming your resistance to forgiveness is to write down all the positive things that happened as a result of the hurtful experience. Ask yourself what you learned from it. Make a list of the strengths you developed because it happened. Are you more self-caring in other aspects of your life? In what ways are you more compassionate toward others who endured a similar hurt? What new choices have you made because of what you learned?
People who write about the hidden benefits of the events that hurt them, studies show, develop new resilience and begin to look toward the future with renewed optimism and hope.
- Pray for forgiveness, and for a forgiving heart.
- Learn meridian tapping and use it in untangling your feelings about your hurt. You can download a free manual on how to do it here.
- Adopt the practice of ho’oponopono. Learn to chant the phrases “I’m sorry; please forgive me; thank you; I love you” throughout your day.
- Write out a personal declaration of forgiveness and memorize it, or carry it with you on a little card that you can read whenever you need to reinforce your decision to forgive and to wish that the person who hurt you might live a better life. State your willingness to recall the good that came from the situation and to freely let go of it, to see it as a finished, past event.
- Create some positive affirmations that you can repeat to yourself when your ‘hurt-tape’ starts running. “Even though I was really frightened at the time, even though I was hurt and felt totally powerless, I am choosing to recognize the strength I have now.”
Resistance to forgiving can be really strong. But every gentle step we make to overcome us serves us well. The more we move in its direction, the more we experience forgiveness as one of the kindest, most life-enhancing choices we can make.
As we let go, more and more, of our clinging to past wounds, we feel the upsurge of new harmony within ourselves and in relation to the whole world. We taste the freedom to begin focusing on the abundant richness and possibilities the present holds.
Choose forgiveness. Choose to claim the experience of its power and healing in your life, starting today.
What experiences have you had with forgiveness? How did you learn to apply it in your life? How did it do for you? I’d love to hear about your experiences with it—or about the stumbling blocks that are keeping you from forgiving. Let me know.