Forgiveness is not usually a one time event. Its more of a gradual process like waking up. You rub your eyes, and start to see the possibilities of living without the weight of bitterness. Then you hit the snooze button and need constant wake up calls. The incredible liberation you experience when you begin to forgive yourself and others is like a fog of bitterness that lifts. You see yourself, others and life more clearly and with greater compassion. (After 45 years of practicing forgiveness personally, and 20 years helping others to find forgiveness, here are my top ten tips to forgive, let go and move on)
1. Forgiveness is About You, Not the Other Person
We tend to think of forgiveness as a gift that another person gives us, aka an apology. We wait. We stew. We wait some more. We burn up inside. The bitterness grows. It’s all very passive and powerless. In reality, forgiveness is something you can choose to do in your own time, and in your own heart, regardless of whether an apology comes or not. Its active, empowering and its got nothing to do with the other person, or with the situation. It’s all YOU!
2. Accept the Past, Take Charge of the Present
The past is past. What’s done is done. Whatever happened, happened, however devastating it was. Call it what it was, but stop expecting it to be different. You can’t change it, and wishing it were otherwise now is a futile battle with reality and memory. Battling the past just adds injury to insult The aim of forgiveness is an empowered present. The starting point to taking charge of the present is accepting the past.
3. Forgiveness Lifts a Weight that Weakens
Weight lifting generally strengthens you, and as you get stronger the weights feel lighter. But the weight of a grudge only gets heavier with time and makes you progressively weaker. Hostility is like an auto immune disease. It eats up your energy and you become susceptible to infection; where small situations add a big load to your mood. Choosing forgiveness is the miracle cure for the weight of hostility. It eases all the symptoms instantly, and increases your energy. You sparkle with joy, think more clearly, feel stronger and love life so much more.
4. Don’t Delete the Memory, Reframe the Memory
Denial is not a river in Egypt, and nor is it a pathway to forgiveness. Forgetting is a luxury that most of us don’t have. Don’t delete painful memories, reframe them and then they will eventually fade into the background. Create a frame that is full of compassion (for yourself first of all). You did the best you could, and now you know better. The old frame is guilt and shame. The new frame is strength and compassion. It doesn’t excuse bad behavior. Other people have their own karma to deal with, but don’t focus there. Choose a frame that enables you to move on with a clear mind.
5. Visualize Forgiveness
This is a powerful tool in the forgiveness process. Visualize yourself at the time of the situation you want to forgive. Surround yourself with protective energy. Create safe space to heal within. Visualize yourself in the same situation but this time you are safe and strong. This time you respond with the wisdom you now have, you say what you wished you had said and you imagine acting in a way that fills you with power. Its amazing how much of the burden this exercise lifts, as difficult as it can be to reenact the trauma.
6. Curate Your Thoughts – You’re Hardwired for Forgiveness
The brain is hardwired for forgiveness (in a more evolved part of the brain). The older parts of the brain are also well versed in protection and safety. That’s why meditation is such an effective tool for forgiveness. In meditation, you can tune in to who’s calling the shots, and train your mind to allow your highest consciousness to guide your choices, rather than allowing base survival instincts to rule your life. Meditation, or any practice that slows down your thoughts, helps you hit the pause button on the stories you create around the past, which makes forgiveness possible.
7. Practice Compassion
In your best moments, you know that everyone struggles, everyone makes mistakes and everyone needs compassion – JUST LIKE YOU. As hard as it can be, developing compassion for people who have hurt you is one of the most liberating things you can do, FOR YOU. And it won’t do the other person any harm either. There are compassion practices that guide this process, and make forgiveness so much easier. In fact, with compassion, forgiveness often becomes a mute point.
8. Forgiveness is Grace, Trust has to be Earned
You can forgive someone without trusting them, but you will never trust someone you don’t forgive. Choose forgiveness and let trust grow in time. Forgiveness is grace, which means its free and undeserved, but trust is earned. Trust comes and goes. Its gained, lost and regained over time. Dancing in the trust process is part of developing healthy boundaries in your life. Give people space to grow and get their own life in order before letting them plant roots in your life. Space is the soil where trust grows.
9. Inspired by Example – Stories of Forgiveness
Its super empowering to hear stories of people in awful situation who find a way to heal their tormentors. Remember the inspiring example of people like Corrie ten Boom, who suffered under Nazi persecution, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and the Pennsylvania Amish community whose children were shot and killed. Use these stories, as well as your own success stories, to inspire a habit of forgiveness in your life and in the world.
10. Forgiveness Contributes to the Healing of the World
Its amazing how forgiveness expands your perspective and makes you more loving to all beings, and its amazing how being loving to all beings makes you more forgiving. It’s a cycle of love that changes your life and heals the world. Make compassion a habit, and you will truly make the world a more loving place. With this mindset, forgiveness becomes much easier and you tend to have far fewer situations that even require forgiveness because you hold on to hurts less and let go more easily.