PHOTO CAPTION: "Photo courtesy PDPhoto.org." A beautiful view of the Grand Canyon.
Forgiveness is something we many times want from others but have a hard time giving to others. There are many reasons why it is hard to forgive others. One reason is that sometimes we think that by forgiving someone we are implying that it was okay for that person to do what they did. This is not what forgiveness is implying. Another reason we don't forgive is because we want revenge or for this individual to pay for what he or she did. Yet others claim that to forgive is to open oneself up to being more hurt by this individual because they have assumed that forgiveness means reconciliation. None of these assumptions are correct.
Forgiveness is simply about letting go of our resentment towards others. It is for our own benefit that we forgive others. It does not mean we have to reconcile or say that what the individual did was okay. When we let go of our resentment towards others we feel free from pain and released from this person having any power over us. When we don't forgive we suffer. The resentment may affect our health, our state of mind, how we treat others, and lead to disharmony in our soul.
Forgiveness can open the door to reconciliation (this is our choice) and restore a friendship. Forgiveness frees not only us from resentment but the other individual from our punishment or revenge tactics.
There are five key steps to forgiveness (letting go of our resentment). If we follow these steps we will discover that we can let go of our resentment and have empathy for those who have stirred up pain in our lives. These steps do not have to be followed in this order. It is a flexible process.
The first step is to accept that we cannot change the past and change this individual. Many times we think about the past for hours and ask, "What if?" or say, "If only." These statements only take us back to think about the pain and to focus on something that we cannot change. It is crucial also to understand that we cannot change others. We do ourselves a favor when we accept that we cannot change the person and that they may never change.
The second step involves trying to understand how the event affected us and may continue to affect us and come to grips with that. When we go through a traumatic event, our mind races to make sense of it. Most of the time, we make an incorrect judgment about ourselves, others or our world in this process. It is important to understand that the person who stimulated pain in us is responsible only for the action they did (not how we responded to the action or interpreted the traumatic event). For instance, someone who is abused may blame themselves for the abuse. They may have told themselves that they were “unlovable” and continued to believe this for the rest of their life.
It is also beneficial to not judge others. Here is an example of why judgments lead to more suffering. For instance, someone judges the offender. This person might say that the offender is a horrible, selfish, cruel person. This judgment creates an enemy image of the offender thus blocking us from seeing their humanity. As long as we see people as enemies we cannot forgive them or have empathy for them. It is important in this step to start identifying these enemy images.
This second step also involves empathizing with ourselves by asking, “What needs of mine were not met by this event?” When we do this we can mourn these unmet needs and explore ways to meet these needs in the future (if pertinent). This allows us to start to heal.
After having a better understanding and having processed the event we are more capable of doing the third step, which is about giving empathy to the individual. In this step we begin to identify with the individual and his or her situation, feelings and needs. We put ourselves in his or her shoes and imagine what it would be like to be in his or her place. This step focuses on gaining a better understanding of the individual who stirred up the pain in us. Why this person did what they did and the pain that they may be in.
When we empathize with others we open the door to being able to offer compassion to others. This is the fourth step. In this step we may feel pity for this person or a deep sadness that this person did not know a better way to meet his or her needs. We suffer with this individual and may even be moved to want to help the individual. We can wish the person well after having done this step.
The fifth step, the final milestone, is to come to a place where we can be grateful for having gone through this experience. Here we realize that we are a stronger individual, who has a better understanding of the person who has stirred up the pain in us and ourselves (as a result of this trial). We may even have a desire to help others who have gone through a similar trial as ours. We can see the purpose of the event and may even have a new purpose in life as a result. We give thanks for having this new found understanding, maturity and freedom. Like climbing up a large mountain, we feel satisfied to have been able to reach the top and look down on the majestic view. We give thanks that we were able to make it to the top.
It is important to realize that we can continue to work on these steps from time to time. We may have to sometimes go back over some of them to remind ourselves that we have forgiven the individual. Sometimes thoughts of resentment may start to rise in us. When this occurs we just need to go back through the steps to regain our freedom.