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by Loren Gelberg-Goff, LCSW

Let’s first define the word forgiveness. Webster defines forgiveness as: “to pardon; to give up resentment of; to cease to feel resentment against”. I also define it as “letting go; releasing oneself, emotionally from a negative experience in your life”. The words may sound relatively easy, it’s the actions of “giving up, releasing, and/or ceasing” that cause people the most difficulty. Forgiveness is NOT just about when others hurt us, it is also about when we have hurt someone else. Your work today is in two parts: first is about forgiving others, and the second is about forgiving yourself.

Let’s start with forgiving others. How do we forgive? How do we let go of resentment? Most of the time we want/need to know that whoever caused us pain feels sorry for what they’ve done. We want them to admit that they did something wrong. We need them to acknowledge that they have hurt us. 

Notice that each of these statements are about the other person, not about you. It’s all well and good when someone acknowledges their wrong-doing, however, we must still deal with the pain that they inflicted, and letting go of this pain is where true forgiveness resides.

Forgiveness is not global; it is about specific events and circumstances. I am not talking about constantly ignoring what other people do and pretending that it doesn’t matter. That is NOT forgiveness; that is denial.

All too often people hold on to their hurt, anger, disappointment, &/or mistrust of others long after they’ve been hurt, betrayed or offended. These feelings will frequently interfere in relationships, not just with the injuring party, but with “innocent” people as well. This means that if you were the injured party and the event that hurt you is over, you’re still carrying the scars and the burdens of the injury. In other words, you continue to suffer, and therefore, you are not free.

Take a moment and think about a time when someone hurt you. It needn’t be a huge offense; perhaps someone said something thoughtless or hurtful, or someone was neglectful of your feelings or needs; maybe your boss overlooked you for a promotion; etc.

Let’s start with something small and manageable in the scheme of life. Think about how you felt at the time of the “injury”. Feel how hurt or angry or disappointed or resentful you felt. On a scale of 0-10, how strong was your feeling? (0 being none at all, in which case you probably didn’t think of that event, and 10 being the strongest you have ever felt anything).

Today, sitting and thinking about this particular event, how strong is your feeling? Does your system still react as strongly today as it did when the event occurred? If you’re still bothered by it, even moderately, then you need to do some forgiveness work. If your system has settled down, there is less work to do on this particular event.

Remember, letting go means that you can remember the offense, but it no longer stirs great emotion within you. It’s the difference between relating a story, and reliving a story.

As long as you relive the story, your entire system still carries the emotional burdens of the event, and this will wreak havoc upon your overall emotional, mental and physical well-being. So, today, you can choose to handle your hurts in ways that are healthier for you.

Before we move to new ways to handle your pain that’s been inflicted by others, let’s look at how you handle circumstances when you have been the injuring party. When you realize that you have done something to hurt someone, do you feel ashamed, angry, resentful, self-righteous? Do you attempt to minimize the other person’s pain to minimize your own bad feelings. Do you judge the other person as too sensitive, or over reacting?

Think about a time when you hurt someone. No judgments, just awareness. We’ve all done things that were hurtful at some time in our lives. It may have been by accident, or carelessness; not out of maliciousness, but since all of us are human and therefore fallible, we’ve all done something that hurt someone else. Allow yourself to remember a time when someone felt hurt by you. These moments are often harder to recall because most people have a hard time admitting to them. Now is 
the time to acknowledge your humanness, and then you can move forward.

There is a process to forgiving yourself and others. It is one that requires your willingness to “let go” of your pain. It is a process that demands that you be honest with yourself so that you can move forward in your life without being burdened by your past. Forgiveness is not about forgetting, it is about learning and growing.

The following 4 steps can be used in any circumstance where you have either been hurt, or you hurt someone. 

1.“I acknowledge who you are and that I have no control or power to make you be someone different.”

Who is the person you’re thinking of? Without judgments list the qualities this person has. Is he/she sensitive, shy, hostile, controlling, insensitive,etc. Just list the qualities, and acknowledge that this is who s/he is and you do not have the power to change him/her. Take a deep breath and note how difficult or easy this step is for you in this case. Do you hear any yes, buts in your mind? (ie: Yes, I know he’s arrogant, but he shouldn’t be!!! Etc.) Take a deep breath and just sit with who this person is and how you feel about this person. Is it someone you respect, love, admire, need, resent, etc. Pay attention to your feelings without judging them. This step frees you from the unrealistic belief or expectation that you can “change” the other person.

