The world can seem to be full of people hurting others. There are big things like acts of terror committed against innocent people, medium things like celebrities thinking they don’t need their fans or small acts like someone speaking over you during a meeting. No matter the size of the act, there can always be the possibility of forgiveness. I really like this definition of forgiveness from mindful.org: “The act of letting go of the burden that you carry from another person who has hurt you out of their own pain, ignorance, or confusion.”
Anyone remember this gem from Anna Farris? Does that clear up anything? No? Ok, not for me either.
Humor aside, the act of forgiveness can be challenging. Often it can feel like you are releasing a person who hurt you from the weight and severity of their person actions. However, if you look at the above definition and in the literature on forgiveness this is not the case. Actually, you are releasing yourself from the burden that you are carrying, releasing all the negative thoughts, feelings and possibly negative behaviors of your own. No matter what you do, the other person has to live with their choices. But you continue to suffer when you cannot forgive.
I’ve run women’s groups on forgiveness and had participants all but revolt because they did not want to forgive. They would tell me they are dedicated to holding onto the pain and anger of their hurtful experiences because they felt it punished the other person. This sentiment did and continues to frustrate me and make me sad as a clinician because I couldn’t change their mindset. So here I am taking to the internet in the hope that I may change a few minds digitally.
There are incredibly moving real-life stories in which parents forgive offenders who murdered their children. Forgiveness let them move on with their own lives. Forgiveness doesn’t exonerate the perpetrator of violence or negative actions. Forgiveness frees those suffering from having to continue to suffer and move on. There are relevant cultural and pop culture references to forgiveness too. Remember when former President Bill Clinton forgave the woman who ran over his dog? Recently, there was a scene in How to Get Away with Murder where a client of the show’s protagonist (anti-hero for some of you English majors out there) does not want the killer of her son to go to jail because she knows he will not learn or improve his life while incarcerated. She advocates for his release into a treatment of some kind. Even in ShondaLand, there is a push towards forgiveness!
There is a world of difference between forgetting and forgiving. While they are both f-words, they are incredibly different. Forgiving is you letting go of the hurt, pain and toxic stuff that comes with those feelings. Imagine a world in which everyone held onto each and every small, medium and large hurt they experience. The world would stall out, remain frozen and static. Forgiveness is an act and mindset change that benefits only you, like a gift you give yourself. The other person still has to live with their choices, karmic retribution and the general fallout of doing something not so great.
So how does forgiveness begin? It begins by taking note of feelings of anger and frustration. Notice where you store them in your body – neck, shoulders, stomach? Then focus on letting go of them. Breathe air and positivity into those spaces. Acknowledge the pain and hurt but hold onto the thought that being strong means letting go of the things that hurt you.
I find the loving-kindness meditation below incredibly useful for letting go. Try it and please leave comments on Facebook and Twitter to let me know!
The loving-kindness meditation has a section toward the end of the meditation where you are asked to send out loving-kindness and well wishes toward someone you are having a difficult time with. Try doing this practice to test the waters for full on forgiveness.