Forgiveness means different things to different people. But in general, it involves an intentional decision to let go of resentment and anger.
Forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to you. It also doesn't necessarily mean making up with the person who caused the harm. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that allows you to focus on yourself and helps you go on with life.
Being hurt by someone, particularly someone you love and trust, can cause anger, sadness and confusion. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by bitterness or a sense of injustice.
Start With Self-Forgiveness
Let me say from the start that I believe self-forgiveness is at the heart of your serenity and moving on with our lives. We sometimes forget that we do have to forgive ourselves too.
It is usually our lack of self-forgiveness that holds us to the past, to our guilt and shame. Added to that, the fear we may still have of the other person, even if they are long gone, will also keep us trapped. We need to deal with all of these issues as part of forgiveness and let them go, along with the past. That is a lot of hard courageous work and may require professional support, so please reach out if you need to.
I would suggest you work on self-forgiveness first before moving on to other people. In this way you can also learn to put in place some boundaries. You can find more information on this in my blog Self-Forgiveness: How to do it?
Always remember to start small and build from there.
Taking too big a step in the first instance may not be as helpful as we thought. We don’t want to create, or change, anything too fast as we can frighten ourselves into quitting too soon.
Some of these suggestions may seem strange to you at first. You may ask what has any of these got to do with forgiving yourself? But we need to create a more supportive, nurturing, and loving environment for ourselves in order to grow into self-forgiveness. These first steps will enable us to do that.
1 Take back Your Power.
No matter what happened to us at that time our power was taken from us. So now we have to decide to take back our power. We get to decide what we want. That is our first boundary setting exercise.
Do we want serenity that comes from forgiving ourselves enough to let go of the past?
This can be such a hard, and extremely large, question to ask ourselves.
As I’ve said our past painful experiences may be so tied into our identity that we may find it hard to put those experiences in the past where they belong. So it may be no wonder we have shied away from even asking the question and doing the hard work involved.
Take some time to journal about what you want from this work as well. What is your why? Who are you really doing this for? Make sure it is for yourself and not someone else. There may be times when you may lose motivation to continue. So having a clear picture of your why will keep you going in those times.
2 Make Sure You Are Looking After Yourself.
Yes I am talking about self-care here. A lot of time we lose this because of what has happened to us. It also affects how we interact with ourselves now. We feel we don’t deserve and we are not good enough. So by looking after ourselves we are setting another boundary here.
This is an important step in taking back our power also. It is drawing a line in the sand and saying enough is enough. We are willing to take small baby steps in self-care. We are saying to the world and to ourselves, more importantly, is:
“I matter, I am good enough, I deserve my own love and in order to that I will take care of myself”.
3 Review What Is Going On In Your Life Right Now.
This will help you set another boundary. It enables you to take back control of what is going on in the present.
Write down everything you do over the course of a week. Even the small little things that we sometimes forget. Take your time and get that list together as best you can.
Now review this list. Beside everything you have written down decide if you can:
Delete it. Yes you can stop doing things that don’t serve you.
Hand it back to the person really responsible for it. Yes you can do this, they are adults and quite capable of doing it for themselves.
Delegate it. Partners, children/teens are very able to help out at home too, you don’t need to do everything for them.
The remaining items on your list should be more manageable and really your responsibility. If you are still overwhelmed by it, start the review process again with this new list. If this is something work related perhaps you need to ask for help or your job has become a two person one.
(1) Review this list at least every 6 months if not every month please. We can add back in things we had deleted or delegated so easily. Especially if others are use to us doing things for them.
(2) Any time you free up is for you and you alone. It is not to be used to help others. Or take on more responsibilities. Remember you are now setting new boundaries with those in your life.
If you find delegating, handing it back or deleting difficult, then take the smallest items (time wise) and start with these. The more you practice doing this the easier it becomes. Keep going you can do this for yourself!
4 Set Healthy Boundaries With Negative People.
That brings me to setting healthy boundaries with negative people. Often times when we are still caught up with past trauma we will not set healthy boundaries with others in the present. It may not be the same as it was in the past. But we will still meet negative, toxic, people who violate our boundaries. They will continue, until we eliminate them from our lives.
