By Intisar Seraaj
Forgiveness is hard work! But it’s necessary for healing and happiness. I’m currently working on forgiving four people that I care about. So, this advice is for everyone, including me. Whether you’re a foster or adoptive parent, case manager or social worker, or a current or former foster or adopted youth, we all need to forgive and to be forgiven. We’re human; We’re prone to make mistakes and bound to get hurt and to hurt others. It’s OK. You’ve heard the phrase “life goes on,” but here’s how we can be happy and healed while life continues.
I spoke with Crystal Norris, a clinical supervisor and therapist for Seraaj Family Homes, Inc. about forgiveness and how it can be accomplished. She said when forgiving, “it doesn’t matter about the person who hurt you because you’re forgiving that person for your own peace of mind.” You’re saying to yourself, “I’m not going to let [what they did to me] make me bitter or define my life,” Norris said. Her tips for achieving this is to first learn the importance of forgiveness, next either understand that it’s not your fault but it did happen or understand the part that you played in the situation, then find a way to empathize and understand the other party, and lastly accept what happened and move on.
After further research and consulting the websites for Psychology Today, Oprah Winfrey (host of the inspiration series “Super Soul Sunday”), and alternative-medicine guru Deepak Chopra, here are some steps to finding forgiveness for yourself.
Allow yourself to feel.
No matter if you’re angry, disgusted, sad, or feeling any other negative emotion, allow yourself to feel it. Don’t keep it bottled up. Write it down in a journal, write a letter (that you don’t have to send), or talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Be sure not to withdraw or isolate yourself because it’s easier to get through things with a community of people who care about you. Reach out if you need help, whether that’s to a friend, family member, or a therapist. And don’t apologize for your feelings.
- Analyze your feelings.
“You can only change what you are aware of.” What’s causing you to hold on to your anger, hurt, and resentment? What is it about that situation that wasn’t OK with you and what are your reasons for not forgiving? Did you play a role in the way it unfolded? Don’t blame yourself but take responsibility where necessary. Recognize that sometimes it’s not the action, deed, or situation that’s still causing you distress, it’s the expectations you had and the power you gave that person. “Give up expecting things from other people and from your life that they don’t choose to give you.”
- Understand the effects.
Remember that forgiveness isn’t the act of condoning, it’s an act of freeing yourself from negativity and allowing yourself peace. Be honest with yourself: How motivated you are to forgive? List the benefits of forgiving and moving on? How could it negatively affect you (and maybe even those around you) if you don’t forgive and move on?
- Manage your stress.
Do things that bring you peace: prayer, meditation and deep breathing, spa treatments, exercise, or even imagining enacting vengeance—but don’t act on it. One thing that can help also is reminding yourself of everything you’re grateful for in your life.
- Find your personal power.
Seek out new ways to get your needs, desires, and goals met rather than the situation that hurt you. “Remember that a life well-lived is your best revenge.” Or as Beyoncé said, “the best revenge is your paper.” Focusing on your hurt feelings gives the person who caused you pain power over you. Instead, look for the love, beauty, and compassion already in existence surrounding you.
I hope these tips are as helpful to you as they were for me. But be aware that we can all slip back into anger and reverse the hard work we’ve done finding forgiveness. That’s OK. Be gentle with yourself and work the process again until you’ve forgiven again. Best wishes on your healing journey.