The concept of forgiveness is such a hard one for many of us to grasp. It is so easy to get confused and to think forgiveness is about excusing something that has happened.
Instead it is the act of deciding the past will no longer control your feelings and experience in the present. Excusing, pardoning and forgetting are not required for forgiveness! Forgiveness is a matter of choice – of taking back your control over yourself. In that way, it is an essential element of happiness.
You may be surprised to learn that forgiveness is a character trait that we all possess to some extent. Psychologists studying the positive aspects of character have listed 24 traits that are called the Signature Strengths. You have each of them to varying degrees as each of us does.
Forgiveness is one of the more intriguing ones as it is something we can actively pursue in our lives. In essence, we can turn on our inborn ability to forgive when we need to do so. Our feature article this month explains the process of forgiveness. It’s part of a series of articles about several of the Signature Strengths; previous articles have looked at curiosity and persistence.
May your adventures in life this month be happy and exciting. May you exercise your ability to forgive when it is most important to you.
All of the wise people of the world state that you need to live in the present moment. It is where your power is. The present is the only place where you can make a change, take an action, have an effect. The present is the only time we can experience joy, pleasure, or any emotion.
Easier said than done. Not only does our culture encourages us to “think about tomorrow” or “what will the world be like next year?” but we also keep ourselves entrenched in the past by focusing on regrets or hurts. So how can you let go of the past in order to truly live in the present?
One important way is through forgiveness.
Think of people who have hurt you in the past. Focus on the feelings these people and/or situations bring up for you. How does that feel? Does this feed you or deplete you? Make you stronger or sap your energy?
Some people wrap their lives, decisions, and choices around past transgressions. The bitter woman whose husband left. The angry man who lost his savings to a schemer. The fearful person who lost his job. The wounded child who was abandoned. There is no end to the possibilities of how people can hurt each other. And there is no end to our culture constantly reminding you how different and divided we are, and to insinuating that others who are not like you are just out to get everything they can from you. To forgive is difficult if you swim in such turbulent, dark waters.
There are so many past offences that can take energy from you, depleting you of the joy of life and robbing you of the happiness of today. There are three ways to cope with these past wrongdoings, and each one gives you a way to re-write the past.
You can suppress memories into non-conscious remembrance. Unfortunately, these unconscious memories and feelings will leak out in unexpected ways over time. You can try to forget the painful memories, but again, any number of circumstances can bring them – and the negative feelings – back into your awareness at any time.
Or you can forgive.
All major religions promote forgiveness in one way or another. In some, if someone repents of their action and asks you to forgive them, you have to forgive them. In others, forgiveness comes voluntarily from the one harmed because it is the right and righteous thing to do. But what does forgiveness really mean?
In the common statement “forgive and forget”, each action is shown as being different. Before you can forget (if that is even possible), you need to forgive. In forgiving others, you can participate in an internal process where you re-write the event so that it does not hold the negative emotions it once did. In effect, you change the meaning of the event.
Everett Worthington wrote the defining book on forgiveness. He describes a five-step process he calls REACH.
R stands for recall the hurt, in as objective a way as you can. Do not think of the other person as evil. Do not wallow in self-pity. Take deep, slow, and calming breaths as you visualize the event.
E stands for empathize. Try to understand from the perpetrator’s point of view why this person hurt you. This is not easy, but make up a plausible story that the transgressor might tell if challenged to explain. To help you do this, remember the following:
• When others feel their survival is threatened, they will hurt innocents.
• People who attack others are themselves usually in a state of fear, worry, and hurt.
• The situation a person finds himself in, and not his underlying personality, can lead to hurting.
• People often don’t think when they hurt others; they just lash out.
A stands for giving the altruistic gift of forgiveness, another difficult step. First recall a time when you transgressed, felt guilty, and were forgiven. This was a gift you were given by another person because you needed it, and you were grateful for this gift. Giving this gift usually makes us feel better much more than it does the person who receives forgiveness. It is the process of rising above hurt and vengeance and it allows you to tap into the very best of yourself. If you give the gift grudgingly, however, it will not set you free.
C stands for commit yourself to forgive publicly. In Worthington’s groups, his clients write a “certificate of forgiveness,” write a letter of forgiveness to the offender, write it in their journal, write a poem or song, or tell a trusted friend what they have done. These are all contracts of public forgiveness that lead to the final step.
H stands for hold onto forgiveness. This is another difficult step, because memories of the event will surely return. Forgiveness is not erasure; rather it is a change in the tag lines that a memory carries. It is important to realize that the memories do not mean lack of forgiveness. Don’t dwell vengefully on the memories, and don’t wallow in them. Remind yourself that you have forgiven, and read the documents you composed. Sometimes forgiveness is composed of many little times that you forgive.
This is not a short or easy process to work through. But in several studies REACH has resulted in less anger, less stress, more optimism, and better reported health.
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the present and future. By forgiving, you don’t erase the crime but instead you are able to let go of the resentment, which is a self-punishment in and of itself. Resentment and anger eat at you inside and hurt you over and over again. Forgiveness is a gift to yourself. Others benefit, also, but not as greatly as you do.
Or, from an entirely different aspect and a lighter note, as Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.”
When have you practiced any form of forgiveness in your life and were better because of it?
Where are you suffering from lack of forgiveness now?
What steps can you make to increase your level of forgiveness today?
How can you hold onto forgiveness once you have accomplished it?
~From Mother Theresa
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind
People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful,
You will win some false friends and some true enemies.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building
Someone could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough.
Give the world the best you have anyway…
INDIVIDUAL COACHING BY PHONE
Want to stop that feeling that life is passing you by?
Would you like to able to experience your life as an exciting series of adventures?
Would you like to feel more joy and achieve more success?
That is what I help my clients develop in their own lives. Working with a coach helps you overcome the challenges that can keep you from a successful life. Coaching gives you a companion on the journey; someone with whom to discuss events as they unfold and to help you move toward joy in the adventure. Developing clear goals, focusing intently and staying committed become possible.
If you aren’t sure and would like to explore whether coaching is right for you, please send an email to Janet@lifeadventurecoaching.com or call me at 828-691-4655 for a complimentary consultation.