We have all been hurt by another person at some time or another — we were treated badly, trust was broken, maybe our hearts were broken too.
And while pain is normal, sometimes it lingers for too long. We relive the pain over and over, even marry it to anger and have a hard time letting go.
An inability to let go can cause distress, distract us from work and family. It can also hinder future relationships, make us reluctant to open up to new things and people. We get trapped in a cycle of anger and hurt, and miss out on life as it happens… and even the mundane is beautiful and worth being present for.
We need to learn to let go. We need to be able to forgive, so we can move on and be happy, or at least less miserable.
This is something I have grappled with myself — after years of having to manage a “high conflict” relative, I built resentment and anger, neither one of which was my body built for. After allowing these emotions to grow to a point that they were physically damaging me, I decided to attack my negative feelings as if my life depended on it, because it did. It was only after taking the task this seriously I finally let go of so much anger and moved closer to forgiveness.
Forgiveness can change your life. It can return to your soul the internal space to grow again, be grounded, present and love.
Forgiveness does not mean you erase the past, or forget what has happened. It does not mean the person was or is “right” or even mean the other person will change his or her behavior — you cannot control that. All it means is that you are holding onto the lessons and letting go of that which no longer serves you–letting go of the anger and pain, and moving on to a better place yourself.
Forgiveness is for you– and it is not easy. But you can learn to do it.
If you’re holding onto pain, reliving it, and cannot let go and forgive, read on for some things I have learned.
1. Commit to letting go. You are not going to do it in day or maybe not even in a month. It can take time to get over something. So commit to changing, because you recognize that the pain is hurting you.
2. Think about the pros and cons. What problems does this pain cause you? Does it affect your relationship with this person? With others? Does it affect work or family? Does it stop you from pursuing your dreams, or becoming a better person? Does it cause you unhappiness? Think of all these problems, and realize you need to change. Then think of the benefits of forgiveness — how it will make you happier, free you from the past and the pain, improve things with your relationships and life in general.
3. Realize you have a choice. You cannot control the actions of others, and should not try. But you can control not only your actions, but your thoughts. You can stop reliving the hurt, and can choose to move on. You have this power. You just need to learn how to exercise it.
4. Empathize. Try this: put yourself in that person’s shoes. Try to understand why the person did what he did. Start from the assumption that the person is not a bad person, but just did something wrong. What could he or she have been thinking, what could have happened to them in the past to make them do what they did? What could this person have felt as he or she did it? What did he or she feel afterward? How does this person feel now? You are not saying what they did is right, but are instead trying to understand and empathize.
5. Understand your responsibility. Try to figure out how you could have been partially responsible for what happened. What could you have done to prevent it, and how can you prevent it from happening next time? This is not to say you are taking the blame– there might be an explanation, which is very different than having an excuse. While we are not taking responsibility away from the other person, we can realize we are participants in life, and not life’s victims.
6. Forgiveness is for you. Now that you have reflected on the past, realize that the past is over. It is not happening anymore, except in your mind. And that causes problems — unhappiness and stress. Instead, bring your focus back to the present moment. What are you doing now? What joy can you find in what is happening right now? Find the joy in life now, as it happens, and stop reliving the past. By the way, you will inevitably start thinking about the past again, but just acknowledge that, and gently bring yourself back to the present moment.
7. Allow peace to enter your life. As you focus on the present, try focusing on your breathing. Imagine each breath going out is the pain and the past, being released from your body and mind. And imagine each breath coming in is peace, entering you and filling you up. Release the pain and the past. Let peace enter your life. And go forward, thinking no longer of the past, but of peace and the present.
8. Feel compassion. Finally, forgive the person and realize that in forgiveness, you are allowing yourself to be happy and move on. Feel empathy for the person and let them go. Let compassion for them, and yourself, grow in your heart. It may take time, but if you are stuck on this point, repeat some of the ones above until you can get here.