How to Forgive

Now that we’ve established What Forgiveness is, Really, let’s talk about how one can move toward accomplishing such a cumbersome task. Once we have realized how beneficial the act of letting someone off the hook can be, what’s next? How do we make movement in the direction of truly letting go of the negative emotions related to the perceived injustice? Conversely, in those instances where we, too, have amends to make, it is important for us to make a path toward forgiveness if we are interested in truly resolving our end of the issue. If not, our ill will toward the other will find ways to come out, sometimes in surprising ways. Obviously, each person deals with frustration, anger, betrayal and such in his or her own unique ways. Here are some thoughts on how to get started and see what works for you.

It can be helpful for us to write down exactly what it is that is irking us about the believed offender, getting out specifically how we view the incident(s) and what has led us to these negative emotions. Take the time to really think on what happened, the way it made you felt in the moment, and perhaps, how those feelings have changed over the span of time since the incident. Writing out what happened and the resulting feelings is often found to be a cleansing experience, even cathartic.

Writing it out places a boundary on the experience, the pain, the anger. It shows us that, even if it took us pages upon pages to express the situation, we now see that there is an end in sight. Once this boundary has been established, many often enjoy a physical “giving away” of the hurt. Tie it to a balloon and set it free, burn it, tear it, give it to a trusted friend to dispose of it. This provides a figurative sort of release of the pain, helping us find steps toward forgiveness.

If none of these work for you, give me a holler and we’ll work on a new idea on How to Forgive.

-MegAnne Duke, LCSW, LCDCi

References from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, First Printing, 1990

Learn How to Let Go of Shame and Forgive Yourself

“Stop beating yourself up. You are a work in progress; which means you get there a little at a time, not all at once.” — Unknown

I haven’t always been the woman I am today.

I used to be scared. Of everything. And everyone. Painfully shy and insecure, I saw myself as a victim of my circumstances, and was always waiting, on guard, for the next rejection. I masked my insecurity in a blanket of perfectionism, and worked hard to put forth the image that I had everything together and had it all figured out.

I did a good job looking the part. On the outside most people just saw an attractive, intelligent, successful woman, and had very little awareness or understanding of the pain and fear that was living inside.

To further protect myself, I often took advantage of knowing that others believed my facade.

I believed myself to be unworthy of love or loving, and there were times when the only way I knew to feel good about myself was to treat others harshly, often by knowing I could intimidate them just by being my “perfect” self.

I had split the world into people that I was either better than or less than.

It’s been said that someone once asked the Buddha whether it is possible to be critical and judgmental of other people and not treat oneself the same way. He said that if one is critical and judgmental of others, it is impossible not to treat oneself the same. And that while at times it appears that people can be judgmental toward others, but seem completely satisfied themselves, this is just not possible.

How we treat others is how we treat ourselves, and vice versa

I’ve spent the last four years working on finding compassion for myself and those who I blamed for my pain, embracing the concept of self-love so that I could find a sense of peace within. I’m proud of myself for how far I’ve come and the life that I lead today.

However, it was recently brought to my attention that, despite the hard work I’ve done and the large shifts I’ve made, there are still some people who have a negative perception of me, and some hurtful words were used to describe my qualities and attributes.

When I learned this, I immediately felt the stinging pain of rejection and my automatic response was to go to shame. I felt really bad about myself.

Aside from the fact that I don’t think it ever feels good to hear that someone doesn’t like you, I’ve spent a long time working to heal these very wounded parts of myself, and in a moment they were all brought back to the surface in a very painful way.

When memories arise of behaviors and situations we’re not proud of, it can be easy to turn to shame. However, shame has very little usefulness, as it often times serves to shut us down, isolate, and close ourselves off from others and our own healing.

Seeing my reaction was an indication that there was work I needed to do, something within that I needed to address.

This situation showed me that I have spent years turning my back on this former image of myself, striving to be better, but what was still lacking was compassion and forgiveness.

Pema Chodron describes emotional upheaval, feelings of distress, embarrassment, or anger that we assume is a spiritual faux pas, as actually being the place where the warrior learns compassion.

