Have you ever been hurt? Have you ever been treated unfairly? Do you continue to feel the pain from something that happened long ago? How could we not? We’re all human, making mistakes, learning, finding our way. And yet you may simply think someone doesn’t deserve to be forgiven or someone has done something unforgivable. However, if you don’t forgive, you are holding onto anger, pain, resentment. You carry that around and the only person this hurts is you.
What Forgiveness Is Not. Some people don’t forgive, because they equate forgiving for condoning what happened. And yet forgiving someone is not saying what they did is ok. It doesn’t mean you forget and go back to a situation that is harmful or abusive. Forgiveness is not about denying responsibility.
What Forgiveness Is. When you forgive, you give yourself a gift. You liberate yourself. Forgiveness releases you from the burden of holding on to hurt from the past, the burden of carrying around anger and past pain. You free up your own energy so you can be present to life now, to joy. You make space for more happiness, for peace of mind, for a more prosperous life.
Forgiveness acknowledges what happened, how it made you feel, how it still makes you feel and allows you to find the gift in the trauma by learning from what happened. It is a choice to remember that everyone is human, makes mistakes and is doing the best they can with what they know at the time. Forgiving may mean seeing that hurt people hurt people. People often end up doing what was done to them earlier in their lives. Forgiving is accepting people where they are, letting go of any desire to fix or change them, trusting they are right where they need to be… trusting you are right where you need to be. Forgiving is being compassionate, opening your heart, letting go and moving on with your life.
How You Hurt Yourself By Not Forgiving. By not forgiving, you hurt yourself. All that anger, pain, resentment stays in your system and poisons your life. It can consume you and get in the way of you being present and experiencing the good you deserve in your life. It can lead to feeling depressed and anxious. I think a lot of the depression and anxiety I experienced over the decades stems from a lack of forgiveness for things that initially happened when I was young.
Deja Vu? Have you ever had the same thing happen over and over again from one person to another? Do you keep getting cheated? Do you keep getting lied to? Do you get hurt physically? Do you know anyone who keeps dating or marrying the same person essentially over and over and it keeps ending (or continuing) the same way? Why do these things keep happening? These patterns may be repeating due to a lack of forgiveness from something that happened long ago, from pain held onto for years. For example, an abusive childhood keeps playing out in abusive relationships as an adult.
Set Yourself Free. So how do you forgive? First, you choose to. And yet simply choosing to forgive and saying “I forgive them” may not be enough. Forgiveness is a process. I recently went through a painful experience and realized the hurt from a long time ago was repeating in my life yet again. I kept attracting the same hurt over and over again from one relationship to another. I realized I was still angry about hurt from decades ago. I thought I had forgiven and yet I had not.
A Powerful Exercise. The day I had been feeling that old hurt all over again, the Universe delivered a powerful exercise to me just when I needed it and was ready for it.* The forgiveness exercise below helped me experience an enormous amount of peace. I have since used it many times and felt lighter each time. It helped liberate me so I’m sharing it with you now. May it bring you peace too and make way for more happiness and prosperity in your life.
Part One: Past Hurts
First, sit and relax. Get centered and think back on your life. Remember a few people (living or dead) who you’ve never forgiven for some hurt you experienced. List their names, the situation where you felt hurt and your feelings and judgments around the situation. Give yourself permission to name the hurt and pain, the anger, the resentments and any fear or doubts this brought up for you.
Part Two: Letter of Forgiveness
Now choose someone you’d like to forgive. Write a letter to this person, using the formula below. (It’s very powerful to start with the old hurts you’ve held onto for many years so you can stop carrying them around already. Then use this again for more recent incidents.) Note: this letter is for you, not for you to send.
- The Event. Write about the following:
- Describe the event
- How it hurt you
- What was painful
- What your feelings were
- How it’s still affecting you
- Suggested phrases: “It hurt me when… I felt sad when… I feel angry about… I feel disappointed about… I resent… I hate that… I was afraid that… I doubt that… I still feel… I feel held back in life now because…“
- The Part You Played. Next write about any part you had in the situation (if this happened when you were a child, you may not have been responsible for anything that happened). Suggested phrases: “I realize I… I apologize for… I didn’t mean to…“
- Say What You Really Wanted. Write about:
- What you would have liked to have experienced
- How that is true for you now
- How this affects your life now
- What your desires are now
- Suggested phrases: “What I really wanted was… I deserved to… I would have liked…“
- Let It Go. Now write that you release this hurt.
- I am Grateful Now. Acknowledge what this experience contributed to your life, what you learned, what you understand now.
- Suggested phrases: “I appreciate that… I am grateful for… What I gained from this experience is…“
- Complete and Release. To complete your letter, release and let go.
- Suggested phrases: “In appreciation… With love… Sending you many blessings… ” And sign your name.
Part Three: Letter to Myself
Now for the final part, write a letter to yourself–the person who may need the most forgiving in your life. In this letter (it may help you to use the process and phrases in step two above to guide you):
- Acknowledge what you have learned from this situation.
- Write about what is clearer to you now.
- Forgive yourself for any contribution you may have made in the situation and any unforgiving thoughts you may have had since then.
- Acknowledge where you are now.
- Acknowledge what is available to you now that you’ve set your heart free.
- Complete your letter by releasing and letting yourself go in love.
- Remember you are not condoning the past. You are releasing it. You are accepting your freedom from pain and moving on with your life.
Onward and Upward. Remember these letters are not for you to send. They are for liberating you. I recommend throwing them away or burning them to complete the process.
And give yourself credit. Forgiveness can be really difficult, especially if you are facing hurts you’ve buried…
More Forgiving. If you find yourself continuing to feel anger or hurt around something that happened, you may need to keep on forgiving. If you are complete, you will feel it. I find that forgiving gets easier and easier the more often I do it, the more I remember we’re all human. It’s like I’m building up a compassion muscle. And the more I open my heart, the more I am free. May this lighten your load and help you find peace.
*Much gratitude to the Center for Spiritual Living in St. Louis. This process is from the Foundations of the Science of Mind Student Workbook used in the Foundations class offered at CSL.