Forgiving for Healthy Living
One of the questions that often comes up in Spiritual Care is “How can I forgive?” Everyone will face the challenge of trying to forgive someone who has hurt them in some way. If they have intentionally hurt us, it can make the challenge even harder. The first question I often ask is “What makes you think that you haven’t forgiven?” The usual answer involves naming a bunch of strong (not negative) emotions such as anger, frustration, desire for revenge, hurt, jealousy etc.
Unfortunately much of the material that has been written on forgiveness defines it as a mental state of release or peace and when someone hasn’t experienced that, they often feel defeated and frustrated and even more so if they come from a religious tradition that defines forgiving as imperative. This adds guilt and failure to the pile of emotions. Usually this sends self-esteem spiralling down! Ironically, many people find themselves in a place where they feel that they need to forgive themselves for not forgiving someone else. This can lead to feelings of being victimized a second time.
People are surprised when I tell them I think they have already forgiven the person. In their daily life they have chosen to go on living in a way where they choose actions every day that promote their own health and healing and often the health and healing of others around them. Forgiving is nothing more than the choices we make each and every day to live as well as we can and not take any actions of retaliation or revenge.
While forgiving may involve a feeling of peace and wellbeing or release, the reality is that you might still be experiencing strong emotions for a long time and sometimes just when you think that you have moved on, something will come along and trigger those emotions all over again, leaving you frustrated all over again. Forgiving is hard work and rarely achieved in a magical moment. Here are some things that might help you to work through some of those difficult emotions.
Befriend your emotions. They are telling you something. They are pointing to areas of your life that you might need to attend to, areas that might need healing. Journal what you are feeling. Be honest.
Find an expression for them. Express those emotions through art. Consider taking an exercise program specifically with the goal of releasing the pent up energy that is stored within you.
Practice meditation. The hardest part of forgiving is trying not to obsess over the situation. People can find this practice discouraging but like any other skill, it takes some time and practice to learn.
Find a ritual that speaks to you. On one occasion, I went to the dollar store and purchased glass cups for victims of crime to shatter in a parking lot (and cleaned up the mess). For others, it might be the daily lighting of a candle and remembering of those that bring light to your life.
Choose a good deed instead of revenge. Living well is truly the best revenge. When you are tempted to call someone and give them a piece of your mind, call a lonely senior instead. Try making some of the great recipes on this blog and sharing them! Then you can give yourself two pats on the back. One for forgiving and the other for doing a good deed.
Remember that forgiving and reconciliation are two separate processes. You may forgive someone but that does not necessarily mean that you will allow them back into your life. In fact, it may be dangerous to do this.
Tell yourself often all of the ways that you have forgiven that person and give yourself a pat on the back. This breaks the cycle of helplessness when we feel we haven’t forgiven someone and are feeling discouraged. Sometimes talking about what has hurt us and exploring our feelings can take away some of the fuel from the fires of anger, frustration, hurt and desire for revenge. Consider accessing some professional help for even a session or two.
As a Spiritual Care Professional, I meet many people in the hospital who are suffering from an injury that is caused by someone. If they suffered a broken leg and forgave the person who hurt them on the first day of their injury, we wouldn’t expect the leg to heal any quicker because they forgave the person. They would still need the same surgeries, pain medication and therapy. Similarly, when we have been emotionally or spiritually injured, we may forgive the person, however there is still work to do to move towards recovery. Be gentle with yourself as you undertake this difficult journey. If we can be of help, you can find a Spiritual Care Professional through locating.