How can we sometimes easily brush off something that hurts our feelings? Like when we don’t get the invitation to a party we’d hoped to attend? While other times, when something insensitive or hurtful is said or done, we can’t seem to move on.
Somehow it cuts deeper. We feel hurt, maybe even attacked. Or maybe we hold a judgment against someone else, and it creates pain. Either way, we know deep down that we need to forgive. But how do we begin to forgive and let go?
We tend to personalize others’ actions instead of seeing things. Often, it’s just a misunderstanding, and we give unnecessary power to someone to hurt us when they are just themselves. Other times we feel triggered because we have underlying issues that need to be brought forth and healed. The hurt we feel is more about ourselves than the other person, and the situation presents an opportunity for growth and healing.
In any case, unforgiveness weighs heavily upon us. It can affect all aspects of our being. Three places we can hold unforgiveness include our minds, hearts, and spirits. Let’s discuss all three steps to forgiveness and explore ways to move beyond our limitations and into a state of peaceful forgiveness.
1. How do you forgive and let go? Start with your mind.
Think of your mind as a clear, blank canvas. Now, see a dark blob moving throughout your canvas (don’t laugh!). It constantly nags at you. Even when you’re feeling great and enjoying the moment – it’s still there – annoying you and evoking feelings of sadness and frustration.
Holding onto unforgiveness toward someone feels just like that. The unresolved feelings of anger and resentment just sit there, whether you are consciously aware of them or not.
So, how do you forgive someone in your mind? First, to get to a place of needing an apology, you must feel victimized. Let’s take a closer look at this powerful quote from The Four Agreements:
“Don’t Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their reality, their dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” – Don Miguel Ruiz.
This is one of my all-time favorite quotes on this topic because the biggest mistake we make is taking others’ behavior personally. It’s an incredible realization! Absolutely nothing others do is because of you.
So, if one of your friends looks at her phone all the time while you’re sharing a personal story – it’s not because of you. It’s just the way she is. Maybe she avoids deep conversations or is addicted to checking her phone. Either way, it’s not personal.
Somewhere along the way, you’ve misunderstood and believed that what that person said or did was because of you. You become a victim the second you react, leading to unhealthy power exchanges. And when you become a victim, you hand over your emotional well-being to someone who doesn’t even realize what they’ve done.
Choose yourself instead
Choose to love yourself instead. See your canvas and recognize this dark blob obscuring the vibrant energy everywhere else. Want your happiness above all else. Choose forgiveness – knowing that your happiness depends on it.
Consider taking a moment to see this person with whom you have a grievance waking up and starting their day. Maybe they awake thinking about their insecurities and fears. They have imagined ways of being in the world; sometimes, they unknowingly say or do hurtful things.
Try to see their innocence. They are doing their best to make the most of every day, just like you. So you might interact with them at work, and they do something again. Try to stop, and think, “This is not personal. I’m going to let it go.”
Holding onto the negative, unforgiving thoughts blocks the positive flow of good into our lives.
And, more than anything, you want a loving, trusting, happy, glowing canvas to hold the space for your amazing life. You want peace of mind so much that you’re willing to choose to let it all go.
2. Next, move to your heart.
“If you put a spoonful of salt
in a cup of water
it tastes very salty.
If you put a spoonful of salt
in a lake of fresh water,
the taste is still pure and clear.
Peace comes when our hearts are
open like the sky,
vast as the ocean.”
― Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace
Sometimes a grievance goes more profound, and your heart aches. This experience can take many forms. Maybe your friend broke a promise, or someone made a hurtful comment at that dinner party.
This next step is more challenging – because now that you know nothing is personal – you have to take it a step further and wonder why you’re taking it so very personally?
Now, this becomes harder – because it’s about you. We all have triggers – pain points from unresolved old traumas. Some of us maybe have more than others.
When we feel deeply triggered by something someone said, we must stop and look at ourselves and think, “Why am I so bothered by this? Is there a tiny part of me that believes what this person is saying is true?”
