I understand first hand how challenging it can be to practice forgiveness. Many years ago I found myself in the Family Court system. Being in the “system” for approximately 4 1/2 years, and over $150,000 later, it was a constant test of my resilience as well as my ability to forgive.
I’ve been told that I am fair and honest in how I present what happened during that time and that whilst I can easily justify self-righteous anger, blame, and resentment, I came to realise that such a position only kept me connected to, and as a victim, of the other party.
In choosing to let go of destructive emotions such as anger, blame and resentment you free yourself from being chained to your “perpetrator”. Forgiveness is the ultimate act of love; not for the other person yet for yourself. When you free yourself, you can genuinely move forward in your life.
Anger, blame and resentment can be destructive emotions. These strong emotions trigger the body’s fight, flight or freeze response, which in turn activates the adrenal gland hormones of cortisol and adrenaline. Short term your body is designed to cope with these hormones, however longer term such hormones can hamper almost every bodily system and process.
Forgiveness cultivates love, peace, compassion; it is one of the best forms of self care and nurturing that you can do. These productive emotions generate oxytocin in the body which is known as the comfort and trust hormone. It counteracts cortisol. Thus love, peace and compassion have both mentally and physical benefits.
Forgiveness does not mean you deny, excuse, condone or forget the seriousness you hold over the offence of what happened or the behaviour of the other person. What it does mean is that you make a conscious and deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or anger despite whether the person (or people) deserve your forgiveness.
Rarely will forgiveness happen overnight, it is a process. Brene Brown states “In order for forgiveness to happen, something has to die. Forgiveness is so difficult for this reason, because it involves death and grief. The death, or ending, that forgiveness necessitates, comes in many shapes and forms. We may need to bury our expectations , or maybe our dreams about something. But whatever it is, it has to die. It has to be grieved. Forgiveness is not forgetting or walking away from accountability, or condoning a hurtful act. It is the process of taking back and healing our lives, so that we can truly live. So the question then becomes: What has to end or die so that we can experience a rebirth in our relationships?” So for this process to happen you have to be willing to accept the ending of something or someone as you knew it.
In my situation I had to let go of the person as I knew him and with whom I had fallen in love with. I also had to release the person I had become to get through that period in my life. It was was imperative that I accept that life as I had known it would never be the same – not that that was necessarily a bad thing.
When we consider forgiveness from this perspective it becomes a process likened to the grief cycle. Which means in order to get to forgiveness we will go through the various stages of grief which is: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Five stages of grief – Elisabeth Kübler Ross
|1 – Denial||Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, relating to the situation concerned. Typically it is a defence mechanism and as is a legitimate part of the process. For some, they will become stuck in this stage particularly when dealing with a devastating or traumatic change. Noting usually such a change which cannot be avoided indefinitely.|
|2 – Anger
|Anger often manifests in various ways. People may become angry with themselves, and/or with others, and/or with “God”.|
|3 – Bargaining
|Bargaining is a way to avoid the cause of grief. Some people will attempt to bargain or seek a compromise with “God” and/or another person. Such as “if you do <x> then I’ll do <x>”|
|4 – Depression||This stage is a step towards acceptance yet with emotional attachment. It can be the range of emotions from sadness and regret to fear and uncertainty. The person recognises the mortality of the situation and has begun to accept the reality of what is.|
|5 – Acceptance||In this stage the person has realised that they will be ok. The person tends to have a more calm and retrospective view. They typically will have stabilised their emotions to some level embraced what now is.|
When we process grief we need to embrace an essence of vulnerability. Brene Brown states: “Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
Steps to Forgiveness
As the title of this article states, forgiveness is not an art as so many people put it. It really is a necessity for you to live an empowered life and to live in the present moment.
Consider one or all of the following methods for you to let go.
Honour how you feel
Your emotions exist for a reason and have a role to play, so honouring how you feel is important. Its OK to feel sad, angry, hurt, etc, noting there is a fine balance between acknowledging how you feel and being engulfed by your emotions (particularly the negative emotions).
Once you’ve acknowledged how you feel then consider what are these emotions endeavouring to tell you, what is it that you need for that emotion to discontinue.
By being upset over what someone else has done is shifting the responsibility off yourself and placing you in the mode of blame. There are two sides to the equation and when you sit on the blame side of the equation you are being a victim.
By taking responsibility you acknowledge how you contributed to the situation and the part you had to play in what occurred. You then become empowered.
Contemplate the benefits
As the Yin / Yang symbol reminds us, duality exists in everything. Including the situation around which you need to find forgiveness. What this means is that it is not all “negative or bad” and as much as there will be drawbacks to what happened, there will also be benefits.
So consider what are the benefits of what happened? How was it advantageous? For you and perhaps for another? Where can you find blessings (or possible blessings) of the situation?
There is a saying in Eastern philosophy which translate states: If you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves. Thus it is much satisfying being kind than being right.
Empathy at its core is understanding the perspective of another; letting go of judgement; recognising the emotion of another as well as communicating it. Empathy is about connection with others, rather than driving them away. Whether that connection be with the person / people you are forgiving or others around you.
However empathy is also about connection with yourself and finding your inner peace, so that you can attract more of that rather than attracting more discord.
What will “die” when you forgive
Consider what will cease being once you forgive. What is it you are going to have to stop or let go of? At times we become attached to a “role” or way of being that we don’t know who we are without it. It also means that once we forgive we have to take responsibility.
So think about what will “die” off once your forgive. It could be that when you no longer hold anger so you have no justification of your dislike for another? Perhaps you’ll have to cease the victim role who is chasing an apology from the other person. It could be that you no longer have justification of why you are where you are in life.
Be water-like and flow
One of my most favourite Eastern philosophies is: Bu tong ze tong, Tong ze bu tong, which translates: If there is no free flow, there is pain; if there is free flow, there is no pain.
When we allow ourselves to be like water we are fluid and adaptable to what is going on around us. We learn from previous experiences and life flows without pain. Water-like means we can re-shape ourselves and to move along with life.
Forgiveness in inherently a selfish act. To forgive is primarily for your own health and well being. The bonus is that those around you, whom you love and care about, fundamentally benefit too.
As a kinesiologist I understand that at times our body holds onto “stuff” (yep technical term) making it less than easy to let go. If, after reading this article, you are still finding it difficult to let go then make an appointment to see us: