When someone hurts you, especially deeply, how do you overcome your anger, resistance and possible desire for revenge? How do you go forward with someone you love, when the memory of unloving actions lingers in your mind? If a relationship is over, possibly due to hurtful behavior, what needs to happen next to let go of the pain and move on? How do your release dreams of a life you could have had, if only you – or someone else – had made different choices?
Here are 4 key steps to the process of forgiveness:
- Feel – Don’t repress your feelings. Allow your emotions some breathing room and accept that you are hurt, angry, sad, confused or disillusioned. Don’t censor or judge your emotions, as they are telling you something is wrong that needs to be righted. At minimum, acknowledge your feelings without apology to yourself, it will help you to calm down. Confide in a trusted friend if it helps.
- Release – Ask yourself how you want to feel at the end of this experience, and what you want to do with your pain. Identify what’s making it hard to let go. Explore the meaning of the hurt. This is the deepest part of the pain that’s making you hold on to anger and resentment. If you are clinging to resentment because the hurt has made you feel bad about yourself, you are giving your power away to someone else to define your value as a human being. Get support to help you regain your confidence and self esteem. If your resentment has filled you with hatred and vengeful feelings towards those who have hurt you, be honest with yourself about the cost to your psychological well being and other relationships. Get counseling if you are truly stuck.Remember the goal of forgiveness – to free yourself of the prison of living in a grudge state. Allow yourself to let go, knowing that you are doing a service for yourself. It may help to perform a ritual that will assist you in releasing the pain. For example, writing a letter that expresses all your hurt angry feelings, then tearing it up or burning it. Remember, you are not your hurt and anger. Imagine those feelings disappearing into torn fragments or smoke.
- Learn – Take stock. Uncover the lesson that this experience needs to teach you. Decide what you need more of (or less of) in your life and relationships. Do you need to respect yourself more and, in so doing, command the respect of others? Should you be setting healthier boundaries? If you were harmed in childhood, do you need to no longer let hurtful adults – who should have protected you – define your worth and lovableness as a human being? Do you need to be more trusting or less naive? What do you need to absorb from this painful experience to strengthen yourself in the long run?
- Return – Understand that anger and vengeful feelings can flare up from time to time. Also know that emotions are different than behavior. As long as you don’t act out from anger and vengeance, and are focusing on the big picture of letting go, you are well on the way to healing. Concentrate on what you have going for you and what you want your future to look like.
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