Forgiveness: A five step process

I usually like to start my day by reading some sort of spiritual or inspirational text. Sometimes its A Course in Miracles, sometimes its the latest self-development book I purchased, and sometimes its The Bible. One morning while reading I came across this quote "But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.” - Matthew 9:6 It is a quote within the story of the paralytic who was healed completely when Jesus forgave his sins. I was struck by this for several reasons. For one it really spoke to the healing power of forgiveness, that it was forgiveness that led this man to be healed and be able to walk again. Secondly, I believe that it was saying that we all have this power to heal ourselves or others through forgiving. Forgiveness for me has always been this super abstract thing that I never truly understood. I knew I was usually good at it, but didn't know how or why. I just knew that I had forgiven when feelings of compassion for someone who hurt me would come back and when I felt like I could let it go. I knew that it was usually easy to forgive when I understood why someone did what they did, but it wasn't until recently when a few people really hurt me without me understanding why, that I realized I needed to learn more about what forgiveness was and how to do it. It's something that I still work on but I have come a long way, so I thought that I would walk you through my process so that it might inspire forgiveness and healing in you.

Step 1: Realizing that you need to forgive

The first step to anything is realizing what is going on, so first you have to get that you have some forgiving to do. You will know the you need to forgive is there, when every time you think about a certain person or situation it brings up negative feelings. It could look like anger or resentment, but for me it felt like a tightness and heaviness in my whole body. I realized that I was energetically holding on to not only what had happened but the people who were involved. I was having a really difficult time letting go of what was done to me. I want to take a moment here though to look at the language I was using…what was done to me. This is another clue that you are in victim mode and need to take control of yourself and your experience, and forgive.

Step 2: Release

In order to forgive, it's important to know exactly what forgiveness it. I knew it was the process of letting go, but I didn't truly understand what it meant. When I was in California I was lucky enough to study with Fred Luskin who is the leading expert on forgiveness. If you aren’t familiar with him, I highly suggest that you look him up and read some of this work or watch one of his lectures. Luskin defines forgiveness as “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.” Ultimately he believes that “forgiveness is the resolution of grief.” This is how I have always understood forgiveness as well but I still had the question of how to get there.

I knew from reading The Bible that forgiveness was discussed a lot, so I decided to look up the Christian view of forgiveness. What I found was the key to helping me understand at a deeper level. According to Christian theory, forgiveness is tied into the realization that no one owes you anything. A lot of the time we are able to forgive when someone who has hurt us makes amends. However, true forgiveness doesn't depend on the the actions of other, it's an internal process that happens solely within you. After reading this, I realized that the reason I couldn’t forgive was because I wanted the people who had hurt me to make up for what they did. What I realized though, was that the only person who owes me anything is myself, and what I owed myself was to let go. This is radical self-reliance, the act of taking responsibility and ownership of your life. The second I realized this I felt a weight fall off me and I was finally able to let go.

Step 3: Feel the pain

Once you let go, you will most likely feel all the pain and sadness over what happened all over again. This is why most people dont want to forgive, because holding on to what happened and focusing on the responsibility of others keeps the hurt at bay. As long as you are holding other people responsible for what happened and for your pain, you don’t have to feel it. Which, lets be honest, who really wants to feel pain? But the truth is, that if you don’t feel the pain, you wont ever really heal and then you wind up carrying that wound into the rest of your life and manifesting some ugly things. Also, what I want to assure you is that its never really as bad as it seems. What makes the pain way worse is resisting it out of fear, but once we drop in and really allow ourselves to feel the hurt, it only lasts for a little bit.

Step 4: Forgive yourself

In feeling the pain, and in taking responsibility for yourself, what you will most likely begin to understand is that you will also need to forgive yourself. It might be because you didn't practice discernment, trust yourself, or follow your intuition. Maybe its because you didn't practice good self-care and put yourself first, or you didn't have strong enough boundaries. Maybe its because you shut yourself off and guarded yourself too much. Or maybe its because you blamed yourself for something that wasn't yours. Whatever the reason, figure out what your roll was and how you might have let yourself down and forgive yourself. I think forgiving yourself also has a lot to do with learning lessons from what happened, realizing that it at least served a purpose, and letting it make you a better you.

Step 5: Send loving thoughts

You know you have truly forgiven when you are able to send the people involved, and yourself loving thoughts. When you can begin to look at them with compassion and see what they must be going through internally in order to hurt someone else in whatever way they did, thats when you have forgiven. It's also when you can start to remember the good times that you had with them and not just the bad. Now I want to stress that while sometimes forgiveness can lead to mending relationships it does not have to. Sometimes forgiveness means that you let go and that you can send them loving thoughts, but you decide that the best decision for your life is to keep your distance.

I will say that this isn’t always a one-time process. I still have feelings of anger come up when I think of the people who hurt me sometimes, but I recognize it immediately and repeat the steps above. I also don’t beat myself up for feeling that way. I know that eventually, I will have fully moved on and I might not even think of them anymore. I just have to keep working at it and doing the steps. Most importantly though, remember to love yourself through this process; it makes all the difference. I would love to hear your thoughts on forgiveness, the method above, or any questions you might have. Please share this with anyone who you think it might resonate with and if you haven’t already, subscribe to the blog so you get posts delivered right to your inbox. Wishing you all peace and wellbeing.

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