SALT LAKE CITY — I recently heard someone say some people and some wrongs do not deserve forgiveness because they are so bad. If the people who committed these wrongs won't be responsible for them, admit they were wrong and apologize, then you should hang onto your anger toward them, as it will protect you from further mistreatment.
I wanted to address this because I believe forgiveness is one of the most important lessons we learn in life. I believe your happiness and your self-esteem largely depend on your ability to forgive — but I also realize it's sometimes hard to do.
If you are struggling with anger, resentment or pain around an offense, there are some things you can do to process the experience in a productive way and get to a place of forgiveness sooner. But, this is a high-level process that may require some stretching of your current beliefs.
It's also important to keep in mind that forgiveness doesn't mean you need to trust the other person, let them mistreat you further, or have them in your life again. It may be wisest to forgive them from afar.
Forgiveness is something you do for yourself, so you can have more peace; it is not really about the other person. Here is a procedure for working toward forgiveness when it's hard:
1. Start journaling
Write about the pain, resentment, and anger you currently feel toward this person. Describe the reasons this person deserves condemnation and to be judged as guilty. Describe the treatment you think they deserve from you. At this point, allow your ego to vent and be true to its most hateful or upset feelings.
2. Claim your power to choose how you will think and feel
You get to choose all your thoughts and beliefs about your life, human value, this person and the situation. You have the power to create any experience around it that you want to have. You may need to process through many different emotions until you are ready for the forgiveness process. You are entitled to feel angry, hurt, betrayed and upset for as long as you need to. What emotions have you chosen to experience so far? What emotions would you like to have around this long term? Write them down.
3. Dive deeper into your feelings and predictions
Write about what you get — what the benefits are — in staying angry and not forgiving this person. Write about what you are afraid might happen if you forgive them. What fears and concerns make it feel safer to stay angry? Write what you are afraid will happen if you stay angry. What is the cost in your own life, of carrying this resentment, anger and judgment forward?
4. Understand forgiveness vs. trust
Forgiveness is not about forgoing justice or pardoning a guilty person for what they did. If you try to do it that way it will never work. The dictionary says to forgive means: "to cease feeling resentment against (an offender)." Forgiveness is about changing your perspective and feelings so you suffer less pain. Write about why this is true for you.
Identify the difference between trusting this person again and forgiving them. You can forgive them and still not keep them in your life, but it is important to make that decision from a place of love for yourself, not a place of hate or anger toward them. Write down what those two options look and feel like so you are clear on the difference. Write about the boundaries you might set out of love for yourself.
5. 'You get what you give'
This is one of my universal laws, a concept that means if you give judgment, condemnation and hate, and label others as guilty and unworthy because of their mistakes, you will also feel judged, condemned, hated, guilty and unworthy yourself. If you struggle to forgive others, you will likely also struggle to forgive yourself. The way you judge others is inseparably tied to how you feel about yourself. If you want to fully love and accept yourself despite your mistakes, you must work on allowing the flawed people around you to have the same intrinsic value as everyone else despite their mistakes (again, this doesn't mean you will trust them or have them in your life). The more you work on developing love and compassion toward these difficult people and see their value as the same as yours, the easier it will be to love yourself
6. Believe in the classroom of life
This means to trust the universe is always working in your favor to educate you and help you grow. You can choose to believe no person has the power to ruin your journey or derail the life you should have had and that you can learn something valuable from this experience. At some level, this offense can serve you if you choose to use it that way. Take the time to write down 10 positives that this offense experience has created in your life. How has it made you stronger, wiser or more loving?
Another way to allow the experience to serve you is to play with the belief that everything you experience in your life can teach you to love yourself and others at a deeper level. Play with the idea that you are just experiencing the perfect classroom journey for you to grow in wisdom, strength and love. If you choose to see this offense as your perfect classroom journey, how does that change your feelings about the offending person?
7. Choose to see your value as infinite and unchangeable
Your value is infinite and absolute, and nothing you or anyone else does can change it. You will always have the same value as every other human being. When you believe this, it is easier to take a hurtful experience and choose not to be deeply hurt by it. How would that change the way you feel about the offense?
Again, this is a high-level forgiveness process. Considering the severity of the mistreatment you have experienced, it might take a while before you are ready for it. I find this process serves people best after they have allowed themselves to be angry and grieve for a while. If you feel resistant to the steps, it might not be the right time for you, and that's OK too. Be compassionate to yourself and you will work this through it right on time and in the way you need.
You can do this.
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