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Forgiveness: 3 Steps to Help Learn to Let Go

Have you ever forgotten to take your dog for a walk or play fetch and still find that you get greeted daily with tail wags and kisses? It’s easy for animals to forgive as they just live in the moment and forget the bad. But for us? Oh no. We remember every detail that someone has done to wrong us. We don’t forget. Even times when we want to forget and move on, many find it difficult to do so. Forgiveness is hard, especially when we feel hurt, betrayed, or wronged by someone. The act of forgiveness is one of the most challenging and difficult things that we can do as human beings.

Why is it important to let go? Because holding onto anger and resentment can be burdensome. It can cause us stress, be emotionally overwhelming and often cause negative physical responses due to being continually angry. It ends up hurting you way more than the person whom you are angry with. Forgiveness is important and healthy. We all may need a different amount of time to come to the stage of forgiveness, however. Some, may be able to forgive quickly, while others may need to feel angry and hurt and forgive at a later date, and that’s okay too. The point is, forgiveness is a healthy release of emotion that we should work toward doing, but in our own time. 

Steps to Forgiveness:

1. Engage in empathy

This can be a very difficult task when you feel hurt by someone. It’s so challenging to put yourself in their shoes, practice empathy and imagine how and why they could hurt you. This is an important step though. There is much research that points to empathy being a key component in learning to forgive. The act of empathy can actually help lessen our own anger by looking at the situation from someone else’s point of view and help toward the process of healing. If we have a better understanding for why a spouse cheated or a friend lied to us or someone broke into our home, we can learn to forgive. This does not mean that we will forget or that we are saying this bad action is okay. It just means that we are trying to understand a different perspective that will help us in our healing. It may sound impossible, but when you sit and analyze for a moment why someone did something you consider terrible, you may learn that action was about them, and not you. Maybe it was due to their insecurities, a power and control issue, their addiction or mental illness, etc. Again, these things do not make it okay, but it can certainly give you a different perspective. With this understanding, there is hope to release the burdensome anger.

2. Practice gratitude

One activity to try when working on forgiveness is to practice gratitude. Think of the person who has hurt you, the things they have done wrong and things you feel resentful about. This will probably be very easy to do. Now think about things you feel grateful to them for. If it was a stranger, think of things about the situation that you can be grateful for or something that you learned from it. Again, this can be challenging and, at first, may seem. For many, it may seem impossible to think of something positive in a terrible situation, but perhaps the situation led you closer to others who are positive in your life, or perhaps it made you stronger, or maybe it just opened your eyes to see another person differently. The point here is to have you step out of a place of complete and utter consumption with anger and see a different perspective. 

3. Ceremonial act of letting go

The last exercise is to engage in a ceremonial act of forgiveness. Another crucial step in your healing is the actual act of letting go, which can be quite powerful and gratifying. It could include writing down all of your resentments and anger toward someone and burning that piece of paper, burying it in the dirt, or sending it off with a balloon. You could write the person a letter explaining how terrible their actions made you feel and never send it by either tearing it up or burning it. Now, it’s important to remember that you may be in a situation in which you need to actually discuss your hurt and pain with another person and that may be very important for you healing, but this activity is for you personally. This is your own personal healing and something for you to do without having to prepare to deal with another person. The point of this step is that you engage in a meaningful activity that allows you to work toward closure and letting go.

Now that you’ve gone through the process of forgiveness, you can let go and move forward with the important things in your life, without anger weighing heavily on your shoulders.

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Blog written by: Dr. Shelley Sommerfeldt, Clinical Psychologist, Relationship Coach & Founder of the Loving Roots Project, an online wellness practice specializing in personal growth, mental wellness, & relationship betterment.

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