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“Forgiveness is the demonstration that you are the light of the world. Through your forgiveness does the truth about your self return to your memory.” – Course in Miracles
We’ve all seen the power of forgiving someone else, yet many of us struggle with guilt, blame and the inability to forgive ourselves. Whether it’s feeling responsible for a death or something much simpler, if you can’t forgive yourself, you can’t move on.
For your own good, it is essential to start the healing process of forgiveness. You may struggle to forgive yourself for hurting others, or for being manipulative, or for mistreating yourself with negative self-talk or criticism. Whatever happened, healing can start where you’re at right now.
Choosing to not forgive is like wearing dark glasses that distort everything you see, especially your perception of others who don’t see life the same way. Unforgiveness is a dense and heavy burden that absolutely needs to be dealt with if you wish to experience the joys of life. Its circular dynamic can keep you stuck for life: when you can’t forgive yourself you’re unable to forgive others, and when you can’t forgive others, you’re unable to forgive yourself.
Choosing forgiveness changes everything. It lightens your emotional load and eases your path.
Sometimes forgiveness is withheld because we judge another as unworthy of it. However, to forgive has nothing to do with worthiness—yours or another’s. The issue is whether you wish to hold onto the heavy baggage of old grudges and perceived wrongs which will ultimately damage you. Research studies have shown the effectiveness of forgiveness to support the healing journey of patients with life-threatening illnesses.
Ultimately, practicing forgiveness is essential if you don’t want to be miserable for the rest of your life. You alone have the power to remove the roadblocks to living your best life and choosing to forgive is an important one. Here are five steps to help you master forgiveness:
- Reopen your heart and mind. When faced with terrible wrongs, betrayal or loss, it is natural for your heart and mind to slam shut in self-protection. Opening up again is essential for healing, and it can start with the simple choice: “I am willing to consider that there is another way forward.”
- Choose to love yourself, no matter what happened. Guilt is a catch-all emotion we use to cover everything negative or bad. It is a dense vortex that can pull us into the ultimate betrayal: that of abandoning ourselves. To heal, it is essential for us to love and embrace ourselves.
- Demystify your guilt. There is a common misconception that the depth of our grief, pain or guilt reflects the level of love we have for the person or situation we’ve lost. That misconception can keep us trapped in pseudo guilt, afraid to let go. It’s not a betrayal of your past love or loss to recognize the destructiveness of unprocessed guilt and to deal with it in a different way.
- Give yourself permission to heal. Part of forgiving yourself is understanding that you don’t need to be punished or to punish yourself for the past. Give yourself permission to let go of the past and its grief, loss, wrongdoing and pain. Only by healing our woundedness, can we offer pure love and blessing to others.
- Actively create new opportunities. If you’ve been unable to forgive yourself, you may have been holding yourself to unrealistic expectations or perfectionism. Healing comes when we forgive ourselves, learn from our experiences and get back into life to start again. Start with small steps and stay present to new opportunities instead of hearkening back to the past.
Because forgiveness is not an easy discipline to master, there have been many tools developed throughout history to assist in the process. Here are a few that you may find helpful:
Meditation and Reflection
Meditation and reflection bring us back to the present, from where we can let go of the past and own the present moment. This process of reflective self-awareness allows us to observe our feelings without resistance. This is the first step in the healing process. When first beginning to meditate, it can be helpful to commit for a period of, say, three months. During meditation, you can allow feelings to surface. When they do, simple breathe through the sensations, wherever they show up – and you will discover that you are not your feelings; your true nature is limitless consciousness observing the feelings.
Mantras and Affirmations
This practice helps to change habitual thought patterns. You can use a chant or mantra from a spiritual tradition, or you can create your own to repeat to yourself throughout each day. A simple example could be: “I forgive myself and everyone else.” This may feel awkward at first, but over time, it will start to shift entrenched thought patterns.
Recording your thoughts in a journal can be a valuable way of releasing emotions. Journaling is a safe place to acknowledge different emotions, explore their causes, understand your responses and discover ways to eliminate triggers while focusing on more helpful emotions.
In twelve-step groups making amends is an important step in finding freedom and healing. True forgiveness comes from surrender to a Higher Power – whether you bring an offering of forgiveness, service or sacrifice for atonement. You can create your own amendment offering through philanthropy, activism, volunteerism or some other form of service that requires a gifting of your time, money or effort. You may not be able to make amends with someone who hurt you because they are no longer around, but you can pay it forward in service to others. The key is to consciously make that sacrifice in light of your desire for forgiveness.
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