Most of us are familiar with the concept of forgiveness, and have at some point likely considered the need to forgive another person. Perhaps you are currently experiencing relationship distress, and wondering how to move past an injury. Forgiveness is a complex, deliberate process that seeks to re-work a negative narrative towards a person who has hurt us. It also seeks to change the way we feel (from negative to neutral or positive) towards that person. Check out this post to explore what forgiveness means, and to learn three practical steps to doing it.
The process of forgiveness can feel wildly different from situation to situation, depending on the relationship, the meaning we attach to the injury, and level of hurt involved. In some instances, it will feel very easy to let go of an injury and trust another person again. In other instances, however, we may struggle to feel motivated to engage with the process, and may encounter blocks that keep us stuck in the tortuous cycle of unforgiveness. Let’s explore possible barriers to forgiveness and outline a few solutions.
Does forgiveness feel obligatory, or invitational?
Let’s be honest, many of us are taught from a young age that we are supposed to forgive, “let things go,” and “move on” when someone has wronged us. If you grew up in a religious setting, chances are you were taught about the spiritual or moral perspectives on forgiveness, and may feel guilty when you struggle to extend grace to others like you were taught. You may also feel frustrated with the obligation, when it neither comes easily, or seems fair. Whatever your upbringing, the decision to forgive truly does boil down to personal choice.
No one can force you to forgive, because it is your internal experience.
Let’s consider this reframe that forgiveness is an invitation. And just like an invitation to a party, you can choose to accept or decline. Knowing that we have the freedom to choose may help relieve some resistance to feeling obligated.
Why might you be resistant to forgiving?
After an injury has occurred, there will likely be an immediate period of acute pain, during which the idea of forgiveness may never once cross your mind. It may feel impossible to release the negative narrative, or to trust and engage with the other person again. We generally have good reasons for holding onto our pain, including the need for validation, the need for comfort, and the need to know that we are not at fault for the injury. We also hold onto our pain in order to remember and thus avoid being injured again.
Why might you want to forgive?
Before choosing to embark on the journey of forgiveness, you might first consider your reasons for doing so, as well as what you are hoping to accomplish as a result.
- You might choose to work towards forgiveness in order to find relief from rumination and distress. Unforgiveness focuses on the negative aspects of another person’s behavior towards you, which will cause you to lose sight of their good qualities, and restrict our perspective. What you focus on expands.
- You might forgive because you are still in the relationship, and need or want to move forward together. If so, you should identify specific boundaries that enable you to remain in the relationship with a sense of openness.
- You may forgive in order to stay faithful to your own sense of dignity and values. There may be a point in unforgiveness when you realize you do not like the growing negative narrative in your minds, or your own behavior towards the other person. Thus, you may discover the motivation to relinquish your own self-righteous stance, surrender your need for an apology, and begin acting in a way that you would respect in others.
- You may reach a moment where your desire for harmony with the other person becomes bigger than your desire to stay defensive. Generally speaking, the people we struggle most to forgive will also be the people we most value. Forgiveness helps us to focus on opportunities for harmony.
Putting forgiveness into practice
There are many valid reasons you may struggle to practice forgiveness, including deep hurt, lack of remorse from the person who hurt us, and fear that an injury may recur. These blocks are like boulders in a river. Although they interrupt the flow, the water finds a way to move around them. When you take deliberate action to do something different, you become like the stream carrying on, even though the blocks might still come up.
Deliberate action can look like stopping negative thoughts about the one who hurt you, and practicing loving thoughts instead. It might also look like helping yourself to relax before interacting with that person, so that you can smile and engage with sincerity and increased openness. Perhaps deliberate action is an effort to not talk negatively about this person behind their back. Whatever the course of our action, you can support yourself throughout the process of re-working that negative narrative by remembering our motivations to forgive.
Need a bit more help?
Working to let go of your pain is an exquisite act of courage. It takes humility, patience, and great self-love. Sometimes your labor will go entirely unseen by anyone other than yourself. It is up to you to decide what you want, and to do the work in order to support yourself and your relationships.
If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual sessions only right now to accommodate the safety of our staff and clients during the time of COVID-19.