2. “I acknowledge my part in this event.”

Even if you were a victim, acknowledge your part/role. Acknowledge what your feelings were or are in regard to having been powerless in this event, for maybe not knowing better, for your lack of awareness, for your wish to have handled the situation differently. Just write down whatever you remember your part was in this moment.

3. “I acknowledge whatever pain and suffering I have endured as a result of this event.”
Write down what feelings, beliefs, thoughts you have carried within you about this person or event since it occurred. When you feel the judgments creep back in, STOP! BREATHE! FOCUS! Allow yourself to be aware of where you carry these feeling in your body, and how strong they are. What do they tell you? How do these feelings keep you stuck in the past and reactive in the present, whenever this circumstance or person are remembered or mentioned? Breathe deeply and move on to #4.

4. “From this event I learn something valuable for myself and my life going forward.”

What can you learn about yourself, other people, circumstances that will enhance your life? Every event is a learning experience IF WE ALLOW IT. A famous philosopher is quoted as saying, “Life has to be lived forward, but it can only be understood backwards”. What do you now understand about that person or event that will help you going forward in your life? I’m not looking for you to say “I’ll never do that again”, but to see the event as a life lesson. What did you learn about how you communicate, how you listen, how else you might like to handle a situation like that in the future? Once you get past the judgments of yourself and others, and you are sitting with just your awareness, learning can take place. What is your desired outcome? Do you want to feel more empowered within yourself and be open to new possibilities for yourself? Allow yourself to learn a life lesson.

I know that this topic is one that can be expanded upon greatly. It is the subject of many seminars and workshops. This is a good place to start! Give yourself time to sit with your thoughts, your feelings and your desired outcomes for yourself as you go forward in your life. Healing from within is really about looking at yourself more than at the other people in your life.

I am here, and I care about your work to recover and reclaim your self-esteem. If you have any questions or concerns, contact me. I will always do my best to help you find the way to achieve your desired outcome

Loren Gelberg-Goff is licensed clinical social worker in River Edge, New Jersey. For more information, please visit her listing on the Therapist Directory.

2 Responses to “Forgiveness”

  1. jewel Says:

    I am trying to move forward past an event that I perceived as a betrayal of the person I trusted the most in my life. I am doing a poor job of moving forward from it and it is having a snowball effect on other important events in my life. I am seeking out information to help me understand more clearly why I feel the way I do about it. However the devastating thing for me is in knowing it was not as much the event but the knowledge that the very foundation of my life was made less stable by similiar behaviors of others.

  2. Loren Says:

    Hi Jewel:
    I’m sorry that you’re struggling with this event, and I am glad that you wrote in. Let’s atart with the event that occurred that has rocked your foundation. It means that you need to be willing to look at the foundation on which you lived and believed. No judgments about it, just acknowldegement of what those beliefs “were”, and how you came to them. Did those beliefs feel real, empowering, positive for you, or were they beliefs that you just accepted without question. (maybe the belief was everyone you loved was trustworthy). Taking this belief at its face value, leaves you no room to honestly sit with your “gut” feelings to determine who may or may not be trustworthy.
    Looking at your part in the event means looking at your role, even if it was “victim”, and how you got there. Again, no judgments, just awareness, like looking at the situation and circumstance from the outside. What allowed you to be victimized? What led to that cataclysmic moment? Be prepared to write some of this down so you have greater clarity.
    Look at the pain and suffering you have been enduring since this event. What are you holding on to? Do you wish it never happended? Do you wish you could make it be different? Do you wish that the person had never betrayed you, etc? Acknowledge, that what has happened, has happened, and that cannot be changed no matter how hard you wish that were so. Now, what can you learn from this event? Who are you as a result of this situation? What message that empowers you comes out of this if you’re willing to see yourself in a position of growth, and not being stuck. You were victimized once, and now it’s time to stop continuing to do it over and over to yourself.
    I know that this process takes time and practice, and a willingness to keep looking at the situation from different angles and perspectives. I hope that this helps in your processing your thoughts and feelings. All the best, Loren Gelberg-Goff, LCSW

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