Forgive and forget? Not so fast.
I’m sure you have been betrayed and lied to. Most people have. It leaves feelings of frustration, anger, resentment and wanting revenge. Those feelings are not easy to let go of. It can leave you with emotional scars if not dealt with. But how do you let go?
It’s not easy and depending on the situation, it can take a long time to heal.
Part of your personal development and becoming a healthier person is learning to let go of negative feelings that hold you back from living a truly happy life. It is said that resentment is like drinking poison, but expecting the other person to die. I wrote a post about how our thoughts affect our environment, especially our body, here.
Forgiveness is for your benefit, not for the other person. Holding on to past hurts affects your physical and mental health, your relationships and satisfaction with life. The good news is that you don’t ever have to speak to that person to forgive them. Forgiveness is a process that takes some inner work. It’s about you letting go of the negative feelings and finding peace in yourself.
To start your journey, try these suggestions:
Allow yourself time to heal.
Sometimes you may need to give yourself physical space away from the person who hurt you. You can’t rush this process and feelings typically do get better over time. There’s no specific amount of time until you find peace with the situation. It could be days, weeks, or years. But the longer you hold on to the negative feelings, the longer it takes to live a truly happy, loving life.
Allow yourself to be angry or sad. Emotions are meant to be expressed in order for them to pass. Pretending that everything is okay only prolongs the healing process. Cry, scream, complain to someone, whatever it takes to express your emotions but in a safe way.
Reconnect to inner strength/spirituality.
Some situations cause extreme deep hurt. You physically feel your heart aching and it’s hard to think about a time that you won’t feel the pain any longer.
This is a time where your faith helps carry you through.
Prayer, meditating and spending time in nature are all ways that have been shown to give you strength during difficult times.
Change your perspective.
A teenager who molested a relative had to learn that behavior from somewhere. What drives someone to kill another? What did the person gain from lying? Why does the person have a history of cheating? What could drive a friend to do something that they knew would hurt you?
Try to see the situation from the other persons perspective or from a neutral person’s point of view. Again, this is not to justify their actions, but to allow you to be open minded and practice empathy. Ask yourself, why would someone do what they did?
When you look at the situation from “neutral eyes”, it helps you separate your feelings from what the situation is, helping you soften the negative feelings you feel.
Also, there’s a reason that you feel so strongly about the situation. When that happens, the person who you feel did you wrong, pressed a button in you. What is it about what they said or do that really bothers you? Maybe there’s something deeper in you that you need to resolved?
Approach your feelings with curiosity, instead of judgement.
Express what you’re feeling.
If you could and feel ready, express to the person how their actions made you feel. If they’re someone you can’t just stop talking to and remove from your life, you have to make the decision of allowing the person to gain your trust again. If fixing the relationship is what you want, you have to give the person a chance to prove themselves. Continuously bringing up the hurt just keeps you living in the past, and what you want is to move forward.
Not being able to speak your mind makes it a bit harder to let go. If you can’t have that last talk, one exercise you can do is to write them a letter. If they were sitting in front of you, what would you say to them? At the end of the letter, finish off with telling them “I’m working on forgiving you” or “I forgive you”, if that is how you feel. Write as if you’re speaking directly to them. But don’t send it to them. Destroy it when you’re done. You might have to do this several times to start shifting how you feel.
If you meditate, another exercise is to picture them in front of you and picture yourself telling them how you feel, instead of writing them the letter. Or you can do both exercises.
Try to find purpose in the situation.
How can you tell a mother who lost a child to a drunk driver that “everything happens for a reason”? Or a rape victim. Or any victim of a tragic crime or horrible situation.
Sometimes things happen in life that are so unfair that there is no explanation.
Part of the healing journey is giving the situation a purpose.
I once knew a mother whose 8-year-old daughter, her only child, was shot in the head by accident. After years of treatment, she ended up being one of the biggest advocates for gun safety.
Another mother, who lost her teenage son to a car accident caused by a drunk driver, goes around to different high schools around Prom or Homecoming time, and talks about the dangers of drinking and driving.
And the parents who lost a child to suicide after being bullied, and now advocate for anti-bullying laws to be passed.
Finding a way to give the situation purpose could help you soften the pain. Again, forgiveness is not about acting like the hurtful event did not happen. It’s about finding peace with it.
Remember that everyone makes mistakes.
Reflect on the times you have hurt others and they forgave you.
If it’s yourself who you need to forgive, remember that we all make mistakes. Take responsibility for your actions and learn from them as to not repeat them.
No human being is perfect and we are all in our own journey. Learn from mistakes in order to move forward with your life. As Bill Clinton once said, “If you live life long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person”.
Unless you somehow loose your memory, you’re not going to forget about the event. But over time as you heal, you’ll start to forgive. How do you know when you have finally forgiven? When you can think or talk about the event and not have any negative feelings towards it. You might even feel sorry for the person. As long as you have any negative feelings towards the person or situation, you still have some work to do. Remember, it’s not about you being “friends” or happy with the situation or person, it’s about you not holding on to negative feelings.
About the author.
Liza J Alvarado is a professional counselor in private practice. She serves Adolescents, Adults, and Spanish speaking families in the Lehigh Valley, PA area.