“Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offence, lets go of negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance (however justified it might be), and with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”
I found this definition of forgiveness, and I couldn’t help but recoil slightly, it doesn’t seem very uplifting or empowering.
The term “victim” could be replaced with “survivor”, “light-worker” or “self-hero” for one and also, forgiveness does not just have to occur after an “offence”. You can forgive your co-worker for speaking to you in an abrupt manner, you can forgive a stranger in traffic for cutting into your lane, you can forgive your partner for leaving their wet towel on the floor or you can forgive someone who abused you physically, mentally or emotionally. Although it is obvious these situations vary drastically, the thing they all have in common is that to practice forgiveness in the face of them all, will contribute to your peace.
When truly practising forgiveness, the action, words or behaviour you are forgiving is not important. The decision to free yourself from being bound to the negative emotions which have resulted, is all that matters.
Forgiveness has no impact whatsoever on the other person. This is an element which causes people the most confusion and deliberation. By choosing to forgive someone you are not condoning what they did, you are not making excuses or forgetting what happened, to continue as if nothing ever did. You are just choosing to remove yourself from the mental position of victimhood, feeling less than or badly done to is not a very empowering place to be. Whereas, demonstrating the strength of character to be able to free yourself from resentment and vengeful thinking, is a powerful action which will reaffirm your self-belief and self-esteem.
So how can you practice forgiveness?
It is not a switch you can flick, unfortunately. It may take time but it will be worth it. Here is a process for beginning to practice forgiveness;
Acceptance – seeing the situation or the person as it is or as they are, is the vital first step towards peace. This in itself can feel almost impossible and may not be something you achieve quickly. Reaffirming acceptance over and over again, is an effective way of getting there, though. So when you feel yourself getting angry, upset frustrated or otherwise feeling negatively towards someone or something, recognise that this emotion is coming from somewhere deep within, where you still believe or wish things were different. See things as they are. Reaffirm the facts to yourself. Do not elaborate or exaggerate. Do not dwell or seek reassurance. Tell yourself what you know to be true about the person or the situation and say “I accept that this is what it is and this is so”. Do this as many times as you need, until you no longer feel strong negative emotions or desire to change things.
Understand your part with compassion – many people end up feeling blame or guilt following a negative situation, even if they have no blame at all. This is relating to the previous step, but requires you to delve deeper. This is about recognising your part in all of this, even if completely passive, and releasing it with love and compassion for yourself, with the knowledge that you acted the only way you knew how, in that moment, with the tools you have. This is also a vital step in learning to have compassion for others, which certainly makes forgiveness easier. For this part, mirror work can be particularly impactful. Speaking to yourself, directly, with eye contact is one of the most powerful ways you can affirm positivity and confidence in your own life. Therefore, once you have recognised your part in this situation, take some time to talk it over with yourself in the mirror. Explain the acceptance you have reached and express your love and compassion towards your past self and support for your future self.
Considering the perspective of whoever else was involved – this is probably the hardest bit. Understandably a lot of people recoil in horror when I even suggest this. Especially victims of crime or abuse. This is where it is vital to appreciate what forgiveness is truly about and how powerful it can be. By having the cognitive ability to briefly put yourself in someone else’s shoes, we are not condoning or excusing bad – or even heinous, dangerous or destructive – behaviour, we are merely exercising our ability to change perspectives. This is a superpower you have and it benefits you enormously. By being able to objectively consider the motivations or potential reasons behind why someone acted a certain way, you are regaining your power. You are seeing this through the lens of logic and balance. Consider what may have caused this behaviour, BUT remember not to look at yourself here.
Release – following all the above steps, you will have gained some insights and also begun to diffuse a lot of emotions, without even trying… because you are a bad ass. You may still feel negative emotions, that is normal, you are not a robot and this is a process. You may need to repeat this whole thing a few times to see the full benefit, again that is absolutely normal. Our ability to forgive depends on lots of things, such as time since event, severity, closeness of relationship, mental state prior, stress levels etc, etc, etc. But this is the stage when you will choose to release the negative emotion – or maybe only half of it, or even a tenth of it – from your mind and your body. This can be done in lots of ways, I personally like using meditation or visualisation, as your brain does not know the difference between reality and imagination, so vividly seeing something in our mind can create associated positive emotions and new neural pathways, to aid with recovery and healing. I like THIS cord cutting meditation. Other ways is to write everything down and tear it up or (SAFELY!) burn it. Sometimes it is necessary to purge and remove all photos, belongings, reminders of a person. This stage is the stage I would most recommend repeating, you can do the cord cutting meditation daily or you can write in your journal and release any emotions or spiralling thoughts. Release sounds quick and final, truth is it isn’t always but the good news is, committing to this is a huge message to yourself that you are strong and you are going to come out the other side.