by: E.B. Johnson
When you’re struggling with deeply buried wounds, it can be hard to conceive of forgiveness and letting go of that pain. Our pain keeps us balanced, and when we’ve lived lives filled with it — it’s a comfort, because it’s all we’ve ever known. The problem, however, is that holding onto that pain is toxic. If we ever want to find our way back to happiness. We have to learn how to forgive.
Forgiveness is a gift, an act, a way of being. It’s the means by which we release our pain and let go of the things that no longer suit our journey. If you’re struggling with wounds that just won’t seem to heal, you’ve got to kickstart that healing with forgiveness. That takes time, though, and an intimate understanding of what true forgiveness looks like, inside and out.
What is true forgiveness?
Forgiveness is many different things. It can be a gift or a charitable act of kindness. It can be a healing process and a journey to self discovery. Forgiveness is many different things to many different people, but true forgiveness is all about one thing: letting go of the things that no longer suit you in the most gracious way possible.
True forgiveness is not only an act, it is a state of being — one which allows us to tap back into that authentic sense of self that guides us peacefully toward the future we deserve. It’s how we fix broken things and bring new life to old things, and it’s one of the best and truest ways to heal ourselves.
Forgiveness is for us as much as it is for anyone else. Though it’s important to forgive those who do us wrong, it’s even more important to give ourselves the gift of true forgiveness, so that we can move past all the internalized guilt and shame from our childhoods and find our way back to the pure and lasting happiness we all need in order to thrive.
The different types of forgiveness.
It’s important to note that not all forgiveness is created equal. Like an onion, forgiveness has many different levels and layers, some of them overlapping and shifting in a way that can be difficult to manage or sort through. In order to truly forgive, you first have to know what kind of forgiveness is needed in your life, and that’s something that only time and experience can teach you.
Unconditional forgiveness is the highest and purest form of forgiveness, but it’s not always possible, and it’s not always right for the given circumstance. Forgiving unconditionally means that — no matter what — you let go of the thoughts and emotions you had tied to that act. It means detaching completely and starting anew, but there’s only so many fresh starts that can be given or, indeed, expected.
This type of forgiveness is the ultimate goal of all forgiving acts, but sometimes it’s just not possible for us to let go and detach. For first time offenders, a condition-free pass might be okay, but repeat offenders should always be treated with caution. Unconditional forgiveness is not a doormat and invitaion for futher poor behavior — and neither are you.
Sometimes, we have to let people back into our hearts and lives. That doesn’t mean, however, that they get a free pass or the keys to the kingdom. It is possible to give someone limited forgiveness, and it is possible to keep your heart protected while letting go of that pain caused by bad people and bad situations. You have to be the one to set those conditions, though, and you have to be the one that sticks to them; no matter what.
When our relationships go off the rails, conditional forgiveness is sometimes the structure that can set things to rights again. Forgiving others with parameters allows them to prove their intentions while allowing you to protect yourself, in a way that can help re-establish trust and understanding between two parties that have gone off the rails. The key is always being clear about your conditions, and clear about what the consequences are when those conditions aren’t respected.
Graceful forgiveness is a transcendental form of forgiveness. If you’re someone who believes in a god, then this is the type of forgiveness you might believe in. For the rest of us, this is peaceful and all-enveloping form of forgiveness that comes from a place much deeper than, “things are okay now.” Forgiving through grace is forgiving before the pain has subsided and — in some cases — despite of the pain the injury has caused you. It’s deciding to look past the bad and accepting reality for what it is; a hard pill to swallow at any stage of your life.
The most superficial form of forgiveness, dismissive forgiveness is most frequently practiced when we’re forced to forgive before we’re ready, or when we decide to give forgiveness to someone we can’t be bothered working things out with. This “whatever” approach to your pain and aggravation can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing, it entirely depends on you and the sort of resolutions you need for true and authentic happiness.
Walking away without taking the time to sort through the tough feelings and thoughts can leave a lasting stain on any relationship or circumstance. When you dismissively forgive someone you say “this isn’t worth my time” and you leave behind pieces that get buried in complex emotion and resentment. While it might do to dismissively forgive someone you hardly know, it doesn’t work when a long term relationship or partnership is on the line.
Why is forgiveness so important?
Forgiving ourselves and others is good for our minds, our bodies and our hearts. Literally. Thousands of studies across decades have shown that when we forgive others, we heal ourselves on both the mental and physical plains, making more room in our lives for authentic joy, happiness and experience.
It strengthens your heart
Practicing forgiveness is literally good for your heart. According to one study from the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, those who forgive were show to have lower heart rates and lower blood pressure — indicating they experienced less stress in their lives.
It restores positive thought & feeling
While forgiveness might be good for you heart, it’s good for the rest of your body (and mind) as well. A study showed that forgiveness actually interlinked with the 5 measures of health, enhancing or diminishing things like: physical aches, medication use, sleep quality, fatigue and psychosomatic issues. When forgiveness was practiced, participants experienced noticeable increases in their overall happiness, as well as better ability to manage conflict, and an improvement in their overall stress levels.
