It is well known that exercise is a powerful antidote to depression. However, try exercising when you’re depressed. It’s not that easy. Similarly, it’s pretty well known that forgiveness is good for you and releases pent up creative energy. However, doing the work to forgive is not that easy, even when you understand why you need to forgive. Here are some points to keep in mind when thinking about how to forgive:
Be compassionate with yourself.
Sometimes what stops people from forgiving is the pressure to do so in the first place. Have compassion with yourself when you are having difficulty forgiving. In many faith traditions there is a pressure to forgive and those who cannot forgive often think they have failed. In reality, it may not be time for you to forgive, and if you force yourself to do something that you are not ready to do; you may be adding to the problem and creating another layer of resentment. Simply being willing to think about forgiveness may be your first step, and it may be enough until you arrive at clarity about what forgiveness is, and what it is not. Try not to put a schedule on your forgiveness.
Be clear about what forgiveness is and what it is not.
Sometimes what stops people from forgiving is that idea that they will be condoning the behavior that hurt them. You may have to remind yourself frequently that to forgive is not the same as saying “It’s ok that you did that.” Try seeing this perspective: You’re releasing the hurt feelings for your own sake, for the sake of your children and loved ones, because when you do release them, more of your joy and creativity can be present. Besides, living with un-forgiveness ends up being more stressful and punishing to ourselves than to the one who offended us.
Have healthy boundaries.
Sometimes what stops people from forgiving is the thought that the person they are forgiving will do what they did all over again. That could be so. Try this perspective: Forgiveness does not mean letting people walk all over you. Instead, it is possible to forgive someone, and kindly choose not to hang out with them again. That may take great strength to do, because sometimes we very much want to hang out with them and we believe they will change because we have forgiven them.
Forget about remorse and revenge.
Sometimes what stops people from forgiving is a desire to get even, or a hope that the person being forgiven will show some remorse. Sometimes this is simply impossible because the person may have passed away, or the grudge may be held against something like life itself. Revenge is not always possible, and it is always not advisable. Getting revenge gives a mild relief but frequently results in a feeling of guilt for having stooped to the very kind of actions that hurt.
I hope these ideas will contribute to your willingness to consider forgiveness as a pathway to freedom. The sheer difficulty of doing the work lessens as we educate ourselves about why it is we should forgive and how to do it.