I read these inspiring stories about loving people who forgive their daughter’s killer or families who forgive the drunk driver who killed their relatives, or spouses who forgave the betrayal and I think, Wow. Forgiveness doesn’t get any bigger than that.
Here I am holding on – usually not consciously until it surges up in my memory –to some little, teeny, tiny hurts from long ago and I think if these amazing people can forgive the big stuff, I can certainly get over the little stuff. And we must. You see? No matter the situation, when we hold on the past hurts and anger and hostility we suffer. When we seek revenge or wish for bad things to befall the one who hurt us, we are the ones who are stuck. Locked in anger and hurt and bitterness.
Forgiveness isn’t going to erase the hurt, or excuse those who did the hurting, it simply allows you to move on, to create better things in your life. To take charge and say this is my life and I will not let you hurt me anymore. Forgiveness isn’t a gift to the one who harmed you; it is a gift you give yourself.
Yet, it seems so intangible. So, lately I’ve been looking at the work of forgiveness experts for a tight, little, easy-to-follow forgiveness framework, a “how-to” forgiveness primer. I’ve boiled down the details from psychiatrist Walter Jacobson and other experts who teach forgiveness. And here are the steps I’m using to hone my forgiveness habit. I’m testing it out on a workplace conflict with a co-worker (transgression feels too polite a word) that happened years ago.
How to Forgive
1. Identify the feeling. What is it you’ve still got roiling around there, when you reflect on the difficult situation? Anger, hostility, judgment, or is there also some deep-seated hurt. I was angry after the co-worker called me out, but I was also super hurt that she acted, all day, as though nothing were wrong, and then went after me publically.
2. Let go of the story line. Disengage. Simply observe the emotion and the painful situation and thought patterns you have without judgment. Just look at what happened objectively. Then replace judge with acceptance. Jacobson recommends you even do this aloud by saying: “I don’t need to judge here.”
3. Release the hurt. Decide to let go of the pain. Visualize it leaving your body, heart and mind. Remember, this is a choice, you get to decide if you want to carry it around or hold on to the hurt.
If you are a linear, pros-and-cons kind of person, and I am, you may want to think about it this way: What do I gain from hanging on to the anger? What do I gain from letting it go? Remember, forgiveness is all about you, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the other.
4. Replace the hurt with something helpful. Look for a goodness now to fill in the hole where the hurt remains. Surround yourself with beauty, turn to a loving friend, get a massage, do something that feels good for you.
Then, remember the forgiveness. Like surrender, you may have to do it a bunch of times to remind yourself that you have forgiven and that the hostility and anger is no longer a part of you. It takes awhile to develop the habit of forgiveness and when you catch yourself feeling bad about the painful situation, you can go through these steps again.
For me the most interesting part of this process was the point #2, letting go of the story line. When I simply observed, without judgment, what occurred, I really felt the anger slipping away. It’s no longer relevant to my life and this made it easier to let go of the niggling feelings that were cropping up. I was also able to see the growth that occurred because of that situation. Now, it is simply something I experienced. It is no longer weighted by emotion. I no longer have bad feelings attached to it.
That feels a whole lot better than hanging on to the hurt