Dear Neil: Our English class would be deeply indebted to you if would tell us exactly how to forgive those who have hurt us. Rarely do we receive pointers as to how to forgive.
Seeking in London, Ontario
Dear Seeking: The decision to forgive arises out of the desire for us to be at peace with ourselves and with others, and there isn’t a sure fire way to do it. Rather, forgiveness is a multi-step process which normally happens in increments over time, and which involves a decision to let go of our hurt and resentment. To do this you have to examine why you may be holding forgiveness back. Does some part of you object to forgiving the other person, so that you might still hold the offense over his/her head, or because you want retribution, or because you can’t get beyond the memory?
Forgiving someone means to pardon them while giving up your resentment, and letting go of your urge to punish. We don’t have to know precisely how to forgive in order to take the first steps in doing so. It may help you to look at what your resentment is about concerning what occurred; what hurt you; and what you’re afraid of. You could explore how the event has shaped or changed you, and what you’ve learned from the whole experience, as well as why you’ve been unwilling to let go of your grievance up till now. You might also look at what you want in your life from this moment onward—from that person or from other people in your life—especially from people close to you.
It will also be useful—and maybe essential—for you to look at what you are willing to forgive yourself for. Did you contribute in any way to what happened? One reason people have a hard time forgiving others is because they are unable to forgive themselves.
Forgiveness means choosing to open to all that is in our lives, including the painful things. Like healing any other wound, forgiving someone usually takes time. If you want to forgive, redirect your attention to what creates satisfaction and happiness in your life, and reduce the investment you have in staying hurt, angry or vengeful. You thus choose to be forgiving not for someone else, but for yourself. It’s for your well-being and peace of mind.