Working through some of your triggers with a counselor can help you to feel the pain you need to feel. This can lead you to understand the deeper issues underneath so that you can move forward more quickly, forgive, and let go.
Turn toward compassion
That old cliche comes to mind: hurt people hurt people.
When someone behaves in a hurtful manner, they carry frequencies of sadness and pain within them. So after reading the poem above by Jack Kornfield, we can see that the answer to this is a wide-open heart that is vast and at peace.
Our wide-open heart lets things go and recognizes how many of us walk around with sadness and pain. It sees immediately that the person with the hurtful behavior is likely suffering in some way.
If you think about it, when someone is happy within, their energy is light, joyful, and accepting. They don’t accidentally hurt others. On the contrary, their presence lifts everyone around them.
So, if possible, try finding it within yourself to feel compassion for this person.
Shifting into your heart space automatically moves you closer to forgiveness because you’re no longer telling yourself a victim story. You’ve accessed your wide-open heart that doesn’t judge or condemn.
The more we can come from the heart space – the easier it will be to love and accept others. That doesn’t mean we will want to spend more and more time with those who carelessly hurt us. But that we can move forward with ease and grace.
Years ago, I attended a workshop at Kripalu on Radical Forgiveness. The author and his wife taught us the powerful practice of forgiving everyone for everything. (Much easier said than done – but worth a try!) He said that as we forgive others, we heal ourselves.
“The beauty of Radical Forgiveness lies in the fact that it does not require us to recognize what we project. We forgive the person for what is happening at the time. In doing so, we automatically undo the projection, no matter how complicated the situation is.
The reason for this is simple: the person represents the original pain that caused us to project in the first place. As we forgive them, we clear that original pain.”
If you’re interested in diving deeper into forgiveness, I recommend this book.
3. Forgive on a spiritual level.
Forgiving spiritually can be a life-changing experience.
I’ve had a lot of personal experience with this, especially when forgiving my father.
When I was only two years old, my father walked out on my mother and me. He was an alcoholic and very immature. In any case, he wasn’t ready to be a father.
For a long time, I buried my sadness and pain. I didn’t even know the effect it was having on me.
But then, around age 40, I hit a wall. I knew I had to go through the gut-wrenching process of working through feelings of abandonment, shame, etc., that I’d been holding onto. I realized I could not move forward with a healthy relationship until I forgave my father.
Part of this process involved the realization that he was a wounded person just doing the only thing he knew how to do. His father was also an alcoholic who abandoned him. Through intense therapy, I could work through all those old feelings and stories I told myself about both of us. Eventually, forgiving him and accepting him set me free in unimaginable ways.
“In our ways, we are all broken. Out of that brokenness, we hurt others. Forgiveness is the journey we take toward healing the broken parts. It is how we become whole again.” – The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu.
Why we are here
Everyone is here to do the work they need to do. We’re given assignments in the form of people to encourage and sometimes even force us to grow into the loving, hopeful people we are capable of being.
These assignments sometimes hurt – but there is a purpose. Deep inside, we have thoughts and beliefs that need to be unearthed. These extremely challenging relationships show us where our wounds are so we can begin healing.
“Forgiving” them still goes back to the topics above: realizing that nothing is personal and turning toward compassion are the keys to moving forward. One of the most incredible benefits of forgiveness is discovering that the universe wants more for us. We can’t receive what’s next until we work through this layer.
Fully accepting and learning the lessons is the ultimate step. “True forgiveness is when you can say ‘Thank you for that experience,'” Oprah once said.
What I said when I learned how to forgive;
“So, thank you for that experience. I’m on my way to becoming more clear, more open, loving, and more compassionate for having known you. I’ve learned to trust in a universe that often challenges me and brings me to my knees but, in the end, knows me and my heart.
I’ve also learned that my happiness is my responsibility and that love is the bottom line. It knows where I need to heal and provides the right people and circumstances to open me up to the love and forgiveness that rests on the other side. I can say thank you for this, and I forgive you.”
(This article also appeared in Thrive Global and was originally published on July 13, 2021. It has been updated for thoroughness and clarity.)