Wikipedia tells us that forgiveness, in a psychological sense, is the intentional and voluntary process by which one who may initially feel victimized, undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding a given offense, and overcomes negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance.
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Hoʻoponopono is a Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. The Hawaiian word translates into English simply as correction, with the synonyms manage or supervise, and the antonym careless.
The ho’oponopono prayer goes like this: “I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, I love you.” That’s it. … “I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, I love you.” It’s very touching, especially given how simple and universal these words are.
Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to you or making up with the person who caused the harm. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.
When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge, or you can embrace forgiveness and move forward.
If we don’t practice forgiveness, we might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Forgiving can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Conversely, holding on to bitterness and resentment can make you sick. Buddha is quoted as saying, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” We have talked about how powerful the mind is and how emotional states and associated thinking can make us sick, or make us better.
Being hurt by someone, particularly someone you love and trust, can cause anger, sadness and confusion. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.
Some people are naturally more forgiving than others. But even if you’re a grudge holder, almost anyone can learn to be more forgiving.
Too often these days people surrender their power by allowing external forces to control them. When you are mad at someone, they may not even know it. Or worse, relish in the fact that they led you into discontent.
Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, and Holocaust survivor. Frankl famously said that, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
If we are consumed by resentment, vengeance and hostility over the actions of another we have surrendered our power, freedom and opportunity for growth.
Another factor that can influence our willingness to forgive is the question of whether your heartspace is filled with love, or fear. Remember, love gives rise to all positive emotions and fear gives rise to all negative emotions. Get in the habit of doing regular check ins with your heartspace. If you’re not feeling a place of love, bring love in. This process will drive fear away and position you to be more forgiving.
From a practical standpoint, if you’re unforgiving, you might bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience; you might become so enmeshed in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present; or maybe you become depressed or anxious. When you are unable to forgive you might feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs; you could lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others.
You can reach a state of forgiveness through a number of ways beyond the fundamental practice of bringing love into your heartspace.
Forgiveness is a commitment to a personalized process of change. To move from suffering to forgiveness, you might recognize the value of forgiveness and how it can improve your life; you could identify what needs healing and who needs to be forgiven and for what. If the emotional impact of a suffered wrong is too intense you might even consider joining a support group or seeing a counselor.
If you acknowledge your emotions about the harm done to you and how they affect your behavior you could work to release them. You might just simply choose to forgive the person who’s offended you.
One of the most powerful things you can do is move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had in your life. You will find that as you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt. As a result of these healthy practices, you might even find compassion and understanding.
If the hurtful event was associated with someone whose relationship you otherwise value, forgiveness can lead to reconciliation. This isn’t always easy, nor is it always the way it happens, however.
Reconciliation might be impossible if the offender has died or is unwilling to communicate with you. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink! In some cases, reconciliation might not be what is called for or even appropriate. For your sake, though, remember, forgiveness is always possible, even if reconciliation isn’t.
Another important point to consider is that getting another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words isn’t the point of forgiveness. The point of forgiveness is more about how it can change your life, by bringing you peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing.
These personal benefits of forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life. If you are consumed by anger or other negative emotions and the person you are mad at uses this energetic response to manipulate, you have effectively hung a chain out of your pocket and said to them, “come yank my chain!” Forgiveness retracts that chain.
And then, of course, we should consider if we are the one who needs forgiveness? The first step is to honestly assess and acknowledge the wrongs you’ve done and how they have affected others. Avoid judging yourself too harshly.
If you’re truly sorry for something you’ve said or done, consider admitting it to those you’ve harmed. Speak of your sincere sorrow or regret, and ask for forgiveness, without making excuses. Own it, as they say.
Importantly, just as you cannot force someone to change the offending words or behavior, you can’t force someone to forgive you. Others may need to move to forgiveness in their own time. Whatever happens, remember that we can only control ourselves, commit to treating others with compassion, empathy and respect.
Spiritual growth requires forgiving others as an essential component. Your experience of someone who has hurt you, while it may have been and may still be painful, is now nothing more than a thought or feeling that you carry around. These thoughts of resentment, anger, and hatred represent slow, debilitating energies that will disempower you if you continue to let these thoughts occupy space in your mind or heart. If you could release them, you would know more peace.
Dr Wayne Dyer offered a number of steps toward forgiveness. He suggested you move on. Your past history and all of your hurts are no longer here in your physical reality. Don’t allow them to be here in your mind, muddying your present moments. Your life is like a play with several acts. Some of the characters who enter have short roles to play, others, much larger. Some are villains and others are good guys. But all of them are necessary, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the play. Embrace them all, and move on to the next act.
Make a new agreement with yourself to always stay connected to Spirit even when it seems to be the most difficult thing to do. If you do this, you will allow whatever degree of perfect harmony that your body was designed for to proliferate. Turn your hurts over to God, and allow Spirit to flow through you.
Switch the focus from blaming others to understanding yourself. Whenever you’re upset over the conduct of others, take the focus off those you’re holding responsible for your inner distress. Shift your mental energy to allowing yourself to be with whatever you’re feeling. Let the experience be as it may, without blaming others for your feelings. Don’t blame yourself either! Just allow the experience to unfold and tell yourself that no one has the power to make you uneasy without your consent, and that you’re unwilling to grant that authority to this person right now.
Learn to let go and be like water. Rather than attempting to dominate with your forcefulness, be like water: flow everywhere there’s an opening. Soften your hard edges by being more tolerant of contrary opinions. Interfere less, and substitute listening for directing and telling. When someone offers you their viewpoint, try responding with: “I’ve never considered that before, thank you. I’ll give it some thought.”
Let go of resentments. What causes annoyance and anger after a dispute? The generic response would be a laundry list detailing why the other person was wrong and how illogically and unreasonably they behaved, concluding with something like, “I have a right to be upset when so and so speaks to me that way!”
But if you’re interested in living a Tao-filled life, it’s super important that you reverse this kind of thinking. Resentments don’t come from the conduct of the other party in an altercation. On the contrary, they survive and thrive because you’re unwilling to end that altercation with an offering of kindness, love, and authentic forgiveness. As Lao-Tzu says:
Someone must risk returning injury with kindness, or hostility will never turn to goodwill.
Be kind instead of right. There is a Chinese proverb, if you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves. Kind of like drinking poison and expecting the other to die.
The world is just the way it is. The people who are behaving poorly or badly in the world are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. You can process it in any way that you choose. If you’re filled with anger about all of those problems, you are one more person who contributes to the pollution of anger. Instead, remember that you have no need to make others wrong or to retaliate when you’ve been wronged.
And finally, perhaps the most applicable for the times we live in, stop looking for occasions to be offended. When you live at or below ordinary levels of awareness, you spend a great deal of time and energy finding opportunities to be offended. A news report, politics, someone using bad language, a rude stranger, a cough, a black cloud, or the proverbial drop of a hat. Just about anything will do if you’re looking for an occasion to be offended. Become a person who refuses to be offended by any one, anything, or any set of circumstances.
Send love in place of judgments, resentments, anger and criticisms to others when you feel they impede your joy and happiness, and hold them in that place of love. Notice that if you stay steadfast with love in your heartspace, instead of fear, you will change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.