We’ve all experienced pain, frustration, anger, betrayal, and in these times, it can seem almost impossible to forgive particularly heinous, damaging, violent or abusive actions. But what if we look more deeply into what forgiveness is – and what it is not – and see it as a tool, not necessarily to accept or agree with the actions at hand, but in an effort simply to understand?
What is Forgiveness?
A psychological definition of forgiveness is that it’s a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance towards a person or group of people who have harmed you, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. Forgiveness is very often a process, not an instantaneous event. It might take some time to work through our emotions before we can truly forgive.
Jack Kornfield, the renowned psychologist and teacher of Buddhist psychology, says:
“Forgiveness is, in particular, the capacity to let go, to release the suffering, the sorrows, the burdens of the pains and betrayals of the past, and instead to choose the mystery of love. Forgiveness shifts us from the small separate sense of ourselves to a capacity to renew, to let go, to live in love. As the Bhagavad Gita says, If you want to see the brave, look to those who can return love for hatred. If you want to see the heroic, look to those who can forgive.
With forgiveness we are unwilling to attack or wish harm on anyone, including ourselves. And without forgiveness, life would be unbearable. It’s hard to imagine a world without forgiveness, because we would be chained to the suffering of the past and have only to repeat it over and over again. There would be no release.”
In her book, ‘A Return to Love’, Marianne Williamson writes:
“Forgiveness is “selective remembering”– a conscious decision to focus on love and let the rest go. But the ego is relentless – it is “capable of suspiciousness at best and viciousness at worst.” It presents the most subtle and insidious arguments for casting other people out of our hearts.
Forgiveness is the choice to see people as they are now. When we are angry at people, we are angry because of something they said or did before this moment. But what people said or did is not who they are.
Relationships are reborn as we let go of perceptions of our brother’s past. By bringing the past into the present, we create a future just like the past. By letting the past go, we make room for miracles.
An attack on a brother is a reminder of his guilty past. In choosing to affirm a brother’s guilt, we are choosing to experience more of it. The future is programmed in the present. To let go of the past is to remember that in the present, my brother is innocent. It is an act of gracious generosity to accept a person based on what we know to be the truth about them, regardless of whether or not they are in touch with that truth themselves.
Only love is real. Nothing else actually exists. If a person behaves unlovingly, then, that means that, regardless of their negativity–anger or whatever–their behaviour was derived from fear and doesn’t actually exist. They’re hallucinating. You forgive them, then, because there’s nothing to forgive. Forgiveness is a discernment between what is real and what is not real.
When people behave unlovingly, they have forgotten who they are. They have fallen asleep to the Christ within them. The job of the miracle worker is to remain awake. We choose not to fall asleep and dream of our brother’s guilt. In this way we are given the power to awaken him.”
The consensus would seem to be that forgiveness consists of letting go, of releasing. Of focusing on love. But how can we do that? It is sometimes more easily said than done.
We often equate forgiveness with condoning the behaviour or words of the person who hurt us, that if we forgive them, we are essentially admitting that what they did or said was fine and that we accept it (and the implication that they are therefore right).
This is not the case. People can often become confused about what forgiveness is not, which can hinder the process.
What is Forgiveness not?
Experts who study or teach forgiveness stress that when you forgive, you do not minimise or deny the seriousness of your experience. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offences. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from accountability. By forgiving another, you are not being a victim or playing the martyr.
Forgiveness is not based on the actions of another, but on our own attitude. People will continue to say and do hurtful things throughout our lives. We can choose to become stuck in these and feel anger or pain, or we can choose not to.
Telling people you forgive them, in order to manipulate or to induce guilt, or as demonstrations of pride or self-righteousness, or wilfully withholding it, are all forms of power play. And aren’t truly forgiving, or genuine. Forgiveness isn’t sentimental, or necessarily instantaneous. It can take time. It can be extremely difficult.
Pushing your feelings down, or pretending to forgive because you believe it is the spiritual thing to do is not the way to do it either.
Forgiveness is a deep process of the heart, through which you need to honour what you are experiencing, whether it be feelings of betrayal, grief, anger, hurt, fear, or anything else. It can take a while before you arrive at being able to let go, to forgive, truly and genuinely.
What will forgiving do for you?
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
– Lewis B. Smedes
True forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind, and freedom from the toxicity of their constricting and negative emotions, empowering them to recognise the pain suffered without allowing the pain to define them, enabling them to heal and move on.
Research suggests that forgiveness makes us happier – not only that happy people are more likely to forgive, but that forgiving others can make people feel happy. It boosts kindness and connectedness, helping us to feel more positive not only towards those who hurt us, but more connected to other people in general.
Forgiveness actually improves our health.
When we dwell on grudges, our blood pressure and heart rates spike and compromise our immune systems, signs of stress which damage the body. When we forgive, our stress levels drop.
