After you are wronged and the initial wave of emotion has passed, you're presented with a new challenge: Do you forgive the person? By forgiving, you let go of your grievances and judgments and allow yourself to heal. While this may sound good in theory, in practice forgiveness can sometimes feel impossible.
To learn how to forgive, you must first learn what forgiveness is not. Most of us hold at least some misconceptions about forgiveness. Here are some things that forgiving someone doesn't mean:
By forgiving, you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it. This can be a gradual process—and it doesn't necessarily have to include the person you are forgiving. Forgiveness isn't something you do for the person who wronged you; it's something you do for you.
So if forgiveness is something you do for yourself and if it can help you heal, why is it so hard?
There are several reasons: You're filled with thoughts of retribution or revenge; you enjoy feeling superior; you don't know how to resolve the situation; you're addicted to the adrenaline that anger provides; you self-identify as a "victim"; or you're afraid that by forgiving you have to re-connect—or lose your connection—with the other person. These reasons not to forgive can be resolved by becoming more familiar with yourself, with your thoughts and feelings, and with your boundaries and needs.
Now that you know what forgiveness is not and why it's so hard to do, ask yourself: Do I want to forgive?
Forgiveness requires feeling willing to forgive. Sometimes you won't, because the hurt went too deep, or because the person was too abusive, or expressed no regret. Do not attempt to forgive someone before you have identified, fully felt, expressed, and released your anger and pain.
If you decide you are willing to forgive, find a good place and time to be alone with your thoughts. Then, try following these four steps to forgive even when it feels impossible:
Forgiveness puts the final seal on what happened that hurt you. You will still remember what happened, but you will no longer be bound by it. Having worked through the feelings and learned what you need to do to strengthen your boundaries or get your needs met, you are better able to take care of yourself in the future. Forgiving the other person is a wonderful way to honor yourself. It affirms to the universe that you deserve to be happy.
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