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The Art of Letting Go: Four Steps to Forgiveness

Updated: Apr 21

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When thinking about forgiveness, what comes to mind for me is the theological view of its importance. However, with time and study, I have learned that there are psychological benefits of forgiveness or being forgiving. As I hope that I successfully outlined in our previous article, there are things that forgiveness is and things that forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is for you; to release you from emotional dysregulation. Forgiveness does not equal reconciliation. Forgiveness is not denial, glossing over the harm that the offender caused. Forgiveness is a personal choice we make, endeavoring to replace anger with love. It takes a lot of strength to forgive; it is not for the weak. Forgiveness is not something that can be forced; so, no need in trying to guilt trip someone into forgiving another person. Last but definitely not least-forgiveness doesn't mean you forget. Forgiveness is powerful. Forgiveness is transformative. Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness is a skill that can be improved upon with practice which is what the present article will explore.

It is quite understandable to be at a loss of where to begin once you have reached the point where you are willing to try to forgive. There is a scripture that comes to mind here:

"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." (Matthew 5:23, 24; NIV)

Don't worry. I know you didn't come here to be preached at, and that certainly is not my point or intention here. I mention that scripture here because it reminds me that in my Christian upbringing, I can recall several scriptures similar to this. Scriptures that tell you to forgive, but do not really go into an explanation of the step-by-step mechanics of how to forgive. How about you and your culture? Were you provided an instruction manual on the "how to" of forgiveness? If so, please pop down into in the comment section and share your thoughts and insights. In the meantime, I will share with you some insights gathered on the topic of forgiveness to help bridge the gap between the desire to forgive and the knowledge on how to actually forgive. It's more than just saying, "I forgive you." This article will consider letting go as an art and four steps to forgiveness.

Step 1: Acknowledgement

We cannot gloss over what was done to you. In sessions with my clients, I refer to this as "Calling a thing a thing." You were hurt. More times than not, the hurt you experienced was due to no fault of your own. We first must lend voice to that as well as all of the parts of you affected. The anger parts, the sadness parts, the betrayed parts. Give voice to each of these. Once you have sat with that, then you are ready for the other uncomfortable part of acknowledgement. The recognition that suffering exists. And because no one is perfect, you have been both a victim of hurt as well as an agent of hurt. We are all fallible. We will all at some point or another be hurt by and hurt others. Offenses are a part of the human condition; we can do our best to try to reduce offenses, but we can never be rid of them.

Step 2: Empathy-Imagine the Other's Perspective

I want to preface by stating that this next step will take a bit of work and a bit of patience with ourselves. I will also add, it is quite possible that it will not be accomplished overnight. We are all human. When someone has wronged us, acknowledging and seeing their humanness is one of the last things we are often able to do. We only see, "the devil" in them. Underneath all of those layers, we each have a self-energy. You can refer to it as your "heart" if that makes it easier to digest. At any rate, this self-energy embodies calmness, compassion, curiosity, clarity, courage, creativity, and confidence. It is when we rely upon the expansiveness of hearts or our self-energy that we are able to feel empathy, compassion, and understanding. Please don't read here that I am asking you to justify their actions. I am not. However, here is where you will tap into that energy deep beneath the surface and call upon it to try to understand the circumstances, motivations, or underlying issues that may have led to their behavior. When we are able to see the suffering behind the painful or hostile actions of others, and sort of step into their shoes and see the world from their perspective, it can be a very eye-opening sometimes humbling experience.

Step 3: Examine the Consequences

When we examine the situation of what was done to you, I ask you to also examine the consequences of that experience. What is going on inside of your body, your mind, your energy, your thoughts, your relationships? How is remaining in that state of unforgiveness affecting these areas of your life and being? What would be the consequences if you decide to forgive? What would be the consequences if you decide not to? What might you gain if you forgive? What might you lose by forgiving? Take a look back at the article, "The Unfiltered Truth About Forgiveness: All the Things We Get Wrong." Do you recall the ill effects of chronic resentment? What about the benefits of forgiveness on your physical body? Only once you have examined the consequences for yourself and for others can you make a decision to actually forgive. But please remember as brought out in the previous article, forgiveness is not a linear process. You may vacillate back and forth between forgiving and not; this is not abnormal. Forgiving serious offenses is neither simple nor easy. So please be patient with yourself.

