In theory, forgiveness is simple: Someone does or says something hurtful, you acknowledge and process what happened, and consciously choose to release your emotional attachment to the situation and move on.
In practice, forgiveness is complex. There are an unlimited number of reasons why forgiveness becomes difficult — especially if what was said or did to you had a lasting and traumatic impact on your life.
But, in order to be truly free and happy, forgiveness is essential — for you more than anyone else.
In this practical guide to forgiveness, we’re going to cover:
- What forgiveness is
- How forgiveness works
- Why forgiveness is important
- What happens when the person doesn’t deserve your forgiveness
- How to forgive
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!
What is forgiveness?
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.”
This means forgiveness involves consciously choosing to process the event, and release all emotional attachment to the outcome.
How does forgiveness work?
Once you become aware of the situation, person, or event that has caused you harm (this can be physical, mental, or emotional in nature) you make a conscious choice to:
- Acknowledge what happened
- Process AND honor your emotions (we’ll talk more about this in the ‘How to forgive’ section)
- Choose to release the emotional attachment you feel toward the outcome
- Begin the healing process
Why is forgiveness important?
Imagine your hiking in the jungle, and a snake slithers out from behind a tree and bites your leg. But, rather than addressing your wound immediately and getting help, you instead continue with your hike. After several hours, you experience crippling pain in your abdomen, your breathing becomes constricted, and you realize this is a life or death situation. You get help just in time and are able to rid your body of the toxic venom that was circulating in your bloodstream.
Much like a poisonous snake bite, lack of forgiveness harms YOU. It creates toxic venom (in the way of negative thoughts and emotions) that circulate inside of your system.
That’s why forgiveness is so important. It allows you to hike through your life journey without the unnecessary pain and attachment to negative emotions.
What if the person doesn’t deserve my forgiveness?
Sometimes people don’t say sorry. Sometimes people don’t realize they’ve done anything wrong. Something people don’t care. Regardless, it’s still important to offer forgiveness because you’re doing it for yourself — not the other person.
If you refuse to forgive someone because you feel they don’t deserve your forgiveness, then you will be the one stewing in anger every time you think about the person, and whatever they did.
The other person doesn’t live in your head, and as such is rarely impacted by your lack of forgiveness. However, you are always impacted when you choose not to forgive.
When you forgive others, even when they don’t deserve it, you are offering yourself the ultimate gift of self-love.
How to forgive and release hurt
1.) Acknowledge what happened
Awareness is key to letting go and moving on. When something or someone hurts you, acknowledge what happened and HOW it impacted your life. Once you become fully aware, then you can move forward to the next step.
2.) Don’t wait for an apology
If you spend your life waiting for an apology before you forgive, you might end up waiting forever.
Sometimes, people don’t say sorry. Sometimes, people don’t believe they did anything wrong. And sometimes it’s not possible for an apology to happen.
Regardless of your specific situation, make sure you aren’t waiting for someone else to say ‘sorry’ to you before you move on.
3.) Honor your emotions
Many times, when we go through a painful experience we try to avoid the feelings the emotions associated to what happened to us. But, in order to truly forgive and let go, processing those avoided emotions is a key step forward.
Here’s why: Your emotions are your internal guiding force. When you allow your emotions to speak, and you feel them fully, then you can work through them. If you brush them under the rug, you’ll always feel resentment when you think about what happened to you.
Honor your emotions by listening to them, and letting them guide you through the emotional healing process.
4.) Write a letter to your pain
5.) Choose to forgive
The final step is to make a conscious choice to forgive. This means giving up all hope of a different past, fully surrendering to what happened, and releasing all negative attachment to the person or situation.
A bit of wisdom as you work through this: Forgiveness often happens in pieces. This is because our memory isn’t perfect, and as you work to remember the events that harmed you, it may not be a linear experience.
Instead, you may need to work through the forgiveness process in pieces, as memories pop up and you piece together the entire experience. This is especially true if the person you are working to forgive was a continuous figure in your life (such as a parent, partner, friend) and the negative experiences were spread out over time.
Be kind to yourself when a new memory arises. Just try to silence it because you’ve already “forgiven” the person. Instead, work through each step again. And then consciously release and forgive the person for THAT experience.
Sending love, Xx,