Forgiveness: Letting Go So You Can Heal
You may have heard that forgiving people is really about taking care of yourself, but what does that mean? It can seem as if forgiveness is something you do for someone who hurt you – don’t they benefit from you deciding to let go of resentment and hurt feelings? How can forgiveness be a gift to yourself?
Forgiveness is not you excusing poor behavior. Instead, think of it as an investment in your well-being. When you release negative feelings like anger, frustration, disappointment, and resentment, you free up your mental space and emotional energy to let more of the good parts of life in. We know forgiveness is difficult and at times may seem impossible, especially if you decide you don’t want to continue a relationship with the person who wronged you. At SMPsychotherapy, we want you to have all the tools you need to live a life of freedom and purpose, including the tools for forgiveness.
In this blog, we will get a clear definition of forgiveness, including the types of forgiveness, and we’ll discuss why forgiveness is so important for health and well-being. Then, we detail the process of forgiveness so you can work toward releasing negativity.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a decision to release resentment and the desire for vengeance toward someone who harmed you physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Forgiveness is a gift to yourself because you choose to heal and move forward to build the life you want.
Forgiveness does not mean you
- ignore or deny how serious an offense against you is.
- forget how the person hurt you.
- are condoning or excusing the behavior.
- have to reconcile with the person who harmed you.
- release the person from accountability or legal action,
Forgiveness is an internal process that you do for yourself. You forgive because you no longer want to allow the negative feelings to have control over you.
Why is Forgiveness so Important?
When you’re angry, your body probably tenses up and enters flight or fight mode, your blood pressure increases, and you’re ready for action. That process is great if there is a direct threat to your life, but when you carry anger around too long, all that emotional pain can negatively impact your stress levels and mental health.
Ruminating about how someone wronged you only reinforces negative emotions and keeps you stuck. Being chronically angry can cause anxiety and even lower your energy levels. One of the biggest benefits of forgiveness is the release of chronic anger that impacts your mental health and even your immune system.
Forgiving others allows you to put the energy you spent on anger into making your life better and improving your relationships with family members and loved ones. You can invest all that energy in new learning, reinvigorate your career, or focus on your physical health. Many people worry that forgiveness will mean they have to feel positively toward the offender. That isn’t part of forgiveness, though. You can recognize the pain you suffered but move on from it, so it doesn’t continue to claim your time and energy.
Types of Forgiveness
Forgiveness comes in many forms, and the form you choose to exercise will vary depending on the type of wrong you experience and your relationship with the person. You may choose conditional forgiveness for your spouse if they make a mistake, but dismissive forgiveness for a former friend with whom you can no longer continue a relationship. Here are the types of forgiveness.
When you extend unconditional forgiveness to someone, you don’t forget what they did, but you don’t let it influence your future actions. You rebuild the relationship focused on rebuilding trust and becoming a better person. With unconditional forgiveness, you don’t attach any condition to the forgiveness in a relationship.
Conditional forgiveness means that you forgive the person and don’t crave revenge or punish them in any way, but you look out for yourself and remain guarded so you won’t be hurt again. This type of forgiveness is common in a relationship where infidelity is problematic. You forgive but remain vigilant for signs your partner is at it again.
Dismissive forgiveness is when you decide to release anger and don’t hold a grudge, but you also decide to move on with your life without that relationship. Perhaps you decided that the relationship is too harmful to your well-being or keeps you from living the life you want. Depending on the relationship you have with this person, dismissive forgiveness can be painful for both parties.
Sometimes, the hurt and anger are too powerful for you to forgive someone and move on in the relationship. Spiritual people, may believe forgiveness is only for God to grant. You want the other person to become a better person and have peace of mind over what they did to you, but you cannot grant them that peace of mind.
What is Self-forgiveness?
Sometimes, the person who wronged you is. . . you. We don’t always make decisions that are in our best interests, and sometimes those decisions hurt others we love. Maybe you stayed in an unhealthy relationship too long or ate too many bags of cookies. Maybe you’re battling addiction and had a relapse, or maybe you ignored your dreams and chose a safe career. Self-forgiveness is a necessary step for moving on from those decisions with the necessary positive energy to make different, better choices next time.
Shame or guilt over past decisions can hurt your self-esteem, so learning to forgive yourself is vital to building a meaningful life. Forgiveness is an exercise in self-compassion – realizing you make mistakes because you’re human and deciding to learn from them instead of beating yourself up about them. The steps of forgiveness we share next work whether you need to forgive a stranger, a best friend, a family member, or yourself.
The Process of Forgiveness
The process of forgiveness is not linear. You may find yourself doubling back over these steps again and again. You may get to step five, and something may happen to make you start over with step one. That’s okay. These steps are meant to help guide you through the process of forgiveness so you can release negative emotions and spend your energy building the life you want.
- Acknowledge the hurt: Who hurt you and why? How long did the hurtful behavior last? How does that hurt to show up in your body emotionally and physically? Once you know the depths of the experience that you’re trying to forgive, you can figure out exactly how angry you are and what’s causing it. You can only forgive someone if you understand exactly why you feel hurt or angry.
- Assess the hurt: how do you feel? How do you feel about your relationship with this person? How do you feel when you think about their actions?
- Accept that you cannot change what happened or how it affected you. But you can change what happens going forward. Decide if you are interested in reconciling, or do you want to forgive but move on from the relationship?
- Decide whether or not you want to forgive the person at this time. Are you ready to let go of the anger and resentment and reclaim that energy? Will your forgiveness be unconditional, conditional, dismissive, or grace?
- Repair and heal – where the real work happens. At this stage, you must do the work to undo the unhealthy patterns that led to the hurt, decide to see the person who wronged you in a new way, and begin performing acts of forgiveness, such as reaching out to the loved one who harmed you, or going to therapy if you’re trying to forgive yourself.
- Forgive – let go of the anger, resentment, or hatred. You aren’t likely to forget the actions that caused your hurt, but you recognize that we are all humans who make mistakes every day. You no longer feel called to exact revenge or lash out at the person who harmed you. If you’re forgiving yourself, you stop negative self-talk cycles and create new affirmations to boost your self-esteem.
Sometimes, negative emotions are too powerful when someone hurts you. Sometimes, they hurt you for too long or too many times for you to move on without help. Forgiveness therapy with a trained mental health professional can help. At SMPSychotherpay, we know about the power of forgiveness to refill your energy and renew your spirit. We also know how difficult forgiveness can be. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment and start the process of letting go.
For more about forgiveness and healing, reserve your copy of the new book, Unbreakable by Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services. The book releases in Spring 2023. It’s a story of one woman’s journey through adversity and how you can use her principles to build the life of your dreams. Book on pre-sale now!