For, I truly forgive thee...

IT'S OKAY: By holding onto grudges and resentment, you will only hurt yourself.

For, I truly forgive thee...
Forgiveness is often talked about, but little understood. So, what really is forgiveness? It is the letting go of intense past emotions and recognising that you don’t need grudges, resentment, hatred and self-pity. Forgiveness is no longer wanting to punish the people who hurt you, and accepting that nothing you do to punish them will heal you. To put it very simply, forgiveness is moving on. And most importantly, forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not for anyone else.

However, people are often unforgiving, because forgiveness does not come
easily. And the thought of doing it is not easy to accept, because, not forgiving has a positive payoff — the illusion that if that dreadful thing hadn’t happened, your life would have been perfect. It becomes an easy explanation for everything that is wrong with your life.

Why we do it
Not forgiving helps you compensate for the powerlessness you felt when you were hurt. You have the power to keep the person who hurt you locked away in the prison of your mind. You feel powerful because no one can force you to forgive or stop holding a grudge. Not forgiving also protects you from being hurt again by the same person. By keeping the pain alive, you keep your guard up and are always on the lookout for danger. But you should know that this can be debilitating in the long run.

Collecting injustices, holding grudges, and walking around with unresolved and unexpressed anger that is boiling inside you can take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being. They create stress, elevate blood pressure, increase your heart rate and  stomach acidity, contributing to ulcers, colitis and arthritis. Your grievances metaphorically hang around your neck, giving you backaches, chest pain, anxiety attacks and migraines.

Forgiveness is not just a formality, but a state of mind that can lift you from mental and physical burdens. It lowers your cortisol level and reduces stress. It also reduces chronic back pain. Some researchers believe there is a strong relationship between being unforgiving and living with persistent pain. Being unforgiving also prevents you from doing and becoming all that you could, and saddles you with addictions and compulsive behaviours, relationship issues, burnouts at the professional level, negativity, ineffective parenting, lethargy, depression, and abusive, violent or suicidal behaviour.

You have difficulty maintaining relationships and become intolerant of others. You become suspicious and hypersensitive and are always ready to start an argument. Your negativity and bitterness alienate and isolate you. This may not be where you wanted to go, but this is always where holding a grudge takes you.

According to Sidney B Simon and Suzanne Simon in their book, Forgiveness: How To Make Peace With Your Past And Get On With Your Life, there are several myths about forgiveness. The most important one being that forgiveness means forgetting. By forgiving the people who hurt you, you do not erase painful past experiences from your memory. Nothing can turn back the clock and remove the unpleasant incidents from your history. Forgiveness will not do that, nor should it. After all, those experiences and the pain they caused, teach you a great deal.

The second myth is that forgiveness means condoning the unforgivable act. By forgiving people who hurt you, you are not saying that what they did was acceptable or not bad. It was bad. But when you forgive, you  lessen the impact of the past on your present and future. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you let people off the hook and absolve them of all responsibility for their actions. They are still responsible for what they did and must make peace with their past.

Forgiveness is not about swallowing your true feelings and tolerating people who hurt you. Actually, forgiveness cannot be given half-heartedly and is not a clear-cut one-time decision. You can’t just wake up one morning and decide to forgive someone. It can’t be forced and scheduled. It is what happens naturally as a result of confronting painful past experiences and healing old wounds.  While everyone’s journey to forgiveness is unique, it will pass through six stages.

How it unfolds
First, there is denial, where you play down the importance of your painful past and bury your thoughts and feelings about those experiences. Then there is self-blame, where you try to explain what happened as somehow being your fault. If only I had been different or done things differently, that would not have happened, you tell yourself. You then become a victim and recognise that you did not deserve or ask to be hurt. This makes you indignant and you want the people who hurt you to suffer, just as you have. You then become a survivor and recognise that although you were hurt, you did indeed survive. Your painful past took things away from you, but gave you something too.

You become aware of your strengths and start taking an interest in things other than your pain. You start recognising that all things considered, you did the best you could. The final stage is that of integration, when you are able to acknowledge that the people who hurt you may have been the best that they could be, too. That is, just as you are more than your wounds, they must also be more than the inflictors of those wounds. With this knowledge, you can release them from the prison in your mind and reclaim the energy you used to keep them there. You can put the past in perspective, without forgetting it, let go of the pain, and get on with your life, unencumbered by excessive emotional baggage.

So, how do you know if you have truly forgiven someone? If the first thought you have about them is not the hurt they caused you, and you are able to have normal thoughts about the person occasionally, you have probably forgiven the person. Ask yourself if you would help them if you knew they were in trouble, and you were able to offer assistance. Would you in your heart want to see them prosper, or would you still want to see harm come to them? Can you think positive thoughts about this person? Are there good things you can come up with about them? Have you stopped looking for them to fail? If you have truly forgiven someone, then, just like you would for anyone else, you would want them to succeed, or at least do better in life. In short, forgiveness means you have stopped keeping a record of the person’s wrongdoings.

It is important to remember that holding a grudge does not fix anything. The hot coal you hold onto is just burning you, not anything or anyone else. You need to throw it away so that you don’t get burnt. Letting go makes you feel less depressed, makes your relationships become healthier, and improves your self-esteem. All in all, your psychological well-being is positively affected. You need to forgive, for your own sanity.

Akin to sorrow
In some ways, the process of healing through forgiveness is similar to the grieving process. The most significant difference though is that, in this case, the person doesn’t cease to exist. Even though they may be dead now, they didn’t die immediately after they hurt you. And neither did the hope that they will do good by you some day. One of the reasons forgiving is so difficult is that you still expect those who hurt you to someday heal you and make up for that hurt. But this never happens and you get as wounded by these unmet expectations, as by the original hurt.

This pain lives on until you accept the fact that you cannot get your needs met now by the people who did not meet them in the past. But those needs are still valid and you must find new ways to meet them. So, accept that the past is gone and focus on the needs you have now and how you will fulfil them. It is your responsibility to take charge of your own life and make the choices that will enable you to heal and create a new and more
productive version of you.

When you begin to make these conscious choices to fulfil your needs and enhance your self-esteem, your healing process leads you towards forgiveness and a better life. You may decide to start therapy, or end self-destructive behaviour. Whatever it is, you are doing it consciously to help yourself heal. And at every crossroad and turning point in this journey, you must reflect on where you are now, where you would rather be, and what is the next bold step you need to take to get there?

Self-reflection forms a very large part of the healing process as you begin to understand where you are now. What are the dead-end streets you have been going down because of the hurt? Have you been sleeping too much, drinking too much, binge eating too much, or keeping yourself too busy? Sometimes, you need to ask yourself a tough question – how does not forgiving serve you? Is what you get from not forgiving truly worth what you have to give up?

A vision of the life you hope to lead, and an image of the person you hope to become help the healing process. Your vision may include punishing the people who hurt you. That is a vision, but it is not a healing vision. A healing vision describes the positive attributes you want to develop and what you want to do as a result of the healing. So, design a healing vision for yourself.

Any burden becomes lighter when you share it. You do not have to heal all by yourself. You can take the help of a counsellor or any supportive person in your circle. You can also read and learn and become more self-reflective about your own journey and the path you want to take going forward. This is a journey you need to take for yourself, not for anyone else. The person you need to forgive is not a part of this journey.

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