“If unresolved anger is a toxin to the spirit, forgiveness is the antidote,” wrote Brian Luke Seaward in his book, Stand Like Mountain, Flow Like Water: Reflections on Stress and Human Spirituality.
When you feel hurt, you may react with resentment, anger, rage, even hatred. While those reactions may seem justified given the circumstances, holding on to them can actually be even more detrimental to you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Nurturing old wounds and resentments is like tending weeds in a garden. The more care and attention you give them, the more they take over until there’s no room for healthy, uplifting feelings that could nourish you.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning inappropriate behavior and excusing personal violations. It doesn’t mean giving up, hiding or denying what was done. To forgive doesn’t mean you forget that you were harmed. Or that you felt the way you did as a result. Nor is it an open invitation for the offender to do it again.
In The Process of Forgiveness (1996), William A. Meninger writes:
“When we forgive someone we say: ‘You are no longer to be allowed to govern my life. Henceforth I will be responsible for what I do—not as reactions to your infliction but from my own free decisions.’ Forgiveness is the decision that we have done enough futile hiding, suffering, hating, and fantasizing revenge. It is an awareness that the things we have done to ourselves do not affect our offenders, and that we are through hurting ourselves.”
Forgiveness is about detaching from inviting past events to continue to have any negative hold over you.
Forgiveness involves letting go of the feelings of anger or resentment, so that you can get on with your life. Forgiving is a process—sometimes slow—that heals wounds and returns our power to us. When you resist forgiving, you give control of your life to those who have hurt you.
When you detach from the self-destructive impact of shame and blame by embracing the constructive energy of forgiveness, you liberate and empower yourself instead.
The Journey of Forgiveness
It’s not as though you can simply decide to forgive someone and it is done. Forgiving is an active process. Getting from here to there is a journey.
- Acknowledge all of your feelings. Though anger and resentment might be on top, beneath may lie feelings of hurt, betrayal, loss and grief. Uncovering these more tender emotions may be painful, but, like curves in the road, they are essential elements of the journey.
- Stop blaming. So long as you hold someone else responsible for your feelings or circumstances, you don’t own your own life. You stop blaming by accepting total responsibility for your life and the choices you made.
- Release any desire for revenge. The wish to inflict suffering or pain on the person who hurt us imprisons you in a place of suffering and pain. You cannot experience the freedom of forgiveness until you are willing to move away from the need to punish.
- Learn to accept. While it may seem nearly impossible, the more you can quiet the judgmental voice in your head, the easier it will be to accept what has been and reclaim your power to move on. Author Wayne Dyer describes acceptance as forgiveness in action.
- Decide to confront or not. Talking with the person who has harmed you may or may not be the best action to take. Professional coaching or counseling can help you make this decision.
- Let go completely. Unconditional forgiveness means releasing all feelings of anger, resentment or animosity. “Sweet forgiveness cannot hold any taste of bitterness,” says Brian Luke Seaward. “When feelings of anger are released, the spirit once held captive by the encumbrance of anger is free to journey again.”
Forgiveness is not just an outward expression toward others. Turning the liberating energy of forgiveness inward is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. When you forgive yourself, you accept responsibility for your choices, acknowledge your human limitations, practice self-acceptance and resolve to choose more constructively in the future. These actions are essential for a life of flow filled with faith, hope, prosperity, peace and joy.
Through action or inaction, out of fear, pain or confusion, you may injure yourself or others. But when you refuse to forgive, you sentence yourself to an existence weighted down by shame and blame. In that state, you’re no good to yourself or anybody else.
Learning to fuel yourself with constructive core energy grounded in love, respect, curiosity, compassion and gratitude will enhance your life choices. And, for those times when you feel you’ve drifted off the path, make self-forgiveness easier.
The formula for making them a way of life is simple to explain. In every situation, love yourself enough to pay attention to every aspect of your life. Respect everything you are experiencing—what you are thinking, feeling, deciding, saying and doing. Determine whether the energy underneath is love or fear. If it’s love, you are probably on your authentic path. If it’s fear, demonstrate compassion for yourself. Foster gratitude by reminding yourself that everything is an opportunity. Then further neutralize the fear by bringing curiosity to bear. Explore every aspect of the situation, especially your internal landscape, and identify all of the opportunities available to you through this unique experience. As with any new skill, practice will help this way of being become a healthy new habit—your automatic response to every situation.
Forgiveness cannot be forced. Sometimes, it won’t come easily. Like many other skills we benefit from learning, self-forgiveness takes practice. When you find you are unable to immediately release the past and move on, embrace it as an opportunity to be forgiving of yourself and continue to practice the art of forgiveness.
Author’s content adapted under license, © 2008 Claire Communications
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