When we learn to stop struggling with ourselves and dwell in the places that scare us, we are able to see and accept ourselves and others exactly as we are, complete with imperfections.

We all act unconsciously and without consideration for others at times. When we allow ourselves to be honest about these behaviors, without the judgment of shame, we are left with remorse, which is a quality we are actually quite fortunate exists.

Remorse can help us refine our actions and to live a more authentic life. It does not mean that we are useless and unworthy or that we made some horrible mistake beyond repair. It simply means that we are human, and that like all humans, we are in a learning process.

Remorse can be a sign that we are becoming more aware and that what was previously unconscious is coming into consciousness.

However, if we move into shame and beating ourselves up, we stop ourselves in our tracks, get stuck and likely remain in the mistake, and deprive ourselves of a lesson learned and opportunity to do things differently moving forward.

In order to keep moving forward in the face of remorse, we need to be able to find compassion and forgiveness for ourselves. We all know, however, that forgiveness cannot be forced. But if we can find the courage to open our hearts to ourselves, forgiveness will slowly emerge.

The simplest way I know to do this is to, in the face of painful feelings, start by just forgiving myself for being human. This can be done with a simple breath practice.

By bringing awareness to our experiences and acknowledging our feelings, we can then start to breathe these feelings into our hearts, allowing our breath to slowly open it up as wide as possible. And then from this place, with our breath, we can send ourselves forgiveness.

And then, in the spirit of not dwelling, we let it go. Breathe it out and make a fresh start.

This practice of acknowledge, forgive, and start anew doesn’t magically heal our wounds overnight and it’s not a linear process.

I find that forgiveness is a state that we move in and out of, and will continue to revisit, often times, for many years, oscillating between shame (or anger, resentment, fear, etc) and compassion. Ideally though, with practice and patience the time spent in shame will become shorter and farther between.

If we practice this way, continuing to acknowledge, forgive, and let go, we will learn to make peace with the feelings of remorse and regret for having hurt ourselves and others. We will learn self-forgiveness and eventually, we will learn to forgive those who have harmed us too.

-Jennifer Chrisman, Tiny Buddha

What Forgiveness is, Really.

The idea of forgiveness is a common misconception amongst a number of my students and clients. When I mention the word “forgiveness” in response to a client’s experience of a particularly nasty betrayal, I’m frequently either laughed at or met with irritability. The thing is, forgiveness is not dropping the subject and never broaching it again.

Forgiveness is:
understanding that you’ve been wronged, maliciously or unintentionally, by another and deciding to let go of hanging onto the bitterness, resentment and other emotions linked to the incident (which, by the way, you have every right to feel). It is making the conscious effort to extend grace, beneficence, and compassion to the wrongdoer, even though that person is entitled to absolutely none of it (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000).

Forgiveness is absolutely not:
simply saying the words and moving on. It’s not pardoning the behavior of the perpetrator, particularly if malice was involved. It’s not making an excuse or justifying what happened, it’s not letting go of any and all resentment one might feel about the incident, it’s not seeking revenge or holding onto a debt owed by the one who harmed you, and it certainly is not simply deciding, “I’m over it.”

Get off the hook.
One of my favorite pieces of forgiveness psychoeducation I use that is fantastic for kiddos and adults alike is the metaphor of a giant fishing hook. Hanging onto bitterness is like putting yourself on that fishing hook, the same way you’d put on a shrimp or a worm. After you’ve put yourself on, you add your offender. As you might imagine, being on a pointed, metal hook is incredibly painful. Not to mention, where you go, so does your perpetrator – you know, since you’ve put both of you on that same hook.

The only way out of this nasty situation and get yourself off that hook is to allow the person who wronged you off first. By keeping him or her on the hook, you’re opening yourself up to a lengthy stay in an unhappy place.

It’s time to retrain our brains to understand what forgiveness is, really. Allow yourself to move on from negative people and the pains of the past in order to live a more fulfilling and open life. Recognize the emotions you have related to the injury, stop the thoughts of revenge, put yourself in the other person’s shoes (can be difficult, I know), make the conscious decision to accept the hurtful emotions caused by the betrayal, and let the person off your hook.

MegAnne Duke, LCSW, LCDCi