Before we decide what the answer to this title question will be, let's start with the picture on the left, of a man on the floor. The truth is, I asked about 15 people about what they think of the similar picture, and though some answers were similar or same, there was more than one opinion. The typical answer was that the guy is either passed out from drinking, drugs or sick. But what if the guy is a model for a photoshoot? Or an actor in a movie? Sure he looks like a homeless guy but is he?
Let's move on to another picture on the right. Two people were arguing about what they see. Each is correct; they have their truth which they believe. I love using this picture because it portrays perception. Perception is imperative to understand so that we are not married to only one outcome/opinion/solution. We need to realize that things may not always be as they seem to us and because someone may see something as their truth doesn't mean it's the actual truth. Understanding this will help us open up our minds and hearts to compassion. With compassion, we can then move on to forgiveness.
what is forgiveness?
It may be easier to answer what forgiveness is not: It is not letting the one who hurt us off the hook. It is not letting the situation occur over and over. It is not a situation allowing us to revert to be a victim. It is not same as reconciling. Though there are multiple explanations based on religious beliefs what forgiveness is, an article in American Psychological Association named "Forgiveness can improve mental and physical health" refers to forgiveness as offering something positive - empathy, compassion, understanding - toward the person who hurt you That element makes forgiveness both a virtue and a powerful construct in positive psychology.
So how does perception ties into forgiveness? Seeing the situation from another angle and putting yourself into the shoes of those that hurt you, you may start to feel understanding, compassion or empathy for them. Let's look at our parents. I'm sure that each of us can recall a situation from our childhood that we remember to this day that hurt us and we blame our parents for it. As you think of that situation, skip over to the time when your parents were little. Was their childhood happy? Or were they going through some hard time? Were they perhaps abused? Or neglected? The point is, our parents acted the way they thought was right because that was THE ONLY WAY THEY KNEW back then. They didn't know any better. Once you start exploring all different possibilities, you will start opening up your mind to thinking outside your beliefs and patterns that we are programmed with.
You may find it surprising, but the research shows that forgiveness is linked to mental health outcomes such as reduced anxiety, depression, and major psychiatric disorders, as well as fewer physical symptoms and lower mortality rates. Forgiveness also helps with "toxic" anger. There is a difference between a healthy anger and toxic anger. Healthy anger is your everyday situation that you get upset but can cope and move on. Toxic anger is that kind that you cannot shake off, it eats you up inside, and you cannot stop thinking about the situation or person that angered you. This deep, long-lasting, toxic anger can manifest in our bodies in the form of a disease. According to research, anger and hostility are linked to a higher risk of heart disease, and poorer outcomes for people with existing heart disease.
So, are you convinced yet?
Can you finally see the benefits of willingness to forgive? I say "willingness" purposely. Why? Because forgiveness itself is a process. It won't happen overnight but step by step you will be releasing the burden that is holding you back. One thing to keep in mind is that whoever hurt you may not even be aware of it and you hold on to that old pain for years. Now, by being willing to forgive, you're not doing that person any favors, you are only freeing yourself from the chains of that burden you've been carrying by not being able to let go. And just willingness will already start shifting the energy of forgiveness. There is no need for any ritual or reliving the situation again. A simple thought of "I'm willing to forgive" will already make that shift.
how to forgive
Once you are ready to forgive, the next step you can do is to write down on the paper names of all the people that you feel have hurt you. Take your time with this, one by one. You can repeat this exercise as many times as you wish. As you feel like you completed your list, take a deep breath and look at the first person on your list (it may be mom or dad :)). Gently close your eyes and imagine that person standing in front of you. Next, visualize a connection between you and that person, that connection which caused the harm to you, you can imagine a cord or rope, connecting the two of you. As you see this connection of negative feelings (anger, hostility, fear, hurt), also see that cord being cut. Big scissors, little scissors, ax, knife, whatever you feel like (no need to be too creative, the point is to cut it). As the cord is cut, you see both of you floating away from each other. Pay attention to your feelings at that moment. You may feel a wave of relief, or you may feel the same. If you feel the same, repeat this exercise until the cord is cut, you both float away, and there is just peace and relief.
Another powerful way to forgive is to also write a letter to the person that hurt you. You will never deliver the message because after you let everything out, you will burn it. But the key here is to explain from A to Z and in detail how that person hurt you, how it made you feel and any consequences after that you had to face.
So, do you see now why is so important to FOR-GIVE? Not for those that hurt you, but for your sake and your health! Good luck and if you need any help with forgiving, please let me know here.