Robert Enright, founder and president of the International Forgiveness Institute, defines forgiveness as "giving up the resentment to which you are entitled and offering to the person who hurt you friendlier attitudes to which they are not entitled."
But, it's our inability to forgive that keeps us chained to the person who hurt us. Until we can forgive, we're not free of that individual and are hurting ourselves. It's not the unforgiven who's on fire with anger or who replays the ugly conversations that occurred. She isn't feeling the heartburn or back pain that stress has bestowed upon us. Chances are good that this person has moved on. Who does our anger and resentment really hurt?
We may realize that it benefits us to forgive someone who did us wrong, but we get stuck when it comes to truly forgiving. Here are some steps to consider taking to move along the pathway to forgiveness:
- Give up needing to know why the behavior happened; that isn't necessary for forgiveness. Plus, it's rare that knowing why changes how hurt you were then.
- Make a list of what was actually done that caused you pain. This is different from what you felt.
- Think about your part. Did you allow the behavior by not being forthcoming about the hurt you felt? Did you stay when you should or could have left?
- Make a list of all that you gained during the relationship. What positives came out of it? This helps you look at the whole context and see that there was more to the relationship than the bad parts.
- Write a letter to the person where you acknowledge what you gained from the relationship and express forgiveness for the hurts that he caused. There is no need to mail this letter; its value is in getting your feelings out on paper.
- Create a ritual or ceremony in which you get rid of your lists and the letter you wrote. This is symbolic of breaking the link between you and the other person. Personally, I've burned photos and lists on the rocks at the beach at sunset.
- Visualize yourself free from the hold that feeding your grudges had on you. Feel yourself growing lighter and more joyous.
- Move forward without looking back in anger.
The Fetzer Institute sponsors "Campaign for Love and Forgiveness." Take a look at the online forgiveness ritual "Letting Go," which is a process to analyze, specify and release a hurt, thought, injury or issue in one's life. When I performed this ritual, I was impressed by the sequence and felt peaceful when finished. Letting Go can be found at http://www.fetzer.org/loveandforgive/letting-go
Forgiveness is a process. Be gentle with yourself as you work toward release from the clutches of grudge holding. It will come.
Feel free to share your stories of forgiveness, steps you too, or ceremonies you created. And, do check back in the comments section to see what insights and inspiration you can gain from others' stories.