HOW to forgive, and why you should.
About the most common ‘excuse’ I hear in comments on my Facebook page is ‘it’s easier said than done’, to which I generally respond ‘everything is easier said than done’.I mean, really! Do you know anything that’s not easier said than done? I can see with some people though that it’s code for ‘that’s too hard and I’m not even going to try’.
And if you’re not going to try to forgive it’s generally because you’re very attached to being upset about the thing that happened to you, (or sometimes the thing you think happened to you – some people like to hold onto every slight they think was directed at them when very often they’ve not been so intended).
Firstly, let’s understand what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Few people differentiate between the notion of forgiveness on the one hand, and the notion of approval or disapproval on the other. I can disapprove of someone’s behaviour and still forgive them for it. This is often a misunderstanding that traps people into not forgiving; really and truly, forgiving is about releasing you, not them. They will be bound by their own karma and if appropriate the judgement of others around them if not the law. No point you keeping them bound up in your own emotions and feelings – why would you?! They wronged you – why do you want to keep them around in your head?!
When you don’t forgive you stay stuck to the thing that happened and that keeps you from living in the present. Many of us are stuck to things that happened in our past, sometimes even without knowing. Most often though it’s the thing that happened 5 years ago, or maybe even 10; that horrible boss that ‘made my life miserable’, or the relationship that broke up, or maybe even the time I was beaten up and mugged.
Generally there’s a lot of emotion attached to this event, mostly anger, often shame. By not letting go of the event from your past and forgiving those involved, you’ve been carrying around that anger and shame all that time. For many it will have lead into a depression as well. None of that powerful emotional response is doing you any good and in fact it’s doing you a lot of harm – it’s literally damaging your insides.
As long as you’re living in the past, you’re not living in the present. And if you’re not living in the present, then all the good things you’d like to happen in your life right now are finding it very difficult to find their way to you through all that emotion and your lack of presence.
Next, in order to get to the how, there are some important mechanics of your mind that you need to understand.
- We are not our thoughts or emotions. But we think we are. We think our thoughts define our intelligence and even our character, but they don’t. What defines our intelligence and our character is what we choose to do with our thoughts and how we manage our emotions. (Don’t confuse this with our knowledge, which is a different thing again.)
- Most of us are very attached to our thoughts and emotions. Mostly that’s because we have this wrong view that our thoughts are who we are. And so when we’re angry or sad or even excited, we think that it’s us that’s feeling those things, whereas in fact it’s simply that angry and sad thoughts are just circulating within us.
Which leads to a key aspect of the how of forgiveness.
Key is to detach yourself from the emotions you’ve attached to the person and/or event. Those emotions are not who you are; they don’t define you, except insomuch as they are keeping you rooted in the past. And meantime those emotions are literally killing you. Do you want to be a person stuck in the past? Do you want to be destroyed by your emotions?
Truthfully a lot of people do want to be defined by what happened to them. It’s as though it gives them some purpose to have something to be so upset about it. It can also be a way to avoid taking responsibility for your life now; they can get to say I’m like this because this happened, or My life is this way because this person hurt me.
We do get hurt, all of us. We’ve all been hurt by people we love. It’s horrible. Sometimes they don’t know they’ve hurt us and sometimes maybe they do. It’s normal to feel hurt – I’m not suggesting otherwise. But sometimes we hang onto that hurt too long. Most run-of-the-mill hurt can be released quite quickly. Broken heart hurt can take several months, maybe even a year or two. But if it takes longer, and if during that time it defines so much of how you’re living, then you need to take a look at it and be a little tougher about letting it go.
These days, if a friend slights me, or more to the point if I feel slighted (I don’t have friends anymore that do anything like this on purpose), I can usually have moved on in an hour max, preferably just a few minutes. Maybe even a few seconds. I’m not interested in being angry – I don’t feel good when I’m angry, and I want to feel happy and peaceful. Because when I’m happy and peaceful, well… I’m happy and peaceful.
Another very useful to tool is to write a letter to our perpetrator, although rarely one that you’d actually send in my experience. It’s important you do this on paper, not on your computer. Write everything you want to say to this person, don’t stop, write, write, write, until you can write no more. Then have a little ritual burning of those pages. Repeat this process every time the need comes up to have to rant at that person about how they’ve hurt you. It may take several go’s before you feel you’ve got it out of your system.
The other thing I find useful when I find something from the past starting to grow large in my head, apart from putting my thoughts elsewhere, is to literally take my index and middle fingers and go snip, snip, snip as though I’m cutting the ties that bind that person or event to me now.
And when those thoughts come, don’t indulge them. We do tend to want to indulge them. It’s a part of telling ourselves that we are okay, to play things over in our heads, but in my experience it blows up into a much bigger thing in seconds, so when they come into your head, quickly move your thoughts elsewhere. This will take practice. It may take a lot of practice, but if you want to think and feel better then you have to do this. You’ve spent most of your life attached to your thoughts, thinking they’re who you are; it takes time to retrain this. Most of us want to be able to make the pain go away and retrain our thoughts in a flash; as if we could sit down at a piano for the first time and become a concert pianist. Not only do you have to start playing very simple pieces, but you also have to practice for hours a day for years and years and years. It’s the same with your mind and your emotions.
One is that most people say this with such a vehemence that it’s very obvious they’ve got nowhere near forgiving. There’s often a lot of bitterness packed into that statement and if you’re carrying bitterness you haven’t forgiven. Maybe you’ve said the words, but you haven’t actually done it. When you forgive you release the bitterness.
The other thing is that of course we do indeed learn, particularly in relationships, notwithstanding the ability of many of us to continue to make the same relationship mistakes over and over. When we have learned, rather than saying I can forgive but I’ll never forget, the better comment is I’ve forgiven and I’ve learned – emphasis on the ‘and’, rather than the ‘but’ of I’ll never forget.
Frankly I think it’s fine if you also say I’ve forgiven and BOY! have I learned! It’s great to affirm, as powerfully as we can, when we really have moved on; to celebrate that achievement, because it surely is one.
So yes, it’s not easy – sometimes it takes years – and it sure is easier said than done, but it’s kind of a waste of time to say so. Get on with the actual business of forgiveness.
My online Purpose course discusses forgiveness as a key step to removing emotional obstacles to purpose.
The Journey from Depression is a 30-day programme to heal depression. This is a hugely successful online programme that will make massive dents in your experience of depression.