How could I ever forgive him/her/myself for that?”
The question of how to forgive is a common one we hear from our coaching clients. When you feel mistreated, wronged or hurt by someone, it’s difficult to forgive. When that “someone” is yourself, it can be even harder. Collectively, these grudges contribute to the stories you tell yourself — your own mental playlist. These stories can become emotional burdens, weighing you down in more ways than you realize, and getting in the way of progress.
Blaming — whether yourself or others — puts you in the passenger seat, playing the role of victim. Others do unto you; you suffer. Life happens; you go along for the ride. By contrast, forgiving is empowering. You begin to operate from a position of strength rather than vulnerability. Forgiving is a gift. It breaks the cycle of negative energy that can hold you back from fulfilling careers, relationships and lives. It also reaps these benefits:
Healing — It’s impossible to move forward while ruminating over the past. When you forgive, you move the past where it belongs: in the past. It’s not that you forget, it’s that you’re not stuck there anymore. Forgiveness can be both cause and effect. Once you begin to heal, you can forgive. And once you forgive, you continue to heal.
Freedom — Resentment is a heavy burden to carry. There is an undeniable freedom in letting go of anger.
Self-Confidence — Whatever mistakes you made, whatever feelings of hurt, pain or sadness you felt, you survived. Resilience builds strength, compassion and confidence. When you forgive, you distance yourself from the influence of the person that hurt you. The challenge doesn’t define you; your resilience does.
Learning to Forgive Yourself and Others
Learning to forgive is a skill, and, like any other, the more you practice, the more natural it becomes. Forgiving isn’t so much an act as it is a process. It begins with an understanding that you are not forgetting — nor are you condoning aggressive, offensive or abusive behavior. Rather, you choose to acknowledge and accept what happened — because it did — and to move on.
You may need time to process, but processing differs from ruminating. You may learn valuable lessons, about yourself, about others and about your values. You may choose to wait if you deem this to be too soon to forgive. The most important step is to shift your mindset away from the role of victim. Regardless of the circumstances, you always remain in control over your thoughts and moods.
In the words of Viktor Frankl, “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.” In that space, there is also opportunity for forgiveness.