Work it out? Let it go, release it to the universe, dear. Forgive! Easier said than done. The very act of forgiving can be dusty, dirty work which is a bummer, because nothing frees us for living like walking unencumbered from old hurts, wounds and resentments.
“I wanted to kill him, then I wanted to kill myself,” a client I’ll call Jackie told me last week while we walked and talked on the beach. Jackie is 8 months pregnant and in rehab, working to piece together a life for her unborn child and herself. Nine weeks off prescription drugs, she recounted how she was raped by an uncle over and over while a teenager. The violation shook the family, and changed its course the moment the crime was revealed.
“Now I’m thinking about how I might forgive him as a way to let go of the trauma he caused,” she told me through tears. “I am feeling that I must let it go in some way.”
Jackie’s process sheds light on how hurts, left untouched, provide for a strong emotional bond with another. When we hold a resentment we are bound to another by an emotional link stronger than welded steel. When I work with folks in my family therapy practice who have active resentment, it inevitably bubbles to the surface and inhibits change.
Stepping through an egregious wrong and coming out the other side is imperative at some point. At the point the wrong occurs, shock sets in and self-protection takes over. With time, a point will come where one direction will hold forgiveness and the other, something different entirely.
Forgiveness dissolves the connection to the wrong, and enables freedom.
When I was about a year clean and sober, the hurts I held and harbored continued to cause me tremendous pain. I had resentments aplenty – myself chief among them. I began drinking alcohol and using drugs because they made me feel better. The costs from my addiction piled up over the years. I had to forgive others and myself.
I talked about my hurts and pain, with another human being – in my case a therapist. That opened up the pain and lessened it. There was hurt and heat that had to be relieved. Talking in a thoughtful way with a trusted friend further helped me discharge the lingering hurt. In my experience, turning it over to my understanding of a Higher Power helped too. A prayer I continue to practice today:
“For the harm I have done others, knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. I humbly ask forgiveness and seek to make it right, knowing this will set me free.
For the harm others have done to me, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive them and set them free.
For the harm I have done to myself, knowingly or unknowingly, I forgive myself and set myself free.”
The things that “have been done to me” as many frame it, provide a powerful pull back into pain. I believe forgiveness is something you do for yourself. You are not doing it for the person who has transgressed or wronged you, and you don’t even need to express forgiveness to the person in question. This doesn’t mean you have to like what he or she did, but you must emotionally release it.
When you’re ready to do that, mentally rewrite the story of what happened to you – might have happened for you?
When practicing forgiveness I put pen to paper, and reframe the story, recasting myself as something other than a victim. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim, cast yourself as a strong person who’s triumphed over a painful experience. Picturing yourself in a place of victory gives you increased confidence to deal with future disappointments.
The consequences of not forgiving and staying stuck in the muck of the unforgiven are too high. Step into practicing forgiveness with me today. You’ll feel better because of it.