Last week I wrote about why forgiveness is important, and this week I want to write about how to find forgiveness. It's about removing those chains that have been attached to you for too long now. You can't change the past. You can't make the past better. You get no do overs. However, you can forgive.
Why is it so hard to forgive?
Maybe you think that if you forgive then the other person wins. Maybe you think that the person who hurt you doesn't deserve your forgiveness. Maybe you feel like you'll be betraying your feelings if you forgive. Maybe you just don't know how to go about it.
These are all valid reasons, but they do you no good. The person who hurt you doesn't win if you forgive them. Actually, they win if you don't forgive them. Whether or not they deserve your forgiveness is irrelevant. Forgiveness is for you, not them. It's your feelings that are betraying you if you feel like you can't forgive. Feeling like you can't forgive only holds you back and keeps you shackled. As for not knowing how, that's what I want to help you with here.
First, let me start with a story about how I learned to forgive those who bullied me.
How I Learned To Forgive
I wish I could say that I learned to forgive many years ago now. It's been about 18 years since I was bullied, but I only learned to forgive last year. I'm not proud of that but it is what it is.
I knew long before then how important forgiveness was but I just couldn't find a way to do it. It was something that didn't make sense to me. How was I supposed to forgive people who hurt me to the point where I still feel the effects of it to this day?
I felt stuck because I knew it was necessary for moving on. I also knew it was how I would be able to stop feeling the need for revenge.
A couple of times I tried tricking myself into thinking I had actually forgiven, but it wasn't sincere and didn't last. The forgiveness has to be sincere. There are no shortcuts.
So last year while I was listening to a podcast, the guest started talking about forgiveness and it finally clicked for me. This was the first time that it made sense to me and I realized why I needed to do it. For the first time I understood that the forgiveness wasn't for them, it was for me. For some reason I never saw it this way before. This was the breakthrough I needed.
I also realized that I needed to forgive myself, too. I didn't realize how important that was. Even though things like this are not our fault, it's still important to figure out if deep down you somehow hold yourself responsible, and to forgive yourself for that.
If you've resonated with this post thus far then I highly recommend you check out the podcast episode that helped me. It's The School of Greatness podcast with Lewis Howes, episode 36 with Chris Lee. You can click here to be taken to that episode. I recommend listening to the entire episode, but the part on forgiveness is about 9 minutes long starting at the 23:00 minute mark.
How You Can Achieve Forgiveness
Below are some tips that you can put into place right now to begin forgiving (in no particular order).
1. Let it go. There's no point holding on to something that isn't serving you in a positive way. I'm not sure why we hold on to things that aren't good for us, but not having a reason doesn't mean that we should.
2. Think about the kind of future you want. It can make it easier to forgive if you know what you're doing it for. If you imagine a future where you're happy and at peace with the way your life is, then you'll know you need to forgive in order to get there.
3. Tell yourself that you don't place blame anymore. Forgiveness comes from the need to absolve someone of something they did to you. This also applies to forgiving yourself. But, if you can say that you don't blame anyone for what happened anymore, then you no longer need to find forgiveness.
4. Write a letter not meant to be sent. Write up a letter addressed to the people who hurt you without the intention of sending it. Just get all of your feelings out on paper as if you were actually going to send it. Knowing you're not going to send it will allow you to write honestly. Then, after you've written it, destroy it. This will help you to let go.
5. Envision your life without forgiving. How does it look? Is it any better than it is now? If you envision a life where you're still angry, bitter and unhappy, then you're more likely to be motivated to make a change.
6. Envision your life after forgiving. How does this life look? If you feel happy and free, then you'll also be more likely to be motivated to change.
7. Learn self-acceptance. If you need to forgive yourself then this is an important one. Don't be hard on yourself any longer. We all make mistakes. Appreciate yourself for who you are.
8. Go to therapy. At least give it a try. It may not help everyone, but you won't know until you try it. What's the worst that could happen? This is something that has been very helpful for me. A recent study even showed that using forgiveness interventions helped people deal with the past and ultimately achieve forgiveness.
9. Meditate. Meditating can bring about a peace and calm that is hard to come by otherwise. You could use meditation as a way to envision forgiveness. It could get you to a state where it becomes easier to forgive.
10. Write in a journal. This can be very therapeutic because you can be completely honest with yourself when you write in a journal. Writing about your feelings can help you make better sense of them. This is a good outlet that can also make it easier to find forgiveness.
11. Don't get upset by setbacks. We're not perfect and we'll inevitably have times where we think about who hurt us and have some negative feelings about that. Forgiveness is a process that always requires us to work on it. If you have a setback just acknowledge it and try to take yourself back to a place of forgiveness. Don't dwell on the feelings.
12. Eliminate negative self-talk. Along the same lines as the previous tip, don't be hard on yourself here. If you find yourself saying things that are making it harder to forgive, then try to shift your focus onto why you should forgive and how that will help you become the person you want to be.
13. Learn from the past. Use what happened to you as an experience that makes you a better person. It's said that forgiveness is for the strong, so use the past to make yourself stronger and be able to forgive.
14. Actually say "I forgive you" to yourself. Saying it aloud will make it more real. You deserve to hear those words said to yourself if you blame yourself in any way for what happened. Say it, mean it, and let yourself move on.
15. Think about what an outsider would say to you. Again, if you're blaming yourself for what happened, how would someone else see it? It's not likely that they would tell you that it was your fault and that you should punish yourself for it. When we look at things from someone else's perspective, we can often see the flaws in our own thinking.
I posed the question on Twitter asking people to let me know of any tips they have for forgiving. I got one response and I want to share it here.
This is a great tip but not necessarily an easy one. It can be difficult to put yourself into the other person's shoes and think about how you would want to be forgiven if you were them. Or, let's say that you or I were the bully. Would you want to be forgiven for hurting someone else? I think we all would, but the hard part is imagining it that way. You probably think that you would never be like the person who hurt you, and that it's impossible to even imagine it. However, if you can find a way to imagine the situation being reversed, then it can make it easier to think about forgiveness.
What Forgiveness Isn't
In all of this talk about forgiveness and how to achieve it, I want to be clear about what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness isn't compassion or understanding. You don't have to start liking the person who hurt you, nor do you have to accept what they did. Remember, forgiveness is for you, not them. What they did may never make sense, but it doesn't have to in order to move on.
Forgiveness certainly isn't forgetting. No one says we have to forget in order to forgive. I actually believe that we shouldn't forget. I believe in using all experiences in life, traumatic or not, as something I can learn from and become a better person for having gone through it.
I want you to remember that forgiveness is a process. Therefore, you should never stop trying to forgive if you are struggling to do so. I could have given up after all the time it took me but I didn't want to believe that it wasn't possible. I needed to believe that it was possible. I still have to work on being forgiving, but it's easier when you know why you're doing it. So find your why and don't give up on it.
Also remember that you need to determine if you need to forgive yourself. Oftentimes when we experience something traumatic we get pretty hard on ourselves. We think that we should have been able to prevent it from happening. I know that I felt that way about being bullied. I was upset with myself for being the way I was and for letting it happen to me. I was upset with myself for not telling anyone about it. I was upset with myself for being affected by it. But I can't blame myself for those things any longer.
Even though it isn't instant, you'll know you've achieved forgiveness when thinking about the past doesn't upset you anymore. You'll get to a place where you might think about the people or person who hurt you or the circumstances surrounding what happened, and not get hung up on it anymore. That is at least what I hope for you. You deserve to forgive and be forgiven.
Please leave a comment and let me know if you have any stories or questions.
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