Part One of a two-part series on Forgiveness.
Growing up, I recall being someone who forgave easily. I had never given any thought to forgiveness or what it meant, until I began to realize that being so forgiving was not working out too well for me. I had people taking me for granted, being disrespectful or taking advantage of me. I found myself getting frustrated, angry, upset and unhappy.
I realized that there was something wrong about being so forgiving. I changed tack and went into the mode of being more unforgiving. That seemed to work, in so much as I lost a number of troublesome people from my social network, bringing me some kind of a troubled peace. There were some situations in particular that made me unhappy and confused. I was not so sure about being unforgiving was the right way to go, yet forgiveness did not feel quite right either.
Was it possible to forgive in a way that would make me feel good and gain the sense of peace and calm that everybody talked about? What was I doing wrong? Perhaps I had not understood what it meant to be forgiving.
What does forgiveness actually mean?
Louise L. Hay has explained some important aspects of forgiveness which resonates well with what experts say. This is what she has said:
“Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that we condone their behavior! The act of forgiveness takes place in our own mind. It really has nothing to do with the other person. The reality of true forgiveness lies in setting ourselves free from holding on to the pain. It’s simply an act of releasing yourself from the negative energy that you’ve chosen to hold on to.
Also, forgiveness doesn’t mean allowing the painful behaviors or actions of another to continue in your life. Sometimes forgiveness means letting go: You forgive that person and then you release them. Taking a stand and setting healthy boundaries is often the most loving thing you can do — not only for yourself, but for the other person as well.”
One can be wronged in many different ways in life, from the person who jumps the line in front of you, to a cheating partner or much worse. So, how exactly can we release ourselves from the negative energy and emotions associated with having been wronged, sometimes really badly? The process and steps outlined below are helpful pointers and would need to be modified and individualized depending on the situation.
Calming Anger and Negative Emotions
The first step is to find a way to calm oneself so that anger, rage and distress do not take over and begin to dictate one’s behavior. Some of the strategies include:
- Taking calming breaths until the emotion subsides and one is able to think clearly and act rationally. Walk away from the situation if needed.
- Distract oneself with an activity that will allow the “storm” to rage in the background until it gradually subsides, and it then allows one to explore the situation and problem-solve logically.
- Write out what you would like to say to the person where you give free reign to your words. Tear up or delete what you write since this is only an exercise to help calm you. Write it out repeatedly, and you will find that your words become different and less aggressive over time as your anger loses steam.
- List all the good experiences you have had with the person and the good qualities that you have noticed in them. This can be done after you are calmer, less upset. There is a tendency when we are angry with someone to focus exclusively on negative experiences we have had with the person, recalling anything and everything negative about the person. This only fuels one’s anger.
Explore the situation from the other person’s point of view.
A big part of the process of gaining freedom from the negative energy involves putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and living their life, trying to understand where their negative behavior towards you could have stemmed from. This would involve literally saying to yourself, “If I were in his/her shoes and had this very same thing happen to me, how would I feel and react?” This means taking into consideration the life experiences and background of the person.
Often you may realize that this person was bound to behave in the manner in which he/she did given his/her life situation and history. It will also help to personalize the behavior less as you realize that it did not have much to do with you but quite a bit with what the person has faced and/or continues to face in his/her personal life. Sometimes, it can even make you recognize that perhaps you would have reacted in the same manner had the tables been turned.
Deciding to do — or not to do — something about it.
Regardless of the origin of the other person’s negative behavior towards you, it is important to problem-solve and decide what you need to do, so that you do not have to continue to deal with the negativity. Typically, the solutions would include:
- Letting it go and doing nothing about it. This would typically apply to first-time transgressions that are minor and have no major impact on you or your life.
- Wait and watch to see if the negative behavior is repeated or there is a pattern emerging. Action can be taken once you have more clarity or you find that it is causing increasing distress.
- Make some changes in your own behavior and manner of communication to see if it makes a difference.
- Reduce interactions with the person if the negative behavior continues. The degree of reduction can be tested out over time until a comfortable amount of contact is found.
- Cut out all interactions with the person. This would apply mainly in the case of negative behaviors that are emotionally abusive, cause considerable distress, and nothing you do or say is making any difference. This may not be easy or possible always, because it may be someone you have to interact with closely, like your partner, your boss or another close family member.
- Talking to the person about the issue with the aim of making things better. This can be difficult and it is good to go into it with some preparation and a plan of how to go about it. Read more about it in, an extension of this blog post — part two.
Forgiveness is not condoning.
You never want to condone behavior that is disrespectful towards you. Sometimes when you “forgive” without any real communication or resolution you are communicating that it is okay for you to be disrespected. This can cause the disrespect to continue.
This is why people who “forgive” out of a sense of obligation end up feeling much worse after the initial high of having taken the higher ground. The process of problem-solving and communication in the process of forgiveness is not about judging, attacking or blaming. It simply involves speaking your truth — an act of self-respect.