Forgiveness is an elusive creature. We may find it difficult to give when we have been wronged by others, choosing instead to cling on to painful emotions of anger, resentment and blame. And when we are the transgressor, we yearn for forgiveness to extinguish our guilt, regret and remorse. And yet there are still other times when we struggle to forgive ourselves, despite carrying more painful emotions like shame and sadness.
What is forgiveness and why is it so hard?
Many people balk at the term forgiveness. This may be due to the fact that forgiveness is often inaccurately conflated with condoning, excusing or overlooking—words imply that the offense was in some way justified or not significant enough to constitute a penalty. From this perspective, forgiveness almost seems like a “get out of jail free card”, which is much less satisfying than holding a grudge.
In reality, holding a grudge is not fun or satisfying. To paraphrase Buddha: “resentment is like holding a hot coal, expecting the other person to get burned“. When we withhold forgiveness, we are essentially holding the hot coal in our hand, feeling stuck and angry. How do we stop ourselves from getting burned by the coal? We have to let it go.
True healing begins when one shifts their perspective to embrace true forgiveness. Authentic, true forgiveness aims to benefit the person who was wronged, rather than the perpetrator. It means making a choice to unburden yourself from heavy, unhelpful emotions instead of waiting for a perfect resolution
How to forgive
The following list can serve as a guide on how to practice forgiveness, whether it be with yourself or somebody else.
- Identify what you are not accepting. Whether this is an action of another or a negative core belief about yourself, reflect upon what specific situation you are ruminating about or avoiding that is leading to a sense of “unresolved business.”
- Determine what is in your control and accept responsibility. What did you do or not do that contributed to this problem? If your immediate answer is “nothing,” this may shine a light on why you have not been able to reach a peaceful resolution. Remember that this is an opportunity to regain control and power over the dilemma. Reflecting on how the events unfolded and taking responsibility for your role in the event is an essential step in the process.
- Verbalize acknowledgement. Whether it is an internal dialogue to yourself or communication to somebody else, it is important to openly express your feelings on the issue. Be cognizant that you are not getting even more stuck in the mud by focusing on blame. Remember, the goal is to achieve personal healing and this is the time to take ownership of your genuine emotion, accept accountability and express empathy.
Perhaps the most important step in forgiveness is moving on. Once all has been said and done, release yourself from clutches of resentment and guilt. You have made the choice to forgive, take personal responsibility for emotions and actions, and accept what has transpired. You needn’t obtain some type of perfect closure to the situation because that is not the point of personal healing. The process of authentically expressing your emotions and making the decision to forgive allows you to integrate your past with your present and move on to a meaningful future.
Seeking Mental Health Support
Sometimes, the process of forgiveness requires the help of a mental health professional. Scheduling an appointment with Chicago Counseling Center may be the first step in your journal to be emotionally unburdened. Meet our team to learn more!