Someone has harmed you, wounded you, or made you feel victimized and all you can think about is revenge. You try not to, but even the thought of that person makes your blood boil.
Worse yet, you have the nagging sense that somehow you have been trapped. And, in a way, you have.
You have been trapped by anger, by pain, by feelings of wanting to get even. The actions of another person have put you in a jail, of sorts. This jail cell is keeping you stuck in the past, keeping you from living life in the present and enjoying it to the fullest.
You do, however, hold the key to your freedom. That key is forgiveness.
What Forgiveness Is and What Forgiveness Is Not
Forgiveness is one person’s inner response to another person’s perceived injustice. It is a shift in your thinking towards someone who has wronged you, such that your desire to harm that person has decreased significantly and your desire to do him good or have good will towards that person has increased.
In other words, forgiveness is all about letting go.
You have to let go of the desire towards revenge and ill-will. You have to grieve the pain and the loss that person’s actions caused you and then you find a way to let it go.
Which leads us to what forgiveness is not:
- Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation – only one party has to forgive while it takes two to reconcile
- Forgiveness is not forgetting the wrong, trying to deny or suppress it
- Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing someone’s behavior and actions
- Forgiveness is not justice – it does not demand that you relinquish pursuing your rights
Forgiveness is just you realizing that holding on to the past serves no good purpose in the present. Forgiveness is you taking charge of your life to the extent that it is possible and freeing yourself from the chains of past wounding.
So, how do you forgive? Let’s take a look at five steps leading to freedom through forgiveness.
Five Steps to Freedom Through Forgiveness
Step One: Acknowledge that you have been hurt and grieve the pain. Forgiveness has its stages similar to grieving. You must acknowledge that someone has hurt you and resist denial. The pain they caused you is real; the friendship is in danger and relationship has been lost. This loss in your life warrants grieving and coming to terms with your feelings.
Step Two: Understand that everyone is broken and has past hurts. Your parents are flawed. Your siblings are flawed. Everyone is flawed. Everyone you know has been hurt at some point in their life and has their own demons to deal with.
We are all wounded.
If you have trouble accepting this, go to an AA meeting, a church renewal weekend, or a healing seminar. Some of the life stories that people will share with you may make yours pale in comparison. (This is, by the way, a great way to acknowledge the humanity of others and grow in compassion.)
When someone hurts you, they are often working from a place of pain and fear, lashing out from their strongholds to protect themselves. Accepting that the offender has brokenness will help you in letting go of the hurt they caused. This is not the same as condoning what they have done – it simply allows you to move forward with your life through letting go.
Step Three: Accept that forgiveness is a process. While making a committed, conscious decision to not hold on to the pain and hurt someone has inflicted upon you is an all-in effort on your part, the process of forgiveness is not always an immediate kind of thing. Important things that we need to forgive do not come easily. First you have to acknowledge that you have to forgive someone, then deal with the real feelings of anger and, at times, betrayal. Finally, you have to allow yourself time for healing.
Step Four: Understand that forgiveness is for your well-being and health. Feelings of anger and resentment create a stress response, causing higher levels of stress hormones, increased blood pressure and accelerated heart rates. When you hold on to anger and past trauma, this harmful stress response never goes away, causing physical damage over the long run.
Feelings of anger and resentment also reinforces the feelings of victimization. Even if you were abused in a relationship, you do not want stay in the victim role. Protect yourself and commit to never letting it happen again, but do not hold on to the harmful, unhealthy emotions of anger, bitterness, and resentment.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, allowing wounds to heal, making you stronger and healthier both mentally and physically.
Step Five: Forgive yourself. Sometimes the one thing that stands in our way of forgiving others is the need to forgive ourselves. Often, we hold a grudge against ourselves, thinking that we were in some way stupid for letting someone hurt us or take advantage of us. Or, we blame ourselves for overreacting from our own place of brokenness to a perceived slight which led to a huge fight and hurtful words.
Forgiving others begins with forgiving yourself. You, too, have to forgive yourself for holding on for so long to past hurts and brokenness, preventing your own healing.
Forgiveness Is All About Changing Your Heart
Forgiveness is all about changing your own heart. It takes courage and strength to put the past in its place and to change your thinking towards someone who has hurt you.
Research has shown that people who forgive are more likely to have fewer episodes of depression, higher self-esteem, longer/closer relationships, and fewer stress-related health issues.
Why not take a positive step in your life and give yourself the gift of forgiveness? Let it free you from the jail of past hurts and release you to live your life at its best.