(Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash)
Forgiveness is something we all know we need to get better at, and the benefits of learning to forgive are enormous. From better physical, mental and emotional health to healthier families and communities, the wide-ranging benefits are there for all to see. Still, we aren't great at forgiving! How can we forgive when the hurt is so real?
One researcher explains that unforgiveness is about replaying what a person has done in your mind, and in particular it activates the emotional centres rather than logical areas of your brain. Basically unforgiveness is reliving the pain and associated emotions of an episode when you've been hurt by someone. To be able to move from that place of hurt to a place of forgiveness is difficult in particular because we seek justice for a perceived wrong, which does NOT happen simply by shutting off the emotions. We need to get better at processing such episodes.
Here are the three steps I've found that have been immense at moving me from hurt to forgiveness:
1. Understanding what I'm REALLY feeling.
Hint: if you are describing your feelings with, "I'm feeling like", you're not really touching the real emotions. You're describing a perception of the feeling.
Hint: if the other person features in your description of feeling, you're not really touching the real emotion. You've distanced yourself from it. E.g. "I feel that you".
Take a moment. How are you really feeling? The reason we don't do this is because it is hard to put words to our emotions. And often being able to articulate the real emotion is a little scary because it reveals what is sitting in our hearts. For example, I prefer to be angry at someone rather than to feel helpless in a situation. We direct our energy and emotions outwards because it often protects our vulnerable core.
The opposite is true in reality. When we don't articulate and understand our real feelings, we do things that cause the situation to escalate or become more damaging over time. There was a situation where I was ANGRY at a person. After calming down and articulating my feelings, I realised that I was more worried about how things were going to pan out. My anger would cause me to act out at this person and try to win the argument when really I wanted resolution to this conflict. Acting in line with what I truly am feeling is more likely to bring proper resolution.
2. Understand where the person is coming from as much as I can.
We all seek to be understood. But often we demand that the other person understand me FIRST. Acting in this way brings the situation to a stalemate.
I put this as step 2 because when we haven't empathised with ourselves this step can be too difficult. When you've been able to work through where you are at, you will find that you are more willing to take the effort to try to understand where the person is coming from.
Every person's actions are understandable in the context of their lives. I don't mean that every action should be condoned, but at the least it is understandable. I've found when I understand a person's actions I find that they are rarely motivated by malicious intent. Instead I find that they are simply trying their best with what they know. This makes it difficult to continue seeking justice because justice isn't as clear as it was without this understanding. This allows the feelings of being "hurt" to dissolve.
3. Understand that forgiveness is a PROCESS and not an EVENT.
Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you don't have to seek justice anymore. I find that this is one of the most overlooked steps in forgiveness. This is especially true if the hurt goes deep. The emotions will want to bubble back up, and you have to take the time to understand yourself and the other person to practice forgiveness. Perhaps there are more emotions inside you that you are unaware of, or maybe there are other factors to the person's actions that you need to uncover. I've found that the emotions aren't as strong each time, and it allows me to go a little deeper. Finally I can get to a place of complete release. It is a PROCESS that takes time and effort, but it is very worth it.
p.s. check out our message on forgiveness that goes deeper into these steps here: http://bit.ly/2IjKpcL