Being human can be difficult. Beginning in toddlerhood and lasting for the rest of our lives, we navigate our many worlds that include other human beings and, of course, ourselves. Mistakes and transgressions abound. We get hurt, sometimes deeply. The wounds of life and love and all types of relationships can take an emotional toll.
Hanging onto them can often have an even greater impact than the initial transgressions, for as we ruminate over them, we hold on to the hurt and the hatred. When we hang onto this pain, our mental health and wellbeing suffer; we can lose sleep, joy, a sense of health and feeling well, the ability to move forward, and more.
How are we supposed to move forward? To recover peace and wellbeing and mental health? A wealth of studies indicate that one very powerful, very important thing to do and feel is to practice forgiveness. To be sure, forgiveness is a great concept in theory. In practice, it can be both dubious and difficult. After all, we’ve been hurt, sometimes with big consequences for our lives. Yes, forgiveness is healing for us, for our mental health and wellbeing, but how do we possibly do it? Below, are five ways to forgive.
- Perspective-take. We’re all human, and we’re all imperfect. Every single one of us has reasons behind our imperfect behavior. Sometimes the reasons are small, such as we’re overtired and hungry and we lash out because we’re not functioning well in the moment. Sometimes there are bigger issues behind behavior, things in our past that others may not even know about.
Consider that someone did have a driving force behind the hurtful behavior. Even if you don’t agree with the reason, and of course you don’t approve of the behavior driven by it, stepping back and taking a broader perspective (walking in someone else’s shoes) can help you find forgiveness.
- Separate yourself from the other person. This is an extension of perspective-taking. Each and every one of us operates from our own personal story, complete with backstory, characters, story line, conflict, etc. How someone treats you has more to do with their own story and who they are as a character in their story than it does with you.
- Focus on the positive — your positive. You operate from a narrative too, and you are your own protagonist. Keep track of all your strengths, all the good that you do. Make a list, write about them in a journal, create a collage; choose what suits you, just do something to make yourself notice and embrace your strengths. This takes the punch out of the other person’s words and actions, and it makes it easier to forgive and dismiss.
- Separate yourself from what was said or done. You can’t control what someone does or says, but you can control your reactions. You don’t have to agree with what was said or accept what was done. Think about what happened, and if you think the person was off base, dismiss it — let it go.
- Write it down, and pick it apart.
Sometimes, someone’s words or behavior can make us see them with anger and hurt. It’s hard to deal with when our emotions are a jumbled mess inside. When this happens, it’s time to untangle. Get the hurt and frustrations and ruminations out of your head and onto paper. List the transgressions and what they mean to you. Then, step back and take a good look. How bad are these things, really? The ones that aren’t all that bad, that won’t have many long-term consequences, can more easily be dismissed and forgiven. With the bigger ones, now that they’re out in front of you, can be addressed. Plans can be made to recover. You couldn’t control what happened, but you are in control now. When you realize that you can take charge of the situation, you gain power. And when you gain power, you can forgive and move on.
Will these five ways to forgive change what happened? Of course not. But forgiving isn’t about erasing. It’s about letting go. Forgiveness is a state of mind that is more about you than it is the other person. Hanging on and withholding forgiveness keeps the hurt alive and burning within you.