The struggle is real. I have heard many a time that bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. While that may be true, bitterness feels effective in the moment. It feels like the only just punishment for what has been done to you. I believe that feelings are a powerful tool that can give insight and help us make decisions, but when it comes to forgiveness our feelings cannot lead us into battle. The reality is that you will likely never feel like forgiving someone. That may come later, but if you are waiting to feel forgiveness for someone it will not happen. A crucial step in forgiveness is recognizing that choosing to forgive someone is insanely difficult. It will go against all of your instincts. If it feels hard you are probably on the right path, so keep going! Set yourself up for success by recognizing that it will be hard and you are not alone in this challenge.
“The first step in forgiveness is the willingness to forgive.” Marianne Williamson
One of the most powerful ways to move towards forgiveness is to tell your story. Contrary to popular belief, merely venting is rarely effective. What makes a difference is having someone witness your story and validate your experience. Take the time to share what has happened to you with someone trustworthy. Healing begins when we face our pain in the presence of another person. Carefully consider who will hear your story. As a culture we are not well trained in responding to another’s pain. Sharing your heart with someone is a vulnerable choice which can lead to healing, but if not properly cared for can also cause more damage. So care for yourself and choose your confidant’s wisely!
Some people would like us to bind up our wounds in a pretty package and move on with our lives. Many of us succumb to this social pressure and quickly gather our broken pieces together with a forced smile, leaving unaddressed pain lodged like a sliver in a scabbed over wound. Your wounds may appear to be healing, but with a thorn lodged under your skin there will always be pain. The only way to get through the pain is to experience and grieve your losses. Forgiveness is almost always about recognizing losses. What was done to you needs to be brought into the light and seen for what it was – a terrible loss of some form. You cannot sweep it under the rug or make it less than what it was. When you face the pain another person has caused you, then you will be able to take the steps towards healing and forgiveness. “A personal offense is like a scratch on a phonograph record. I couldn’t move my thoughts beyond my pain. It kept repeating, as if I were stuck within its grooves. There was only one way to play beyond it. I had to forgive them, so my heart could take its form again.” Laurel Lea
Part of forgiveness is being fully honest about has been done to you. This includes recognizing habits and patterns that you have adopted to compensate for your pain. The human body is not meant to harbor bitterness. Trauma, left unaddressed, lives in our bodies. How does your pain manifest itself? What do you do to daily act out the message that was sent to you when you were wronged? This question is hard to answer because it puts us in a frustrating place. It is easy to protest that the way we act is a result of the harm done to us, which is true. It is harder to peer into our own hearts, have compassion on ourselves and choose to take our lives on a different path. We do not need to be defined by what has been done to us. As long as we are acting out that message wrongly sent to us, we are allowing ourselves to be controlled by the perpetrator. A big step in forgiveness is admitting that we have (likely) also done wrong as a result of being wronged and not forgiving.
A big step in forgiving someone is to humanize them. This does not mean making excuses for what they have done, but rather recognizing that they are flawed and carry damage of their own. Recognizing the humanity in another person allows you to break some of those messages that bound you. For example, rejection is a painful experience that may have led you to doubt and even hate yourself. Empathy helps us to understand that being rejected was not a reflection of our worth, but a reflection of the flawed human nature of the rejector. Practicing empathy takes the damaging focus off of us and on to the true problem: the person causing pain. Forgiveness is a rocky journey made smoother through seeking to understand and empathize.
Writing is a healing practice. It slows our racing minds down and teaches us to dance to a slower beat. Writing allows us to dig through the muck in our hearts or minds and leave it out on a page. Slowly the weight will come off of your shoulders as you learn to filter your thoughts. Writing can be a place to vent our anger, grieve our pain and explore our hearts. It can also be a place to revisit when struggling with forgiviness in the future. Forgiveness itself is a foggy jungle maze, that can be made clearer through the practice of journaling.
You will have a choice to make. Forgive or don’t. Then you will need to keep making that choice over and over maybe for the rest of your life. You do not need to forgive. It is your choice – liberating isn’t it? You can choose to hold on to the anger forever. If you do choose forgiveness however, you cannot wait until you recieve an apology or until you feel like it. They will probably never deserve your forgiveness and it will never be fair. But healing and living a full life requires us to forgive. Most of us are more determined to live our lives full and free than we are to get even. If you want to forgive there comes a point where you need to just do it. Without forgoeing the necessary steps towards healing, choosing forgiveness is often times a matter of ignoring every instict you have and just choosing to be finished with it. No one escapes this life unscathed. If you find yourself needing to forgive someone, you are in good company with the whole human race. Take time to care for yourself in this process. Give yourself grace to approach each stage imperfectly. Embrace the messy. Life is hard, many times excruciating, but forgivness is a gift given to us. It is an chance to escape lifelong dread and [eventually] restore ourselves to freedom. “It’s not an easy journey, to get to a place where you forgive people. But it is such a powerful place, because it frees you.” Tyler Perry