EP 112: Forgiveness: Simple Steps to Follow on Your Journey of Letting Go
As I’ve often said, drama zaps energy and steals focus. Holding grudges or living with unresolved frustrations towards others can definitely zap your energy. And you need to harness your focus of energy and time with intention to make your unique impact!
So…….Does forgiveness need to be a part of your work? Bitterness, anger, frustration, and hatred are all energy sucking emotions and are often associated with how we feel about those we believe have disrespected us, hurt us, or taken us for granted.
I’ve definitely had to walk some tough roads of forgiveness. Perhaps I made it harder than it needed to be. But, I definitely felt those negative feelings and more about the man who abused me. I was angry! I had a vision for what my life would be and he took it from me because he was unwilling to own his behavior, or change anything.
I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying, “holding resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the offender to become ill”. Yes, those resentments will continue to impact you and have an affect on your current and future relationships.
An important part of my healing process was the intentional act of forgiveness. I needed to forgive him for what he did to me. Forgiveness doesn’t mean what he did is okay. It does mean letting go, ending the bitterness and reducing the anger.
Forgiveness certainly didn’t happen overnight for me! As a matter of fact, it didn’t even enter my mind for a very long time. To be perfectly honest, for the first few years after the relationship ended I collected his struggles and failures like little affirmations. “Yep, I made the right choice.” Or, “guess that’s what happens when you are such a horrendous person.”
I wanted validation. The abuse always happened behind closed doors. I wanted his life going forward to act as proof of what had happened to me. And I loved taking note and sharing his continued indiscretions with friends. “Look what I’ve had to put up with!”
A nice secondary effect of my continued anger towards him was that it provided me a layer of protection for my heart. Stopping to think about him as a broken human being who was not capable of doing better was too close to empathy. Empathy lives very close to love and I did not want to feel any feelings that even remotely resembled love for him. That chapter was closed and I needed to protect myself.
Truth was, I really didn’t have anything to worry about there. I had successfully removed myself emotionally from him over the course of those years of healing but I continued to find comfort in the idea of that extra layer.
The act of forgiveness was very difficult. As is always the case, however, forgiveness is a gift I’ve given to myself. It took a lot of energy to hold on to the negative stories, took up time to re-tell them. And empathy is okay. It has softened my heart and I have compassion. He is a broken man. But….The truth is, we are all broken.
Forgiving continues as a daily choice, an ongoing challenge with new experiences to add often but I am getting better.
So does part of your preparation need to include forgiveness? Are you wasting energy to hold onto resentments, frustrations, disappointments, or anger towards anyone?
Maybe it’s yourself you need to forgive. The same concepts apply. Whatever you did that led to the demise of relationships or choices that led to a life moving down an unintended path, it was you in your brokenness leading the way. Question is, what have you learned from those consequences, what will you do differently going forward and will you forgive?
The reality is, you can beat yourself up while you live the consequences of your actions or you can give yourself grace as you embrace your current circumstance. From a place of grace you have more energy to devote to creating a better life and making your unique impact.
So…..we all know we need to forgive, but how do you actually do it?
Here are some steps to follow. The steps are simple but the process can be very challenging. Start today so you can be on your way!
- Accept that it happened. After an event and while we are very angry we spend a lot of time thinking about all of the ways the situation could have been different. Why didn’t he do that? This should have happened instead. If that was going to happen he should have done this. It takes a lot of mental energy to think of all of the alternatives outcomes that would have been better, the paths he or she could have followed but didn’t. With each new preferred scenario the anger increases.It is part of the grieving process but at some point you have to embrace what happened. Those other things could have happened but they didn’t. She could have made a different decision but she didn’t. It is what it is. Considering the alternatives does you no good because you can’t re-write history. Accept what is so. Avoid wasting energy on wishing it were different. Harness that energy and move forward from there.
- Hear the Other Side: There are always two sides to a story and, at times, wildly different perspectives. It can be challenging but, if given the opportunity, truly listen. Try not to interrupt. Make an attempt to see the situation from another point of view. You don’t need to take on blame if they try to inaccurately reassign it but do listen for nuggets of wisdom or a new perspective that makes sense. Sometimes hearing can increase understanding. Is there a way to find common ground or work through the challenge together? Can shifting your perspective heal the hurt a bit? Is there validity to any part of what they share?
- Be Appreciative. Can you be thankful that you found out when you did? What did you learn? How will you do things differently in the future? Did you gain a new friend or strengthen a relationship? Does the action validate a decision you made in the past? In every circumstance is something positive and placing your focus there will help.
- See the Good: Can you still see value in the person? Try to separate the good they bring from the bad thing they did. Weighing the pros and cons will also help you determine whether you’ll leave them in your life or release them.
- Find Empathy: Chances are high that the person who created the hurt is a hurt person. How does their brokenness negatively impact their life? Being empathetic doesn’t excuse the bad behavior it just provides a reason. Empathy can help you find a softer place to put this experience.
- Express Your Feelings: It can be difficult to share our hurts with the offender. If you are able and they are willing it is a great exercise in healing. Do consider how they might respond and set your expectations accordingly. If they have difficulty admitting fault don’t set an expectation of hearing an “I’m sorry”. You’ll just feel disappointed. Instead create a goal of being heard. If you worry that they may be combative have another person there as mediator or choose to write a letter instead. The act of writing your thoughts is helpful whether you ever send it to them or not.
- Give Yourself Grace: Maybe someone cheated you in some way and you’ve been beating yourself up for trusting. The reality is that in relationships there are vulnerabilities. You have to let your guard down to let someone else in. He or she chose the behavior not you. Maybe someone stole from you or took advantage of you. You might feel like you should have figured it out earlier. None of us can know all immediately and you had the insight to figure it out when you did. So, you didn’t realize as soon as you would have liked, tolerated behavior longer than you should, overlooked red flags that should have signaled the transgression. That doesn’t make the infraction your fault.When people harm you, take advantage of you, lie, cheat or steal the bad choices are theirs to own. Beating yourself up about not anticipating the wrong does you no good. Part of forgiveness, whether you’ve played a part or not, will always include an element of forgiving yourself for any blame you assign yourself.
Getting over the hurt and moving on must include placing blame where it belongs and giving yourself grace. Now, it is definitely helpful to determine whether there are lessons to be learned for you from the experience. And the answer is, probably. Take those with appreciation and let go of the rest.
- Design the Relationship Moving Forward: Depending on the offense and circumstance, this person may or may not be out of your life. If you intend to maintain the relationship or must, get clear about any new parameters, rules or boundaries. Forgiveness does not require that you continue with status quo. Healthy boundaries created and kept keep us safe. Determine what you need to feel safe and whole in the relationship. It might mean the person is out of your life altogether or that you limit time with them. Maybe you’ll ask for space for a period or avoid direct communication. Perhaps you need additional access to rebuild trust. You get to have a voice in the design of the relationship moving forward and should not feel guilt for any change you request that benefits you.
Pray: If it’s not your thing that’s totally fine. However, if you are a praying person or want to give prayer a try, praying for God’s help in this area is highly recommended. Pray to have him help you change your heart and see the situation through His eyes. Pray to have discernment and wisdom. Pray for God to guide you through next steps. Pray to express sorrow to Him for your unforgiveness. Pray to have your offender gain wisdom, insight and healing.