Forgiveness can also help to heal the wounds of war. There was a forgiveness training programme in Rwanda, which was linked to reduced trauma and more positive attitudes between the Hutus and Tutsis. A study of people who learned forgiveness skills in war-torn Sierra Leone reported feeling less depressed, more grateful and less stressed.
Marianne Williamson speaks about the importance of looking past people’s mistakes. She says that if you focus on the mistake of another, you’re at the level of consciousness where you cannot not be at the effect of their mistake. So the idea of forgiveness is to extend your perception beyond what your physical senses reveal to you (ie the other person’s actions or words), to the knowledge of your heart, which is that this person’s eternal essence is still innocence, despite anything they may have said or done. And be willing to to see the innocence.
Be willing to see them differently, be willing to forgive. It won’t just benefit the other person, it will also benefit you.
Benefits of forgiveness can include healthier relationships, greater spiritual and psychological wellbeing, less anxiety, stress and hostility, fewer symptoms of depression, lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, improved heart health and higher self esteem, increased happiness and greater sense of peace.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
– Nelson Mandela
How do you forgive?
During a Super Soul Sunday conversation between Oprah and Marianne Williamson, Marianne said that if you want to change a situation with a person you feel has done you harm, pray for them. Pray for that person’s happiness for 30 days. Alchemy will occur, and one of two things will happen:
- The person will behave differently, or
- You won’t care any more about what was bothering you.
Neale Donald Walsch, author from ‘Conversations with God’ believes there is no need to forgive anybody in our lives, as the thought that you need to forgive anybody for what they’ve done to you is an extension of the thought that you have been hurt, damaged, offended in some particular way. If you are already an aspect of divinity – an individuation of God – then it would be impossible for you to be hurt, damaged or destroyed or offended. He stated that the key to understanding how a person could do something hurtful to you is to go the internal place where God resides and find compassion for them.
He cited the example of Pope Jean Paul, who one day was shot while out in a motorcade and almost died. When he came out of hospital 6-8 weeks later, he visited the man who intended to kill him in his prison cell and blessed him. When the man asked why, the pope said ‘tell me why you did what you did, so I can fully understand why’ and when he explained, the Pope said ‘I don’t agree that was appropriate, or with your reasoning, but I can understand how you could have done such a thing, so I give you my blessing’.
Neale says that the key to forgiveness is not to forgive at all, but to understand. Once you understand the actions of others, and what informs them, motivates them, and animates them, forgiveness becomes unnecessary.
Wayne Dyer wrote a blog entitled ‘How to Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt You: In 15 Steps’, which include being in the present, not dwelling in past hurts, being connected to Spirit and turning your hurts over to God, taking responsibility for your part in the situation, understanding, and sending love.
Jack Kornfield has written an article on forgiveness from a Buddhist perspective, and the steps to follow to achieve it.
- Accepting and acknowledging the pain of what you are experiencing.
- Reflecting on the benefits of a loving heart.
- Detaching from the need to associate or identify yourself with your suffering.
- Understanding that forgiveness is a process.
- Setting your intention.
- Opening your heart.
- Being willing to widen your perspective past your individual stories and see your connection to All That Is, to Oneness.
These guidelines are wonderful, but can be easier to intellectually know than to actually experience. To love your neighbour, or turn the other cheek, or follow any of the above advice, you can’t just go through the motions, the steps have to be felt and experienced.
You have to want to forgive. Not do it because you think you ‘should’.
If you have pain, don’t push it down and pretend it doesn’t exist.
As each individual on the planet is at a different level of awareness and consciousness, each person will find some parts easier, some harder, and will understand some aspects more than others.
The Forgiveness Project states: The stories of forgiveness on our website demonstrate that forgiveness is first and foremost a personal journey: a visceral process with no set rules or time limits. It is not dependent on faith and it is often just “as mysterious as love”.
The important thing is to be honest and truthful with yourself. Not to brush things under the carpet, to pretend that you are Ok, and have forgiven when you have not.
Wayne Dyer says: “Forgiving others is essential for spiritual growth. Your experience of someone who has hurt you, while painful, is now nothing more that a thought or feeling that you carry around. These thoughts of resentment, anger, and hatred represent slow, debilitating energies that will dis-empower you if you continue to let these thoughts occupy space in your head. If you could release them, you would know more peace.”
Get the help you need. There are many ways to release grievances, pain or memories you are holding. ThetaHealing® is a powerful tool in the forgiveness process. It can aid in understanding the other person’s point of view and motive for the painful actions they took. You can explore the soul lessons and contracts as well as releasing the foundational hook that may be stopping you from forgiving another, and dissolve the limiting thoughts, feelings and emotions keeping you trapped.
Look at the positives of each experience:
- What did you learn?
- How did you grow?
- What beliefs do you have that you can now release?
- What has changed in your perception and understanding of life?
- What do you now see about what the other person was experiencing which caused them to hurt you?
Connect to love. Be kind and gentle with yourself. We are all on a learning curve. Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace. It will set you free.