The way most people speak of forgiveness, you’d think it was as easy as giving away lollipop’s to all the folks who’ve done you wrong.
But for anyone who has truly tackled forgiveness head-on, they know it isn’t that easy.
True forgiveness is hard work.
It is trying, it is taxing, it is… exhausting.
But it is worth it.
I have found that true forgiveness is no simple, sweet gesture—it is a harrowing act of courage. Forgiveness is not for the faint of heart, or the immature. Forgiveness requires so much wisdom, so much humility, so much strength that one can hardly expect anyone who has just been wronged to find it in their hearts to forgive another right then and there.
Forgiveness two-seconds after the fact is never true forgiveness (unless, of course, you are one of the very few truly enlightened beings currently walking and breathing on this planet).
Forgiveness takes time. And anything that takes time takes patience. And anything that takes patience is excruciating, frustrating, and often annoying.
I think one of the reasons forgiveness is so hard for so many people is because forgiveness is for PhDs of the heart. No beginning student of the heart can even begin to understand the utility of forgiveness. This crazy, almost out-of-this-world idea of forgiveness appears to be alien and foreign. It’s as confusing as Greek, as esoteric as advanced Physics.
Think about it: someone does something bad to us, makes us hurt, makes us cry, hurts our loved ones or takes them away, ruins our very livelihood, and we are supposed to just let it go? Just like that? Like it never happened? Like it didn’t matter?
If you had to explain forgiveness to someone who had never heard of forgiveness before, they would laugh in your face. At first, the act of forgiveness seems as foolhardy as a pedestrian walking straight toward oncoming traffic: on the surface it makes no sense and looks shockingly dangerous.
The truth is that forgiveness is not for everyone, and forgiveness is not for every situation.
Forgiveness will not and cannot work for those who do not understand nor respect its power.
Finally, forgiveness is far more mysterious than we give it credit for.
But even though I’ve realized that there are a lot of misconceptions concerning forgiveness, I’ve learned that they are right about one thing: in the end, if you still carry a grudge against someone who has wronged you, and this person is haunting you to the point where you have trouble moving on, then forgiveness is the only way you’ll be able to move forward.
10 Steps Toward True Forgiveness
Here are ten steps toward true forgiveness:
1. Wait To Forgive (Don’t Rush)
I have learned that, contrary to what everyone says, forgiveness is not right for every situation.
For instance, if someone else has just recently wronged you, to ask yourself to forgive this person at once is not only not reasonable and not practical, it’s also not effective. If you try to forgive someone right away for a major transgression, you will only be able to engage in what is called an act of “pseudo forgiveness.” You will act as if you have forgiven that person, but you will not mean it. You will still be upset, angry, or bitter towards them. Why? Because you are still hurting from that transgression. (For god sakes: it JUST happened!)
Forgiveness is a process, not a quick fix. If it takes you two seconds to forgive a grave injustice performed against you by someone else, then either you are the Buddha incarnate or you are lying to yourself.
Be honest. If it still hurts deeply then you are not ready to forgive. You must wait. Skipping an important step in the process of forgiveness is not the same as mastering forgiveness. There are no shortcuts to forgiveness. There is only one long, hard route toward forgiveness.
2. Process The Hurt
Anger. Bitterness. Sadness. Betrayal. Pain. Hurt. You have to confront all these feelings before you can forgive. They are not pretty, they are not sweet. Emotions are sometimes a terrible thing to have to deal with it, but deal with them you must. Just know that on the other side of all these emotions there is relief and there is a chance for you to finally and truly forgive.
3. Be Patient
The journey to true forgiveness is long, not short. You might have to wait several months, years, maybe even several decades to finally, truly forgive someone. Unfortunately, there is no official timetable for when you are supposed to forgive. It will vary depending on the person and the situation how long you must wait, and how long you must process the hurt.
Only you will know when you are ready to truly forgive—when you have finally had enough of carrying a grudge against another, when you have finally had enough of letting all that anger and bitterness eat away at you and keep you from your own success. You will simply reach a point when you’ve had enough, and you will find that forgiveness is now your only option.
4. Understand The Practicality of Forgiveness
I have come to the conclusion that everything has meaning in life: everything serves its purpose, and if someone has done me wrong, then there is something that I can learn from it; or it is an experience that is meant to help me grow, otherwise it would not have happened to me.
Forgiveness then allows me to go from holding a grudge, to recognizing that this person was in my life to help me grow—or to help me acquire wisdom.
If you can understand why forgiveness is practical then you are more likely and more eager to forgive.
5. Learn To Respect Forgiveness
Once you are ready to forgive, you cannot begin the process unless you can first respect the power of forgiveness.
After you understand the reason that forgiveness is practical and beneficial to you, this should be easier to do.
However, if you do not respect the act of forgiveness it simply will not work for you.
For instance: if you think that forgiveness is something for weak and foolish people, forgiveness will not work for you. If you think forgiveness is unnecessary for you to move on, forgiveness will not work for you.
In order to respect forgiveness, you must learn to take it seriously and realize that it is an incredible powerful tool that truly works to heal you.
6. Realize That You Deserve Better
You deserve to life a better life—a life without this grudge, this hatred, and this bitterness against this person. So much of your thought and your energy has been spend stressing and worrying and possibly scheming against this person. So much of your life has been swallowed up by this man or woman or entity that has betrayed you.
Do you really want the rest of your life to be held hostage by this betrayal? Do you really want the story of your life to be a story about holding a grudge, or carrying so much anger and resentment toward an individual or a group?
Don’t you deserve feel joy? Don’t you deserve relief from pain? Don’t you deserve to move on with your life and build a better, brighter future for you and the people who truly love and respect you? The folks in your life that have not betrayed you and have actually been there to support you every step of the way?
Of course you deserve all this. Sit with this sense of deserving as long as you can. Once you can recognize that you deserve a better life—and that the person you despise for doing you wrong continues to negatively affect your livelihood—you are ready for the last four steps of forgiveness.
7. Forgive Yourself
Forgive yourself for holding on this grudge and allowing this person to take up so much of your energy and thought on a day-to-day basis. Forgive yourself for not being perfect at forgiveness, for not forgiving “early enough,” or for not forgiving in the “right way” or whatever other issues you have with the way you think you have behaved.
8. Forgive Them
Forgive them for what they have done to you. Use your understanding of what forgiveness really means to help you forgive this individual truthfully and honestly. Then wish them well, give them your blessings, send them on their way, and let them know, in your own way, that they do not have to concern themselves about you anymore: you have let the issue go.
Release them from the prison you have put them in and you will release yourself from your prison.
Realize that your resentment and anger towards this person has kept you trapped in a jail of your own making; and forgiveness was the key that has now set you free.
9. Forgive—But Don’t Forget
True forgiveness cannot be achieved without consequences for the other person. If a grave injustice has been committed against you, the relationship you once had with that person CANNOT remain the same as it was before.
Make sure to adjust: change the fundamental nature of the relationship, set stricter limits and boundaries on the relationship, change the way you react toward future transgressions, or prepare yourself for the potential of future transgressions.
Or: simply leave the relationship for good if that means a better life for you.
Forgiveness never truly ends. We will go on forgiving others and ourselves as long as we live. But, hopefully, with my help, now you will be able to have some guidance through this complicated and lengthy process.