It increases positive behavior
When we practice forgiveness, we actually give ourselves permission to behave better; going so far as to put an end to self-destructive patterns and habits, thanks to our renewed happiness and self-realization. Those who forgive have been shown to participate more often in volunteer and charity events, and they’ve also been shown to donate and engage in incredibly altruistic behaviors. Forgiveness empower us to feel more positive, and though that we are able to act more positively.
The 5 best approaches to true forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a conscious choice we must make every single day. Whether we forgive ourselves or someone that has hurt us, we have to cultivate that ability to detach and let go in order to heal and find happiness in our lives again. Use these 5 approaches for maximizing the forgiveness (and healing) in your life.
1. Forgive yourself
When we speak forgiveness, we’re so quick to jump into the external situations and people that wound us or cause us stress. While it’s important to forgive these people and these things, it’s most important to start our journey to forgiveness with ourselves. If you can’t forgive yourself, it’s impossible to truly forgive someone else. You have to practice what you preach and you have to start that practice with yourself.
Forgive yourself for the missteps and mistakes; the poor judgement calls and the people who you placed your trust in wrongly. Understand that none of us is perfect (no matter how much we might pretend otherwise) — and understand that you will continue to make mistakes. That’s just human nature.
Our forgiveness is a choice, but it’s also a skill that has to be practiced and honed internally until we are ready to share it with others. Forgiveness is for yourself, as much as it is for anyone else, so give that give to yourself and practice radical forgiveness on you for a change. Being able to let go will allow you to let go of all that anger and hurt that is bubbling down inside, but you have to dig down deep to get there.
2. Learn to look past the injury
One of the shortcuts to finding forgiveness in your heart for others, is learning to look past the injury to the hurt and pain beneath.
Hurt people hurt other people. When someone else wounds you, it is most often because they themselves have been wounded in some way. Learn how to look at the pain inflicted by others as a symptom of their own pain, rather than just an injustice that must be righted no matter what.
Forgive the other person for their sake, rather than your own. Cultivate your compassion by learning that wounded people lash out, looking for their own healing or some outlet of relief that can make them feel better. Their pain is not your pain, but you have to forgive them in order to truly master that concept.
3. Fix things worth fixing
When we’ve been hurt, it can often be easier to walk away than to spend time cleaning up the mess. Walking away can cause us to miss out on some truly special opportunities, however, so it’s important to know when forgiveness is the answer.
Some relationships are worth fixing, but it takes our forgiveness to get back there. If someone has wronged you, try to look past the hurt and see any potential that might still be lurking beneath the surface.
We often need to forgive others not only for ourselves, but for the future of our relationships. Every circumstance is different, but some circumstances require our grace and fortitude when it feels like all we can do is quit. We can become teams in our pain, or enemies, the choice really comes down to how we choose to approach the situation.
4. Talk about your pain and your reconciliation
It’s been scientifically proven that talking about our pain helps us to reconcile it in our hearts and in our minds. More than that, it’s also been proven that this speaking out about the things that have gone wrong also empowers us to help others — something there isn’t enough of in this world.
True forgiveness can be reached when we use our pain to empower others. Sometimes, we never get a chance to reconcile our hurts with the people that have hurt us. In those instances, it’s important to find our own path through forgiveness by reaching out a hand to others who have also experienced pain.
If you truly want to reduce your suffering in this life, try reducing the suffering of others. When we give of ourselves, we allow ourselves to see the good that really lies in our hearts, and we are able to then forgive ourselves when we are not able to forgive the ones who hurt us. Try it. It feels good to do good.
5. Be the bigger person
Sometimes, the best way to heal and justify the wrongs done against you is to live a life that is beautiful and above reproach. Be the bigger person. Learn how to forgive because forgiveness is good. Learn how to forgive yourself because it is the best thing to do for you.
Forgiveness is a journey with an end that finite and beautiful. By its very nature, it’s a virtuous concept, and through we can learn much about our selves and our place in this world among the people we love. Forgiveness is an act of love; toward ourselves and toward others. It’s the ultimate charity, and for that reason alone it should be exercised gratuitously.
Drop the motivations. Drop the need to be right or the need to get them to see things from your perspective. Forgive them because you need healing. Forgive them because it is the right thing to do. Forgive because it’s the only way you’re going to find release from that ache and that pain that’s plaguing your heart all day long. Be the bigger person — don’t wait for someone to force you into that role.
Putting it all together…
There are many different types of forgiveness and many different ways in which to practice forgiveness with others and ourselves. True forgiveness starts with an understanding (both internal and external) and it ends with recognizing what it is you need in order to thrive. When we truly forgive others — and ourselves — we give ourselves persmission to step forward into a happy future. It takes time to get there, though, and a lot of determination.
Before you start to forgive others, learn how to forgive yourself. Understand that everyone is just doing the best they can, and everyone stumbles and makes mistakes. Learn to look past the injury for the real reasons hurt people continue to hurt you, and teach yourself how to spot the signs of something worth saving. Forgiveness is a process, one that can be facilitated by sharing your pain and opening up to others about the journey. Be the bigger person. Being forgiving isn’t about them, it’s about you. Don’t you deserve a happy future? You’re the only one who can make that choice.