Forgiveness is defined as, “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.“
The definition of forgiveness is simple and straightforward enough. But, the process of actually FORGIVING is much more complex.
I know this firsthand because years ago I had to dig deep and learn how to consciously forgive. I, like many people, was carrying around hurt in my heart AND my head. My hurt plagued my thoughts, mind and emotions without me ever even realizing it!
My hurt stemmed from a broken relationship with my father. He left when I was a toddler, and came back into my life when I was a teenager. I tried my best to please him. I was certain if I could be the perfect daughter he wouldn’t leave again.
But, he did.
He spent 10 years bouncing in and out of my life. Each time he left, he never said why. Sometimes he disappeared for a few months, other times it was for a few years. And each time he left, a piece of my heart ripped open again.
Eventually, he left for good. And I was left to pick up the pieces of his final departure. For years, I was angry. I questioned my self-worth. I bounced from one toxic relationship to another. Until finally I had enough. I knew I had to forgive him to release the anger, sadness, and resentment I was carrying inside.
I forgave my father for leaving to free myself. And it’s one of the BEST decisions I’ve ever made in my life.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through the same 5 steps I used to forgive my father (and MANY other people since). These steps are foolproof and they will work for you too if you take the time to apply them.
Ready to release your hurt? Let’s do this!
1.) Forgiveness Step 1: Acknowledge Your Hurt
In order to truly forgive and let go, you have to acknowledge what happened to you. In the absence of this acknowledgment, forgiveness will be impossible because you won’t be able to address the hurt within.
To acknowledge your hurt, ask yourself the following questions:
- How has this person’s actions or words impacted my life?
- Has this person hurt me physically, mentally, emotionally, or some combination of the 3?
- How has my life changed as a result of this hurt?
Write down your answers. Make sure you don’t hold anything back. It’s okay if this exercise is emotionally charged. That’s completely normal — especially as you release the pent up emotions within.
2.) Forgiveness Step 2: Honor Your Emotions
Society has conditioned us to believe strength is found in the absence of emotions. As a result, we go through life trying to conceal our emotions — rather than feeling them. This practice is detrimental to our overall health and wellbeing because we end up avoiding our emotions.
However, when it comes to forgiveness, we MUST honor our emotions. We have to feel them. Listen to them. Let them speak. Otherwise, we won’t heal from hurtful experiences.
Think of your emotions as your internal guiding compass. The way you feel indicates your state of being. When you’re sad, angry, or feeling misaligned there is a reason. And unless you honor these emotions, and let them speak, you won’t heal your hurt and forgive.
Here’s an exercise that will help you get started:
- Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Write a letter to the person who hurt you. Describe the situation, and how it impacted you. Make sure you include how it made you feel, and why. As you do this, hold nothing back. You want to include everything you wish you would have said to this person and everything you’ve been holding inside of you. While you write, feel your emotions fully. Cry if you need to cry. Scream if you need to scream. Then, keep your letter handy — we will be coming back to it later.
3.) Forgiveness Step 3: Reclaim Your Power
When you have an emotional response to a situation, you unintentionally hand your power over to that person or circumstance. This is normal because when something hurtful happens, your thoughts, feelings, emotions (and at times, physical body) are overtaken by the event.
But, many of us carry this emotional response with us long after the hurt has occurred. As a result, we give our power away again and again.
To truly forgive and move forward, you have to see yourself as in control.
Here’s an exercise you can do to reclaim your power:
- Close your eyes and think about the hurt you felt as a result of this situation. How did you react? Did your reaction help or hinder your wellbeing? In what ways have you given your power away as a result of the hurt you experienced?
In my situation, each time my father left I would playback our last conversation insidiously in my mind. I would look for clues as to why he left, and rack my brain thinking about whether or not it was a result of something I said or did. Rather than processing the situation, and honoring my emotions, I spent YEARS reliving the situation over and over again. It was super unhealthy and disempowering.
By becoming AWARE of how I was disempowering myself, I was able to change my central focus. Reclaiming your power is paramount to releasing and moving on with your life.
4.) Forgiveness Step 4: Release Blame"When you blame others, you give up your power to change." Click To Tweet
It’s easy to blame the person that hurt you for how you’re feeling or where your life is (or isn’t) because of them. But, blaming doesn’t do anything… except disempower YOU.
Rather than blaming the other person, instead, use this experience as an opportunity to understand yourself better and grow. Learn what triggers you. What you can do differently going forward.
To release blame in your situation, ask yourself the following questions:
- What do I need to learn from this?
- How can I grow from this experience?
- How has blaming (insert name) held me back from moving forward?
By asking yourself and answering these questions, you will shift your perspective from blame-based mindset to an empowerment mindset.
5.) Forgiveness Step 5: Choose to Forgive
Forgiveness is a choice. It’s not something you HAVE to do. It’s not something you owe the other person. In fact, you could spend your whole life holding a grudge, and not forgiving others. But, what’s the point in that? The only person hurt by your anger and negative emotions is you.
Choosing forgiveness is rarely about the other person — but, it IS always about YOU.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. It’s a choice you make that allows you to process what happened to you, grieve the situation, and then move forward with your life. Forgiveness frees you from negative attachments and toxic emotions. It clears poison from your system.
*Important note: There’s a difference between forgiving and forgetting. You aren’t forgiving someone else to “forget” about what happened to you. Instead, you are choosing to release the negative attachment (thoughts/feelings/emotions) you have regarding this situation. But, that doesn’t mean the memory of this hurtful experience is suddenly expunged from your mind.
Who or what needs forgiving in your life? If you feel compelled to share, let me know in the comments below.