Thursday, July 19, 2012

Forgiveness : How to Let Go and Move Forward

How many of us have felt we were 'wronged' and think that person does not deserve our forgiveness? I am sure most of us could write a list of people and situations that we hang onto tightly to protect us from dealing with the pain and fear of vulnerability.

Forgiveness : let’s clarify what forgiveness is not. To forgive is not to excuse, justify, pardon or condone what someone else did. Furthermore, forgiveness does not mean that you reconcile with this person or that you invite him or her back into your life. Sometimes the person has passed on and that door is forever closed. The purpose of forgiveness is to free yourself from the negative thoughts and emotions that so often accompany a grudge. A great deal of research suggests that there are negative consequences for those who find it difficult to forgive. 

A lack of forgiveness is often accompanied by resentment, which is associated with feelings of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, people who are less forgiving are more likely to be unhappy, pessimistic, neurotic and have illnesses due to repressed anger. On the other hand, forgiving people are more likely to be happy, calmer, optimistic and physically healthy due to a healthier immune system.

But such benefits can take time. One study demonstrated that emotionally abused women who participated in forgiveness therapy experienced greater self-esteem and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety. I, personally, held weekly therapy groups over a 4 month time span at a battered women's shelter where I planted the message that the best revenge is letting go and moving on to a better life without the anchor of the memories of abuse. None of these women returned to abusers because they learned they were worth more than their previous fate.

True forgiveness can be one of the most difficult things you ever do.  The pure act of forgiveness should have NO STRINGS ATTACHED. Through hard work and perseverance, the benefits are more than worth it. Here are some recommendations for this process:

Remember when you were forgiven/walking in their shoes - If you are having trouble forgiving someone, recall a time where you were in the opposite situation—a time when someone else was hesitant to forgive you. Put yourself in the shoes of this person. Why did he/she forgive you? Did you deserve it? What would your life be like if they never did? What would their life be like if they still held a grudge against you? How did it hurt you if they refused to forgive you? Remember that one day you may need to be forgiven again, and someone else will be in the same position you are in now. If you would hope to be forgiven, it’s right to do the same for others and extend the same courtesy.

Write a letter (whether you mail it to them or not, can also be done in your journal) - You may not feel comfortable directly contacting the person who wronged you, and that’s okay. Nonetheless, you may benefit greatly from writing a letter detailing what happened, how you felt about it, and what you wish he or she would have done instead. Finally, do your best to express forgiveness and understanding toward that person regardless of the outcome.  Think carefully about whether you should actually send the letter -- when in doubt, wait a while longer. There are some doors best left closed or, at least, modified.

Putting the act into perspective - What actually happened? Was the person aware of the deep impact they had on you? Did you play some part in the interaction? Was it a miscommunication or a non-malicious act? Was this person acting in accordance to their personality style? Is your hurt coming from your own 'stuff' of which they have no knowledge? Are your expectations of them out of reason? What purpose is our anger serving us? Are we really dealing with the inability to forgive ourselves?  Does the punishment of not forgiving them fit the crime? 

Clinging onto the past can just bring on more of the same - Ever asked yourself why you feel stuck in your life? Are you stuck in the same patterns that bring the same pain? Is the inability of letting go of the past keeping you from a happier future? Is it time to shed the old ways to become a lighter, happier you?

You may be tempted to hold on to anger and bitterness like an old, faded photograph as a form of protection from the rawness of the pain of vulnerability. Without it, there will be nothing to remind you of what happened and why it was wrong. However, you need to ask yourself a simple question: does this make you happy? Does it really feel good to have hard feelings toward someone day after day, year after year? Imagine what life would be like if you let those hard feelings go. Do you remember what it feels like to not have such a heavy burden on your shoulders? If not, its time to find out. 

Ultimately, forgiveness will set you free. There will still be hard days when the memories come back and the hard feelings resurface. But if you make the conscious choice to forgive what took place, your life will be forever changed. Your hard heart will soften and you will see the world differently. Give yourself the gift of forgiveness and see for yourself the peace that awaits you in your new life. 

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