1. Evaluate Who to Forgive
Start by thinking of anyone or any situation in which we felt slighted, hurt, attacked, or wronged. Simply list them out, and we can do this mentally or we can write them out. Do what feels best.
My process of forgiveness was exhaustive, and I went as far back as I could remember to list every person and situation that came to mind. You don’t have to be as exhaustive. In fact, start with the most recent person or the most pressing situation that comes to mind. Try forgiving that one person first, and then go back to others if the need arises.
2. Recall the Situation & How it Made Us Feel
Recalling what happened, and particularly how it made us feel, helps us to bring the situation into our consciousness and into our awareness. This allows us to see these experiences for what they are, which are simply things that happened to us. They are in the past, and they don’t define us. Bringing up our feelings, and making ourselves aware of them, makes it easier for us to release them.
This is the hardest step in the process of forgiveness- at least it was for me. Releasing means cutting the cord. Some people recommend visualizing the person who hurt us, thinking of the feelings they created in us, and imagining a big pair of scissors cutting away at the links between us and that person.
It may help to say or write “I am aware of how you (insert name/situation) made me feel, and I am letting you go now.” Imagine the feelings- the hurt, the pain, the resentment, the anger, the frustration, or sadness- leaving our bodies.
If this too is hard, write or say out loud, “I no longer feel (insert feeling).” But, don’t just say, “I no longer feel hurt.” Say it and mean it. Repeat the statement for every emotion that came up.
4. Replace Those Feelings
Instead of harboring negativity, replace those feeling with kindness, compassion, and love. Write, think, or say out loud all of the things that we appreciate about that person. Write at least 10 things, and every time we think about each item on the list, genuinely feel appreciation and compassion for that person. Once we are done, mentally embrace the person one more time, and lovingly let them go.
It may help to write them a letter, in which we list out these items and we describe how we are lovingly releasing them. You don’t have to send the letter. In fact, it’s ok to discard the letter after completing the exercise.
Please note that this exercise doesn’t mean that we have to physically embrace the person who hurt us. In fact, we don’t ever have to see, speak, or interact with that person again, unless we want to. But, it is not necessary. This is an exercise we are doing for ourselves to help us replace negative emotions with positive ones, so that the next time we think of the person who hurt us, it doesn’t stir up ill feelings.
5. Don’t Forget About Ourselves
This was another key learning for me. I realized that part of the forgiveness also involved forgiving myself. We beat ourselves up for allowing ourselves to be hurt. Perhaps we feel we trusted when we “shouldn’t” have, or we got close to someone when we “shouldn’t” have, or we let ourselves be weak or vulnerable. Whatever the situation, we can’t hold these negative emotions against ourselves. Every experience we have helps to shape who we are. Being kind, gentle, compassionate, and forgiving of ourselves is part of the healing. We also need to let go of negativity towards ourselves. It helps to do the above exercise with ourselves.
6. Repeat as Often as Necessary
I have realized that forgiveness does not always work in one try. Often it takes several attempts, particularly if we have been harboring negative feelings for a while, or if we feel the hurt in a deep way. Do not be surprised if the negative emotions or resentment come back at a later time. If and when that happens, repeat the exercise.
Forgiveness takes time, but we decide to embark on the journey, it can be a freeing experience that leads to much more joy and happiness.
“Forgiveness is ‘for giving.’ First to yourself and then to others.” (Neumann, 2017).