Updated: Sep 14, 2020
by Marcus Oujla, June 19, 2020
Whether or not to forgive someone is a choice we have all faced at one time or another.
It’s much easier to ask for forgiveness than to actually forgive someone when in pain. Why? It is not our natural response (1). We have all been the victim and perpetrator of hurt, whether emotional or physical. While some people thrive on making others feel less than, most of us try our best not to inflict harm upon others. Each of us has a specific and unique mindset, belief system, and experience as we try to communicate and live with one another. However, we tend to take the pain we experience in life into future situations as we try to navigate our way through our world. So why is it so important to learn to forgive?
PHYSICAL ASPECTS OF HOLDING A GRUDGE
The feeling of holding a grudge is awful. Grudges weigh heavily on our thoughts, emotions, and psyche. These feelings subconsciously take up space and energy and can have a detrimental impact on us physically, such as higher blood pressure, weakened immune system, migraines, stress, sleeplessness, ulcers, and much, much more (1). These negative symptoms can be perceived in the body as trauma. Being able to forgive ourselves or others can undo all these negative effects as well as increase our physical health by creating more oxytocin in the brain, helping us to remove the fear of betrayal as we move forward from hurtful situations (3).
“When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.”
Nelson Mandela, QuotePico.com
HOW DO WE FORGIVE SOMEONE WHO WILL NEVER SAY SORRY?
The first thing we need to understand is that forgiveness is for ourselves and nobody else. This does not mean there will be reconciliation, nor are we condoning the actions of the person who hurt us, but rather it facilitates peace within ourselves (2). This helps us to let go of all negativity and prevents us from being victims while giving us the courage to move forward in our lives (3).
“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim, letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.”
C.R. Strahan, Goodreads.com
Often we will go through a period of grieving, but when we focus our attention on our wounded feelings, it gives the person who caused us pain power over us (2). It takes a lot of strength to understand that we all have shortcomings, even the person who betrayed us. Recognizing that every person is fallible can help.
Here are a few suggestions on how to take the right steps towards true forgiveness (3). Try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective (5). Learning to forgive can often be a humbling experience for both parties (5). Studies in conflict resolution show that we tend to invent stories for the other person’s behavior when, in most situations, we don’t know their side of the story and can only know our own. (5). In some cases, what someone did or said to us might be considered a low 1-2 level offense, but our response and reaction is as if it was a level 10 or higher. Level 10 reactions, in most cases, stem from unhealed trauma that could damage relationships. Many times, a hurtful individual may not realize or even understand the hurt they have caused. Or if they do, they may feel justified. But from my experience, everyone has the ability to learn compassion and feel empathy for what another person has gone through. It’s important in our own healing to understand where other people are coming from and why they behave the way they do, even if they don't take responsibility for their actions. Our goal is to invoke peace as we operate in harmony, balance, and perfect love within ourselves.
"Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs."
CONTROL OVER OUR EMOTIONS
Ultimately we don’t have control of how others may treat us, but we do have control over how we respond to them and how they make us feel. Forgiveness doesn’t mean allowing them to hurt us again. Forgiveness empowers us to gain control of our reactions. We may never know the reason something bad happened, but the way we respond is within our control. (4) It's us, and only us, that determines how we feel. By taking responsibility for our own emotions, we begin to lose the feeling of being victimized. Remember, forgiveness is a battle from within, not with the other person.
"If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment"
Marcus Aurelius, PositivePsychology.com
As important as it is to forgive others, it’s equally as important to learn to forgive yourself (3). From my own experience, learning to forgive myself was a much harder path than forgiving others. I am a very loving, gentle, and supportive person to everyone, but I realize I am not that to myself. Instead, I tend to direct all my anger at myself, leading to confusion and emptiness (5).
My severe negative self- judgment has created a belief of unworthiness, inadequacy, and a lack of acceptance from others. I know I am not alone in this, so here are some good reminders to help us all get out of this vicious cycle of self-deprecation. As we learn to be more gentle and forgiving, we must realize that we cannot change the past, so we must try to avoid being stuck in a loop that we have no control over. We must recognize that we can learn and grow through each experience as we focus on the future. We must try to remember all of the positive things we have done for ourselves and others. Some of us may find it beneficial to write these things down as visual proof that we aren’t as bad as we might perceive ourselves to be. Feel free to use this lesson as a stepping stone to becoming a better version of yourself. Start treating yourself as you would treat a good friend: with love and understanding (7).
I would like to share a short little exercise you can try on your own time. You may currently be faced with a situation in which someone has hurt you badly. Even if time has moved on, perhaps there is still a deep-rooted pain stuck inside your body, but even if not, you can use this at a future time, for pain is unfortunately inevitable.
First, close your eyes and try to relax. Think of that person who caused the hurt and try to feel where in your body that pain is sitting. Maybe it’s a heaviness in your chest. It could be an uncomfortable feeling inside your abdominal area. Take as many deep breaths as you need in order to fall into a relaxing state of being. Picture a place where you feel safe and protected. Maybe it's a forest beside a small creek. Visualize the person you are trying to forgive. Speak to them, quietly or out loud, and tell them everything you would wish to say. Ask any questions that may come up, like, "Why did you hurt me?"
Release all of the hurt and let go of all of the pain as you speak to them. Cry if you need to. See them as they truly are: a loving being trying their best and sometimes missing the mark, just like you. Have compassion and look at them with the eyes and innocence of a child. Picture a bubble of light starting to form around them. Start sending them your love and warmth. Give them blessings and protection, and as you do this, see the bubble filling up more and more. As this happens they start to lift off the ground and float into the sky.
Give this person to God or whatever you see as a powerful source. Release all worry and stress. It’s out of your hands and the universe will take them in. Take more deep breaths and bring yourself back into the place where you are. Become aware of your surroundings as you open your eyes again. You may still feel the remnants of those emotions of love. Sit with that feeling and think about how far you have come from the stages of grieving to where you are now.
It’s not always easy, but in time this will sit true inside your heart and love will override all of it.
“If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive.”