Step 4: Show Up for Practice

Why do you think it is that basketball teams have practice rather than just show up for game day? Or volleyball? Soccer? Football? Hockey? Boxing? The short answer is to contribute to their overall performance and success. Practice allows members of the team to hone their skills, refine their techniques, simulate scenarios, develop counter-strategies, increase endurance, build their resilience, cope with pressure, maintain focus and concentration, and handle setbacks. There is no expectation that any team show up for game day unprepared and unpracticed. I want you to see forgiveness in that same light. Forgiveness is a skill. It can be practiced and learned and in fact it should be. "But how does one practice forgiveness before the metaphoric game time?" you may be asking yourself. This is where forgiveness meditation can come in handy. There are different ways to practice forgiveness meditation. I will share one I found from master healer Sharon Salzberg.

Find a Comfortable Posture: Sit comfortably in a quiet space with your back straight and your hands resting gently on your lap. Close your eyes or soften your gaze.

Settle Into the Present Moment: Take a few deep breaths to ground yourself in the present moment. Feel the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves your body. Allow yourself to relax and let go of any tension or distractions.

Cultivate Loving-Kindness Towards Yourself: Begin by directing loving-kindness towards yourself. Silently repeat phrases of self-compassion and forgiveness, such as "May I forgive myself for any harm I have caused, knowingly or unknowingly. May I be free from suffering. May I be at peace."

Visualize Someone You Want to Forgive: Bring to mind a person towards whom you're holding onto resentment or anger. It could be someone from your past or present, someone close to you or someone you barely know. Visualize their face and imagine them standing before you.

Extend Forgiveness: Silently repeat phrases of forgiveness towards this person, such as "Just as I wish to be free from suffering, may you be free from suffering. Just as I wish to be forgiven for my mistakes, may you also be forgiven. May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be at peace."

Open Your Heart: Allow yourself to feel a sense of compassion and understanding towards the person you're forgiving. Recognize their humanity and the shared experience of suffering that connects us all. Let go of any expectations or judgments, and simply offer your forgiveness with an open heart.

Repeat as Needed: If you're struggling to forgive, continue to repeat the phrases of forgiveness until you feel a sense of release and lightness in your heart. You can also return to this practice regularly, extending forgiveness towards different people or situations in your life.

Close the Practice: When you're ready, gently bring your awareness back to the present moment. Notice how you feel after practicing forgiveness meditation and take a moment to acknowledge any shifts or insights that have arisen.

If you find that it is challenging the first few times you do the meditation, please know that this is completely normal. Forgiveness takes time. Yes, that even includes forgiving yourself for things you may have done wrong. So, while doing this meditation, please be gentle with yourself. Give yourself permission to take as much time as you need. That same compassion you are working towards building with others, extend towards yourself. You can download the Forgiveness Meditation Practice Log in the EnvisionCo Store to track your insights.

Word of caution. Don't go big all at once. Do not go into the dark, dank closet deep in the bowels of the basement of your psyche. That won't go over too well and could be more damaging. Start with smaller grievances. Then celebrate those small victories. Do reach out for support. Trusted friends and family are good supports to get validation and other perspectives, but please don't trauma dump on your friends and family. If what you are struggling to forgive is due to unresolved trauma or deep emotional wounds, consider seeking therapy from a licensed mental health care professional, more specifically one who has been trained in treating complex trauma.

As a reminder, forgiveness is a process; it cannot be forced or hurried. Forgiveness is a journey and not a destination. It takes time and patience. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to progress at your own pace. It's okay if forgiveness doesn't happen overnight – what's important is that you're committed to the journey towards healing and inner peace.

With time, self-reflection, support, and continued effort, forgiveness will become more accessible to you. Please remember that wherever you are on this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.

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"Forgive others not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace." ~Jonathan Lockwood


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