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How to Forgive, Forget and Let Go

Old 01-15-2011, 10:08 PM
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How to Forgive, Forget and Let Go

The following is from a handout I provided families with a loved one in the prison system when I was a classification counselor in the medium security prison in Jessup, MD. Part of my work was with the inmate families to help them learn the process of forgiveness to help ease the transition between incarceration and life on the outside. These prison programs seek to develop an understanding of the offenders' acts and come to terms with the eventual return to society.

Forgiveness for the families can be a difficult concept for them to grasp. While we all have a mental image of what forgiveness "should" look like when others forgive us, knowing how to forgive ourselves or someone else isn't as easy to understand.

When someone else causes us emotional harm, whether unintentional or intentional, learning to let go of this pain can be one of the most difficult transitions we go through.

The families involved tend to view forgiveness as an admission that the past is completely forgotten and life can return to normal as if nothing happened. As you can imagine, this effort at denying the behavior has a negative effect.

Carrying emotional pain, anger, anxiety, and other distressing thoughts about a situation or someone often is easier for us than beginning the forgiveness process. I often would stress working on positive thoughts. It can be easier to invest time in negative thoughts, but I needed to work to help redirect energy toward positive change. The more we concentrate our emotional energy on carrying a grudge and not forgiving someone, the more likely we are to become anxious, depressed and feel negatively about the general situation.

Since it is often easy to think of forgiveness in terms of forgetting, we need to examine how we forget. Human memory does not work like computer memory. There is no way to reformat the past. Instead, we look at situations through different lenses. Psychologists often refer to these lenses as perspective. Reality of our situation is how we view it at the time that the impression or memory was formed.

Forgetting a past hurt refers to relearning the circumstances surround the situation, reprocess it through a fresh perspective, and move toward forgiveness. When we look at the outcome of what happened, we can either become bitter and angry or view the end result as an opportunity for personal growth and change.

The first and most important step is allowing yourself permission to forgive. When we focus more on the consequences of not forgiving ourselves, we shift the focus to ourselves and how we can move beyond the past hurt and blame. The situation becomes less about the person who wronged you and more about how you are able to heal and develop a sense of peace.

Forgiving someone else first involves recognizing that forgiving someone does not give them absolution for a previous wrong. Forgiveness is often confused with absolution, since the terms are used almost interchangeably in most religions. What if the person who wronged you is not living? What if the person is someone who caused you extreme embarrassement during school 20 or 30 years ago? These people are not available to you to discuss the situation, nor do they have to be. Letting go of emotional pain does not mean that nothing happened; it means that you no longer want to be controlled by it.

Recognize that forgiveness is not denial. Whatever caused the pain was a real incident. Denying that it happened and calling it forgiveness means that it is too painful to work through the emotions. There is no timeline on forgiveness. Some steps take longer to get through, and it is acceptable to work through some of it and set it aside for a period of time. Part of forgiveness is understanding that whether or not someone takes responsibility for it (and may even demonstrate remorse), does not control whether or not you intend to continue investing emotional pain and distress each time you revisit what happened.

Understand that not everyone who forgives reconciles with the person who caused the pain. There are relationships that are toxic and even physically dangerous. While it is possible to forgive the past and move beyond it, it may, also, mean that the person who was involved no longer can play an active role in your life. If a person or situation is not safe, it may be best not to reconcile the relationship and then work on forgiveness at a time when you are emotionally healthy and physically safe.

Make a conscious decision to forgive someone. Even if they never apologize for what happened, determine within yourself that it is fine to proceed without this apology. Apologies should not be about permission to us to forgive someone. Apologies should be offered as an effort of true remorse and acknowledgement that taking personal responsibility for the situation is important. Even without that apology, make up your mind to forgive, forget, and eventually let go.

It is possible to forgive and still hold others accountable for their actions. Find a support group if you need one. Places to look include churches, non-profit organizations and even employee assistance programs.
Not everyone who apologizes is remorseful. Even if someone apologizes, he or she may only be "going through the motions" in an effort to manipulate you. Don't feel pressured to forgive before you are ready. Everyone sets their own timeline when it comes to healing from an old wound.

"Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom." Hannah Arendt

"Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were." Cherie Carter-Scott

"As long as you don't forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy rent-free space in your mind." Isabelle Holland

"Forgiveness means letting go of the past." Gerald Jampolsky

"To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness." Robert Muller

Where are you in the process of forgiving, forgetting, and letting go of your addictions to people, places and things?

Just my personal opinion. Take what you like and leave the rest.

Love and Peace,

Phoenix
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