Recently a member of my Take Care of You Community asked me to share some helpful tips about forgiveness. I was so glad she asked because this is an important topic that so many of us deal with.
We’ve all been in a situation where we find it hard to let go of anger and resentment toward another person, or toward ourselves. Forgiving can be really challenging. Whether it’s forgiving others or forgiving oneself, we often find it very hard to do.
Why is Forgiving Hard?
I think forgiveness is hard because we believe that holding on to the anger will somehow prove something or that it will somehow demonstrate that we condone the wrong-doing. Perhaps we think that by holding on, we are showing the other person (or ourselves) that we are not okay with whatever happened. And perhaps we think we are punishing the other person. However, that is not true.
So, what’s vitally important to understand is that when we don’t forgive, we are only hurting ourselves. Holding on to anger and resentment doesn’t prove anything and it doesn’t hurt the other person. The only one we are torturing is ourselves.
Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to forget and it certainly doesn’t mean you are saying that whatever happened is okay with you. But, when you are able to forgive, it means you are able to give yourself the gifts of freedom and peace.
Often when we think of forgiveness we are thinking about forgiving others, but it’s not unusual that the one we need to forgive is ourselves.
Have you ever made a mistake and then spent a long time, maybe even years, feeling remorse, guilt, shame, or anger toward yourself about it? That’s a lot of unnecessary turmoil and pain to put yourself through.
Self-forgiveness can be hard but it’s such a gift. Forgiving yourself for something doesn’t mean you are saying you are okay with the thing that you did, it just means you are freeing yourself and moving forward without the guilt, shame, and anger.
Here are some steps you can take to free yourself, forgive yourself, and give yourself the gift of peace:
- Acknowledge and accept your emotions. This is always an important step whenever you are experiencing a challenging emotion or feeling. By acknowledging and accepting the feeling, you are taking the first step to letting it go. Don’t push the feelings away. Allow them to be there and simply notice them.
- Ask yourself what you can learn from your mistake. What would you do differently next time? How has this situation benefited you? I know this might feel like a tough question to answer but it’s almost always true that there is some benefit or learning to be acknowledged.
- Look at the high standard and expectations you are holding for yourself. Are your expectations reasonable? If a friend had done this, would you forgive them? Try to give yourself the same empathy you would give to someone else.
- Acknowledge your inner critic. Our inner critic can be getting in the way of forgiving ourselves. If this is true for you here is an exercise you can try from Jordan Pickell, MCP, RCC:
- On one side of a piece of paper, write down what your inner critic is saying.
- On the other side of the paper, write a self-compassionate response to each thing you wrote on the other side of the paper.
Are you able to let yourself believe the self-compassionate side?
Often, when you have a conflict with another person, the steps to forgiveness are not so different from those of forgiving yourself. The steps listed above can almost all be applied with just a few small modifications.
An important thing to remember here is that forgiveness is really always about ourselves. We cannot control another person’s behavior and we can’t change what they have done. The only thing we do have control over is how we respond
Here are some additional steps you can take to forgive:
- Switch your focus from blaming to looking at yourself. Ask yourself what role you play in the situation. This is not to say you need to start blaming yourself. Not at all. It’s just to say that blame never really gets us anywhere. Your role is always to look at how you can respond to another person’s behavior. You have a choice about how you respond and how you let their behavior affect you. Are you letting the other person’s behavior have power over you?
- Try to look at the situation from the other person’s perspective. Doing this does not mean that you are saying what they did was okay. But, it can be helpful to understand that they are a person with needs. What need was that person trying to meet? Understanding this might help you feel less angry at them.You can ask yourself how you would feel in the situation and perhaps what your reasons might be for doing what the person did. This can be very helpful and can provide empathy for the other person involved.
- Understand that holding on to anger and resentment is poisoning you, not them. This understanding is huge! Simply acknowledging this can make a big difference in your ability to forgive.
When you can truly let go of your anger and resentment, you will feel a lightness, a freedom, and a peacefulness. Forgiveness is a gift that only you can give to yourself.
How do you let go of anger towards yourself or others and give yourself peace? I’d love to hear what you’ve done.
If you’d like some additional help in this area, please reach out. I’m always happy to hear from you.