The Path to Forgiveness

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Learn to “let go”.

How often do we hear that? It can be applied to disappointment, grief, anger, or other emotions that tend to block our path to peace and contentment. Although it is a commonly used phrase, how many of us actually know what it means and even if we do know, how do we do it?

Being upset by someone else’s behavior toward us can cut deeply. Feeling rejected, ignored, taken for granted, hurt, abandoned…..how in the world do we simply let go of those strong, and often debilitating emotions? And on the other side, how does it serve us to harbor them?

A beginning might be in really feeling the truth about your pain. Your feelings can’t be pushed aside or buried if you are ever to move past them. This is hard – it’s the place where all the feelings named above are front and center. If you are like most of us, it becomes a cycle of feeling, numbing, rationalizing, getting angry, feeling sad and starting over again. How do we exit this crucible?

It’s A Practice

Try these approaches; you may have to practice them repeatedly but at some point, hopefully there will be some relief from the distraction and ill feelings toward the other person:

  1. Be objective about your upset, even if it makes you feel more upset in the moment.
  2. Accept how you feel.
  3. Practice empathy – What might have been the intention (or lack of intention) behind the upsetting behavior? What might be the current state of mind of the person who has hurt you?
  4. Take responsibility – what might have been your part in this interaction? 
  5. Consider the cost of not forgiving (impact on you, on the relationship, on your peace of mind).
  6. Decide to forgive – even if you can’t in this exact moment, imagine what it might feel like if you were actually able to move on, release the hurt, forgive this person? It might make room for something else more positive, more nurturing.
  7. Sustain the decision to forgive – tough one for obvious reasons.
  8. Write about your experience. You will feel different on different days. If you are someone who processes feelings through the written word, this is a wonderful tool. You’ll be able to track the ebb and flow of your feelings and revisit them.
  9. Breathe – we often hold our breath during upset, which simply sends alarming messages to your brain and entire nervous system It’s generally a good practice to notice your breathing. Take 10 deep breaths, with a focus on relaxing - imagine letting go of the hurt.
  10. Repeat as many of the steps as you need, until you feel ready to move past the negative feelings.
  11. Let go.

This short and not nearly complete guide comes at a time when many of us will be facing old and new hurts, family dynamics, changes in health of our older family members, judgments from others. And certainly the practice of forgiveness could be daily, but we hope this short reminder can help you appreciate and lighten your holidays.