One of the hardest actions in the healing process is forgiveness. This may be due to the fact that many of us don’t really understand what forgiveness is. We think of it as letting the person who hurt us off the hook. We think we are saying to them, “It really doesn’t matter what you did” or “It’s ok.” Forgiveness does not mean we are saying something someone did to us is acceptable nor are we communicating in any way that the person’s hurtful actions are ok. Forgiveness does not include remaining in or reconciling the relationship, either. Sometimes that is what happens, but reconciliation is not always the wisest action. Some relationships are so toxic, as in situations of abuse, that reconciliation is not recommended. Reconciliation and forgiveness do not have to go together. Forgiveness allows us to be free.
At times, when someone hurts us, we allow that hurt to turn into bitterness. This is what happens when we don’t forgive. The bitterness doesn’t hurt the other person, it hurts us. I think of it like a suffocating weed that intertwines itself around and within us. Another visual I have for this is Spiderman. When the black suit creeps its way onto him, it gradually takes over his entire body with a bitter, hateful, strangling pulse. I have heard not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Often, the person we harbor the lack of forgiveness toward isn’t even aware of the pain we are in. Sometimes, when we see the person we think that our passive-aggressive ways will “show them.” Really, that behavior just makes us look immature and bitter. Many times, we no longer have contact with the person who hurt us. We are miserable and the person just goes on about his life without much of a thought of you and how you are hurting and being sucked down by your bitterness.
How do you find freedom? It’s not a one-step event. Forgiveness is a process. Think of someone who hurt you in some way. It is ideal if you can go through this process speaking each part aloud. If that’s not possible, say it in your head. First, say how the person hurt you. Next, validate the emotions you have associated with the hurt. It’s normal to feel anger, sadness, and even fear. Let yourself feel the emotion. If there are tears, notice what it feels like to have droplets of water trickling or streaming down your face. If you feel something inside, a tightness, clenching, or knot-like sensation, describe it to yourself. Be in tune with the emotion for as long as the wave lasts. Usually an emotional wave lasts between 5 seconds and a few minutes. If you find that 5 minutes have gone by and you’re still feeling the emotion strongly, take a deep breath while counting to five then release it while counting to five. Step outside and get some fresh air or splash some cool water on your face and then continue with the process. Tell yourself that you are finished holding onto what the other person did to you. You are choosing to be free of the bitterness that is keeping you tied to the hurtful action’s negative power. You are forgiving the other person for what she did to you. It helps to visualize letting the bitterness and unforgiveness go. I often see it rising out of my body, detaching its life-sucking tendrils from me, rising into the air like a helium balloon, and drifting completely out of sight. Take a deep breath and as you release it say, “I forgive you.” Soak in what it feels like to be released from the strangling hold of unforgiveness.
It would be so rewarding to never feel that bitterness creep in again. Unfortunately, it usually doesn’t work that way. Nope. I do not live in a delusional world rather the real one that you live in. I know it’s not that simple. You will need to go through this process each time the bitterness comes up. Be aware of it and go through the steps to let it go and forgive the other person, again and again. Eventually, you will experience a decrease in the amount of bitterness you are holding to the point that one day you will remember what the person did to you, know that it was hurtful, and bask in the freedom that you no longer hold bitterness for him. You have forgiven him. You are free.