The Not So Easy Task Of Forgiving

Forgive and forget may be a seemingly impossible expectation when it involves someone who has caused you undue and deep-seated suffering. That sense of being wronged can lead to unbearable hurt and anger that often spark a desire for retribution.  Such feelings are natural, but their effects on you can be devastating if left unchecked.

What does it mean to forgive?
Forgiveness is the process by which you make a conscious and deliberate effort to let go of your feelings of resentment and vengeance toward the person or group who have wronged you. It’s about coming to terms and bringing closure to circumstances that have caused you great strife and kept you in a whirlwind of negative thoughts and actions. Contrary to what might appear to be reasonable or just, the onus of forgiving is on you and not on anyone else, even the wrongdoer.

Why is forgiveness important?|
The process of forgiving allows you to heal from your emotional wounds in the aftermath of a traumatic occurrence. It relieves you from staying stuck in unresolved emotions that wreak havoc on how you think and what you do.

The ability to embrace forgiveness will open you up to:

  • Improved health: A byproduct of emotional turmoil is the impact it places on your health. Harboring uncontrollable anger and distress can lead to such issues as headaches, dizziness, high blood pressure, muscle tension, and digestive problems.
  • More meaningful interactions with others: When you are feeling anguish and distrust, it may become impossible to give the level of attentiveness, allegiance, empathy, or care needed to create or sustain positive relationships.
  • A better take on life: Your attitude reflects how you perceive the happenings around you. When it is bleak, so is your viewpoint.
  • Greater opportunities to start anew: Your future holds an abundance of possibilities, but they will pass you by until you deal with the troubles at hand.

How can you start the process of forgiving?

(1)  The only person you can control is yourself. Don’t expect the wrongdoers to apologize, beg for forgiveness or make amends. In fact, they may not take notice or particularly care about what happens to you.

(2)  The trauma will never end until you put it to rest. Pretending it never happened, minimizing its importance, or stuffing your feelings are all good ways for your emotional wounds to keep festering.

(3)  You may not be ready to forgive, so wait until you are. Forcing yourself can result in a meaningless act of futility. Question your level of readiness, but don’t be swayed by the pressures of others. This is your passage. Begin to forgive when the time is right for you.

(4)  To initiate the process of forgiveness, distance yourself from the cause of your anguish and get into a healthier mindset. Take extra care of yourself by spending time with people you love, eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, exercising daily, practicing gratitude, and doing the things that validate your self-worth.

(5)  Delve deeply into the origins of your injustice or betrayal to more clearly understand what happened, the reasons why, your feelings and responses, and what you might have done better. Take a good look at not only your perspective but of those of the perpetrators. What was their motivation to do what they did and what was your contribution to their actions? Keep in mind there are always two sides to a coin.

(6)  Look for the benefits that have resulted from the situation. What have you gained out of this emotional experience? How has it made you a better person in the long run? What were the lessons learned and how will you apply them to enhancing your future?

(7)  Forgiving yourself is a necessary step towards forgiving others. Whatever blame is getting in your way, own up to your part and have the self-compassion to move on. Let your successes, not your failings, define you. If you feel hopelessly stuck, consult with a therapist or other trained professional to get the help you need to work through it.

(8)  You have the power to live a productive and meaningful life, no matter what comes your way. In response to a horrific ordeal, work through the process of forgiveness by accepting what happened for what it was and not for what it could have been. Take control of your present and future by releasing the emotional baggage that is weighing you down.  Redefine yourself by living your best life ever with the peace, joy, and love you so richly deserve.

Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves, not to others. – Gail Lynne Goodwin

Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Smart Strategies for Successful Living

Patricia K. Flanigan has worked in higher education for over 28 years. She holds a doctoral degree in Organizational Leadership from the University of La Verne as well as a M.A.  in Latin American Studies and B.A. in Anthropology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Before retiring and moving to Idaho in 2015, she served as the dean of online education and learning resources at Saddleback College, a large community college in Southern California. She currently consults in higher education, volunteers for AARP, writes for a local magazine, and serves as an Affiliate Faculty member at Boise State University  and on the Board for LEARN Idaho.  Since February 2017, she has been the founding director for Smart Strategies for Successful Living, a community-based website designed to promote quality aging.  As an educator, her focus is to inspire others to live and age well.