Forgiveness is not easy, but it’s necessary if we want to live a full, happy life. As someone who grew up in a religious tradition that celebrates forgiveness, I have wrestled with what it means to ACTUALLY forgive people for a long time. I felt guilty because I carried the pain and trauma of my past. And, I believed I should just be able to ‘let go’ of it all, and forgive people like they had done nothing wrong.
But no matter what I did, that cement block of unforgiveness around my heart continued to harden.
I felt bitter, angry and resentful – and it meant that all my current relationships suffered. Because I carried the pain of my past, I expected the worst in the future and didn’t trust people. Not a great primer for any sort of relationship, is it?
I can’t say I’m fully recovered from this – forgiveness is a journey, not a moment in time. So now, instead of expecting myself to ‘get over it’ or give people a free pass for their injustice, I take it a moment at a time. I know that forgiveness naturally releases me from trauma and breaks the cycle of pain and abuse that I experienced. So I choose to forgive – but I do it a moment at a time.
When the feeling of pain and unforgiveness rises up, I listen and ask what it is saying to me.
Is it saying I am unsafe? That I am being taken advantage of? That my dignity is being disregarded? I figure out what triggered the response, be it a social media post, a conversation, a news report or a dream. And then I ask how it relates to me now.
Sometimes, this feeling is an indicator that I need to take action in present day. This might happen if I see the same toxic behaviour patterns in a colleague, a family member or a friend. It is a red flag, reminding me of what I learned, and guiding me to remove, deal with, or avoid a situation so the trauma is not repeated.
Other times, this uncomfortable feeling is a reminder that I still carry the scars of my past. I hold it, acknowledge it, and then remember that the pain doesn’t have to control me.
I then try to release the pain and practice forgiveness. This is the hardest part for me, but when I give myself permission to accept my emotions (no matter what they are!), it is possible.
Sometimes I pray the words, “I forgive them”.
I might talk about the trauma or pain with a friend or counsellor.
At night I journal about my feelings, or draw.
I have written unsent letters to people in my past.
When I feel strong enough, I have safely returned to locations from my childhood and audibly told the little girl in me that she is enough.
I have participated in mindfulness and meditations.
When safe, I have tried to be kind to people who have offended me and subdue their cruelty with undeserved grace.
Sometimes, if it is safe to do so and the other person is genuine, I may reconcile with them over coffee.
I have safely let out my anger by ripping up paper, squeezing a tactile object, or running.
I have yelled and shouted (in a safe environment), identifying that I have been betrayed and that the other person acted unjustly.
And, I have worked for justice, advocating for myself or others who have experienced the same abuse, bullying or pain I have experienced.
Saying “I forgive them,” has been the most powerful, pro-active approach I’ve taken to unforgiveness. I’ve never felt an instant sense of relief, and the pain never immediately goes. But it is my way of taking control of my life, so their evil does not dictate my future. As I have healed, I have found this process easier.
Some people feel a wave of relief and freedom after they do some of these things. Others don’t feel any different – and that’s ok. Forgiveness is an action, not a feeling. And choosing to forgive doesn’t mean the other person or people shouldn’t bear the consequences of their actions. It just means that we shouldn’t have to anymore.
If you feel the weight of pain and bitterness in your chest, maybe your heart is asking you to practice forgiveness? It can feel impossible, but it is one way of taking back control of your life, your heart and your body. And you deserve that freedom.
Do you carry pain and trauma? Do you want to experience freedom? Contact Colleen on 0434 337 245 or Duncan on 0434 331 243 for a FREE 10 minute consultation on how we can best help you or book online now.