When we feel hurt by someone’s words or actions, it can be hard to forgive them. Without forgiveness though, we cannot move on – and often this affects us much more than the other person involved.
You don’t have to forgive if you’re not ready
The first thing to bear in mind is that if you don’t feel ready to forgive someone, you don’t have to. These days there seems to be a lot of talk about forgiveness, and that’s great – but don’t feel that you have to immediately forgive someone if you don’t feel ready. Take your time. If you try to force things, you’ll just end up causing yourself more discomfort and suffering.
For the purposes of this article, we will assume that you feel ready to forgive whatever has happened. If you are unsure about forgiveness and how you can proceed, it may be worth looking into forgiveness therapy, which can help you to come to terms with what has happened and to move forward. Check out this article which explains in more detail.
Forgiveness is NOT…
We’ve all heard the phrase, Forgive and forget – and often we can think that forgiving someone means forgetting or even excusing their behaviour. When we forgive someone we don’t forget what they have done, or excuse or minimise their behaviour. It also doesn’t mean we automatically resume any previous relationship we had with them.
When we forgive someone, it actually has little to do with them. It’s more about you and how you feel. It’s not letting them off the hook or saying that whatever they said or did was ok.
Instead, forgiving someone is about us letting go of the anger or hurt we feel around whatever was said or done. We can still remember what happened, but we release the need for any sort of revenge. This allows us to eventually come to a position where we can think about what happened without triggering any emotions around it. We can say This happened without feeling angry or upset about it.
How to forgive
Be honest about how you feel
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean ignoring or hiding your feelints. Often it’s inconvenient or painful for us to feel certain things so we may bury or hide our true feelings. This is not forgiveness, and it is likely to cause you further suffering in the long run as those feelings inevitably rise to the surface again.
Spend some time really paying attention to how you feel about this issue. Try to put a name to your feelings. Do you feel hurt? Betrayed? Angry? It may be beneficial to journal about your feelings, or to talk to someone else as a way of working through exactly how you feel. Remember: there is no wrong way to feel. All feelings are valid.
Accept what has happened, exactly as it did
Often when something challenging has happened we can get caught up in wishing things had been different. If only I had done this differently, or that person had not done this. This is a perfectly normal reaction – but if we can’t accept what has happened, we cannot forgive and move on. We will be forever stuck there, thinking if only you’d done this differently…
Practice telling the story of what has happened (to yourself, if not to anyone else) exactly as it did, without adding in any If onlys. It’s fine to have feelings about it and to express them, of course – but tying a series of What Ifs to your story will just prolong your pain.
Is there anything positive here?
This can be a really tricky step – but it can really help. It’s easier to forgive a wrongdoing if it has ultimately led you to a better situation. For example, if your partner has cheated on you, this may have brought up issues in your relationship that you can work on together, to build a stronger partnership. Or it may have highlighted the fact that you are not a good match, and allowed you to end things rather than carry on when neithe of you is truly fulfilled.
If you really can see nothing positive in your situation – that is ok too. Instead, try to look at it as an opportunity for growth, for practising compassion and understanding.
Do you need to forgive yourself first?
Often when something happens, we can blame ourselves. We think we should have seen it coming, or should have noticed sooner. Perhaps we feel we should never have invited this person into our lives, or that we should have done something differently. This is perfectly normal, but not very helpful. Remember that someone else’s actions are not your responsibility. Whatever was said or done, and whatever role you feel you may have played in that, even if you feel you have provoked someone – their words and actions are not your responsibility or fault.
It may be helpful to actually say to yourself, I am sorry I abandoned you or I am sorry I didn’t prevent this from happening. It may also be helpful to follow this by saying the words I forgive you to yourself. Self compassion is absolutely key to this process. Often when we are able to have compassion for ourselves this expands outwards, making it much more easy to feel compassion for those around us.
Meditation can help with all of this
Sitting in meditation can help us to detach from the thoughts and feelings around a situation. Instead of feeling engulfed by anger, feeling I am angry we can learn to notice and identify the feeling: There is anger here. This is an important part of both recognising and processing our feelings. Once we can begin to detach from them and are not identified with them, we can let them go and move on.
You don’t need to have contact with someone to forgive them.
In some cases, you may not feel safe having contact with someone; in others it may not be possible. Forgiveness is not about the other person though; it’s about you being able to let go of your negative feelings and move forward.
If you are in a position where you can have contact with the other person, it may be beneficial for both of you to have a conversation where you talk openly and honestly about your feelings around what has happened. That doesn’t mean shouting at each other or apportioning blame; rather it’s a case of saying things like When this happened, I felt like this and This really hurt me. It may help you to know that the other person knows the effects of their actions.
Write a letter you may or may not send
A letter is a great way of getting everything you think and feel out of your head, and organised into one place. You may want to send your letter to the other person, but the real effect for you will be in the writing it down, not in their receiving and reading it.
Discuss your feelings with someone else
Once you have chosen to forgive someone, if contact is not possible you may want to talk to someone else. You can express your feelings in a safe environment and many people find that this brings them a sense of closure, even if they can’t speak to the person involved.
Once you have made the decision to move on, this doesn’t mean you also forget what has happened – or that you carry on as if nothing happened.
That said, moving on does require some effort in the beginning. Your feelings of anger or hurt may linger – but practising forgiveness can help you to move forward from this into a place of calm and compassion.