Forgiveness is very desirable. For those who receive it, the burden of guilt is lifted. For those who give it, resentment and anger can be released, clearing the slate in a relationship and making room for peace.
Despite this, in everyday life forgiveness is not easy to achieve. Let’s see if there is a way to offer genuine forgiveness, especially to those closest to you, because ironically, they are the ones you should forgive first and yet they are often the hardest to deal with.
Key Steps to Forgiveness
Here are the key steps involved:
- Feel your emotions and face them directly.
- Write down your reasons for not forgiving someone.
- Ask yourself how motivated you are to offer forgiveness.
- Let go of as much resentment and anger as you can, here and now.
- Envision what the future would be like if you do forgive the other person.
- Reconnect at a sincere positive level.
- Find the place of forgiveness in your own awareness.
Each of these steps clears up a specific obstacle to forgiveness that may be inside you. Let’s see how this works, step by step.
1. Feel Your Emotions and Face Them Directly
Resistance to forgiveness is fuelled by emotions. You can rationalise why somebody else did something unforgivable, because deep down you feel angry, resentful, victimised, and hurt. Be honest with your grievance and go to the emotional level where it is rooted. Let the feeling be what it is. The purpose of this step is twofold, because if you confront your feelings, you also have the choice to release them.
Instead of jumping straight to forgiveness, take responsibility for your own emotions. If you can, let go of at least a small portion of your story of how things were supposed to go. Letting go is almost as hard as forgiving, I know. At least say to yourself, “Maybe if I let go of my interpretation of events and what is unfair, I don’t have to be stuck with this feeling.”
2. Write Down Your Reasons for Not Forgiving Someone
This is best done in the form of a letter addressed to the person you feel wronged you. List all your resentments and reasons in detail. Set the letter aside for a day and return to it to add anything else you forgot to say. When you are completely satisfied, put the letter away to consult later. Don’t mail it. Its purpose was to get everything off your chest.
3. Ask Yourself How Motivated You Are to Offer Forgiveness
Before you started this process, you may have had little motivation to forgive the other person. There can be various reasons for this stubbornness, usually including righteous indignation. Now check to see if your resistance to forgiveness is ready to move. But don’t set any expectation on yourself. If you are still mad as hell, if you feel devastated by hurt, or simply consider what was done to you unforgivable, it’s better to know the truth than to pretend. No matter how weak or strong your motivation is, say to yourself, “All right, this is where I really am.” Sometimes simply being honest with yourself begins to thaw the log jam.
4. Let Go of Resentment and Anger, Here and Now
You can only change what you are aware of, and by now you have gained self-awareness about the situation. Return to the letter that outlines all your grievances and reflect on each point one at a time. As you do, ask yourself, “Can I begin to let go of this resistance?” Don’t force yourself to be magnanimous but stay with how you really feel.
Some items on your list will have begun to soften, and when you encounter this, say, “Maybe there is another interpretation of this event than the painful one I am holding on to.“ Release what you can and no more. At the same time, feel the burden of anger and resentment begin to lift. That’s a positive feeling which will increase your motivation to keep with the forgiving process.
5. Envision What the Future Would Be Like If You Forgive the Other Person
Any place you feel your grievance beginning to melt away, pause and envision what it would feel like to be at peace with the other person. Sense the warmth in your heart. If it leads to tears or sobbing, that’s okay—catharsis is a powerful emotion. If you can, feel the possibility of loving the other person, wishing them well, and setting them free—all of which is in your power.
6. Reconnect at a Sincere Positive Level
When you can’t forgive someone, you usually isolate yourself from them, either physically or emotionally. Make an effort to repair this isolation and decide the appropriate level of re-connection. The safest course may be to write a note or send a card expressing your desire to reconnect and then leaving the next step to the other person. Be risk-averse here. You are treading on sensitive ground for both of you.
7. Find the Place of Forgiveness in Your Own Awareness
The final step of the forgiveness process is to shift your state of awareness. Forgiveness is a state of consciousness, not an action. Emotions get you closer to forgiveness yet they also block the way. If you remove the obstacles, it turns out that forgiveness is completely natural and generally far easier than you may have supposed.
More importantly, once you shift your awareness into forgiveness, there is a much smaller chance that you will relapse. The experience of being a forgiving person becomes part of your spiritual journey, something you deeply need and desire.