Life may not be perfect, but you can learn to suffer less. You can learn to forgive, and you can learn to heal. -Fred Luskin-
For many survivors, the thought of forgiveness seems impossible. They may even feel angry if it is suggested, which is an understandable reaction to the idea of forgiving someone who did so much damage.
However, forgiveness is an important concept for survivors to think about and work through as they continue along their healing journey. Forgiveness is for your well-being.
But what is forgiveness and what is not forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not forgetting or minimizing what happened; it isn’t rationalizing, excusing, or denying your past. And most importantly, it isn’t mandatory resolution with the perpetrator.
It is realizing you have a choice about what kind of relationship, if any, you will have with the perpetrator; it is acknowledging your past and letting go of hate and revenge; it is changing your present and your future for a more positive hopeful world. It will help you gain back power, control, and choice in your life.
In addition to freeing your mental space, forgiveness also has physical benefits. It boosts your immune system, lowers blood pressure, improves your relationships, and increases feelings of kindness and connectedness. *
Here are three steps to make forgiveness possible:
1. Know that your feelings are about what happened.
Take time to fully acknowledge your feelings of loss, harm, and grief. Acknowledging your feelings is more than just recognizing that the abuse happened and there’s nothing you can do about it. This is moving beyond the abuse and knowing that you are ready to move forward on your healing journey and giving yourself a second chance at living your life more fully. To know what you’re forgiving, you need to know what you feel.
2. Be clear about the action that wronged you.
Practice mindfulness and grounding techniques to help you safely experience this. Know that what you experienced was unacceptable behavior and state in clear language to yourself that it was not okay. In this way you can make it clear to yourself what you are forgiving and why. This will also make it clear to yourself what behavior you won’t accept in the future.
3. Share your experience with one or two trusted people.
Sharing your pain may help you cope with what happened. Vocalizing your feelings can make them clearer. It also allows others to provide you with support. Consider talking to a therapist if you don’t feel ready to talk to friends or family yet. Talking to someone can benefit you in many ways, but in order to find forgiveness it may help to talk it through.
Suffering is a part of life. Forgiveness can lessen your suffering. It allows you to let go of the past and live more fully in the present while planning for a better future. When you forgive you are able to stop focusing on the anger that you have for the perpetrator or others and allow better things to occupy your thoughts. And while you’re forgiving, don’t forget to forgive yourself for coping along the way with unhealthy behaviors or poor choices. You’re doing your best and you should get credit for it.
*Luskin, Fred (2003). Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness. New York, NY: HarperOne.