It’s for You, Not Them: Forgive to Help Yourself Heal

Two outstretched hands shown at sunset. One hand is full of small flowers and other hand reaches to choose oneHealing emotional wounds is a process of self-exploration, one that can provide endless benefits no matter what stage of life you are in. Resentment and self-loathing can be scarring if allowed to fester. Forgiveness is the best antidote for this toxicity, whether it’s asking someone to forgive you, forgiving someone who has hurt you, or forgiving yourself.

Before you get started on this healing journey, it’s important to know that forgiveness isn’t the same thing as wiping the slate clean. “Forgive” and “forget” are not helpful together. In order to move forward, you must recognize the truth of what happened. When you acknowledge what happened and accept that you can’t change the past, you find the motivation to do something of value for yourself: forgive and heal.

Expressing your forgiveness directly to the person who hurt you isn’t always necessary or possible. Forgiving someone is for your benefit, not theirs. The process of forgiveness and the release of thoughts and feelings that have kept you tied to the past can be done without the other person’s participation. Forgiveness allows you to let go of the regrets or resentments that eat up your valuable energy.

Before you can forgive, it’s important to fully experience and let out the feelings tied to the emotional wound—anger, sadness, shame, fear, etc. Sometimes, writing a letter expressing how you feel can help you let go of negative emotions. You don’t have to mail the letter. Burning it may feel better.

Forgiving yourself can be more difficult than forgiving someone else. It requires acknowledging what you did and recognizing the damage it did to yourself or others. For forgiveness to work, you have to recognize that you made a mistake—or many of them—and understand that if you knew then what you know now, you would have done things differently.

As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Situations, and the appropriate responses to them, are always clearer when looking back. The best you can do is accept what happened and make the best of the situation you’re in now. Mindfulness can be useful in exploring why you did what you did. Gratitude can also be helpful because it allows you to move toward change. Atonement, making amends to the person you hurt or their symbolic representative, is a powerful way of moving toward self-forgiveness.

If you take a realistic attitude about the weaknesses and imperfections of human beings, forgiving yourself and others may feel more comfortable. People make mistakes. We operate based on our own experiences and worldviews. We are all a mess of emotions and genetics.

If you take a realistic attitude about the weaknesses and imperfections of human beings, forgiving yourself and others may feel more comfortable. People make mistakes. We operate based on our own experiences and worldviews. We are all a mess of emotions and genetics.

When considering whether to forgive someone, it can be helpful to consider their life experiences. This doesn’t mean excusing them for what they did. But the more you know about the forces that led to someone’s choices and actions toward you, the more clearly you can see the inherent imperfection of being human.

For example, let’s say your father left your family when you were young, and you just received a letter from him asking for your forgiveness. Would knowing the forces that drove his actions—his abandonment by his own father, his young age when he had you, his alcoholism—excuse his action? No, but it might make it easier to see his humanness and forgive him. Compassion and boundaries are not mutually exclusive, either. You can say both “I forgive you” and “I don’t want you in my life.”

To forgive yourself and others, try to soften your stance on being human and understand that people are fallible. But also recognize that when people know better, they tend to do better. The self-exploration that leads to healing contains a lot of learning to know better.

Letting go of resentments and regrets—in other words, practicing forgiveness— requires learning from and finding meaning in your emotional wounds. You can transcend suffering by making meaning out of your hurt and learning what it has to teach you. You can make yourself better for having endured it, but first you must go through it. You have to accept, experience, process, and release to heal and come out stronger. As author Haruki Murakami tells us, “When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

If you’re struggling with forgiveness, contact a compassionate therapist who can help.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT, therapist in Santa Monica, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • sasha

    sasha

    July 12th, 2018 at 7:03 PM

    Thank you for this post. Its very inspiring.

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