5 Review Your Emotional Health.
What are your emotions/feelings doing to your life now? What is going on in your head, heart, gut and soul? It’s all interconnected, So what is going on in our heads, how and what we are thinking will dictate our behaviors and emotions/feelings.
Journal out these questions to review your emotional health:
What emotions are dictating how you live your life? If you’re feeling stuck examine one area of your life at a time.
What are your beliefs about this area of your life?
Is there a particular event or thing that happened to make you feel this way or have this belief?
Are there emotional experiences from your past or present that contribute to this belief?
Are you making assumptions about this area of your life?
Determine what you are gaining from this belief?
Ask yourself: Have you ever gone against this belief?
Really pull this belief apart, look for evidence for and against this belief and decide whether you will keep or discard it now.
Now think about what your future would be like without this belief.
You can also do this exercise with positive beliefs, so you can build the positivity around this belief further.
Forgiveness also means letting go of our shame and guilt surrounding failing to protect ourselves at the time. Toxic shame can be particularly difficult to let go of, But if you feel you are caught up in these, or any emotion, then I have to stress that getting professional help is the quickest way you can help yourself move forward here.
6 Build Your Positives.
When we lose ourselves or get caught up in negativity, we forget that we do have some positives in our lives. It can in fact be frightening to realize we have happiness in our lives, but we need to explore the good as well as the bad. Otherwise we tend to focus too much on the negatives. That is never good for helping us to learn forgiveness, letting go of the past or moving forward in an empowered manner.
Write down 10 things you’re grateful in your life everyday today. You might need to fake it till you make it to start with but you will quickly realize everything you are grateful for.
Be as specific as you can be.
Write down one way how you practice gratitude. If you don’t practice gratitude already begin today. Gratitude is the fastest way to boost your mental health.
7 Learn To Forgive
It’s now time to look at what happened and why/what you need to forgive. Remember this is about you forgiving you. You are not involving others in this.
Take your time here and write down everyone that has hurt you in your life. Even in a small way but you know you haven’t let it go. I’m talking about the ones you haven’t forgiven yet.
If you’re holding onto your anger, shame, fear, guilt, etc. Or you know you haven’t grieved out the event or situation. Then I’d say you have people you haven’t forgiven yet in your life.
Write down that list of people. Include yourself at the top of it!
Write down what they did. Or what you did, that you can’t let go of. Describe it in as much detail as possible including all of your thought, emotions, reactions and physical responses.
Now re-read it. Is there anyone/thing/event on that list you can forgive immediately? This list gives you a clue as to why these people, events, and your own thoughts, still hold sway over you. Even in the slightest manner. Use that information to work on letting go of the past and forgive you.
You have to ask yourself:
What do I want and need exactly from this person?
Is it an apology?
If so how long are you prepared to put your life on hold waiting for something you have no control over?
Do we need them to know how we feel, even after all this time? Is that even realistic or worth putting yourself through it?
Write a letter to this person. Tell them how you feel. What has happened to you as a result of their actions. Really write it all down, get out as much as possible. This letter is not for sending!
Now burn the letter and visualize letting that person go. You are not forgiving them you are releasing them from holding you in the past. You may need to do this exercise of letter writing and burning a few times in order to feel the benefit.
Now write a letter to yourself, be honest with yourself. Explain how you did the best you could under the circumstances and place the blame back with the real villain here. Be loving and kind towards yourself. You are forgiving yourself here not adding to your burden. Remember to tell yourself of all the positives you have gained in your life too. It’s a good reminder to have. That even out of what may seem darkness there can come some light and good.
Reach Out For Support.
If you are finding any of this hard then I would strongly advise you to seek therapy with the specific idea of forgiving yourself. Bring the list to your therapist and work though it with them. Remember you are looking to forgive not reconcile with any of these people, except yourself of course!
You can get through this. You can move on with your life and find forgiveness, serenity, peace and love again.
Remember you are allowed to ask for support. No one is an island. If you need extra support then you can also work with me. We all struggle with stress and overwhelm from time to time. If you find this has become a problem for you and you’d like some support, then schedule an appointment with me.