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Forgiveness

"The important thing to remember when it comes to forgiving is that forgiveness doesn't make the other person right; it makes you free." --Stormie Omartian

How do we know if we need to forgive someone, something, or even ourselves? We know because we feel a gnawing sadness inside of us, although we may not know the cause.

The interesting thing about choosing not to forgive, is that it hurts us more than anyone else. Your inability to forgive anything or anyone in your world may hurt someone else a bit, but I guarantee it hurts you and your world a hundred times more.

As a visual example, think of two goal posts set twenty-feet apart. A more content and peaceful life rests just after the goal posts - all you have to-do is run through the twenty-foot space, blindfolded and voila, you will be closer to the life you want. It will be a little tough, granted your are blindfolded - but there is a big enough area where you should be able to break through to the other side with a few attempts. Unforgiveness is like an eighteen-foot wall. Place that between your goal posts and now try running toward that other side. Maybe you'll get through. Most likely, you'll get some bad bruises, or maybe a broken bone, and probably give up, believing that there really isn't a space - just a brick wall. Like a wall, unforgiveness blocks our path.

Forgiveness Brings Freedom

An unforgiving nature is very costly in our lives. We may find ourselves attaching to other people in unhealthy ways, punishing other people, or losing hope in the world and in our peers.

The first step in forgiveness is to understand all the elements of the incident we are trying to forgive. We may be forgiving God, a person who harmed or hurt us, or a person who has harmed or hurt someone we love. We may be forgiving our parents, our society, our world, or ourselves. Forgiveness does not mean that we are condoning hurtful actions. It doesn't mean that we accept inappropriate actions of others. Forgiveness does not mean that we forget how much we hurt. Forgiveness simply means that we acknowledge the deep pain we feel, but choose to move past that pain. We forgive those who contributed to our pain and let their actions become part of our past. We let go.

We can dislike what someone has done to us, but we can still forgive them and allow them to be someone new, instead of freeze-framing them in that hurtful place.

Sometimes looking at this in a different perspective can be extremely helpful. Think back and recall a time when you did something hurtful to someone. Perhaps you said something "off the cuff " that hurt someone's feelings, or perhaps you did something you were ashamed about. Take a few moments to recollect the most vivid example that you can. Now think through the series of events that led up to your action. You did something hurtful and how did the other person respond? Did they eventually forgive you? What would happen if they hadn't? What would happen if the person had stayed angry at you for that action? You made a mistake, a bad decision, or didn't think before acting, and if they didn't forgive you, they would never be able to see you how you are now. Unforgiveness chains people to their painful actions and pasts. We freeze that painful time. Can you see how that person would be missing all you could offer? Or how that person could become so focused on the pain you caused, that they would miss the other good happening around them?

A classic example is the spiteful lover. You have probably met someone like this or have seen a likeness depicted in a movie. They have been "wronged" somehow in a relationship and have become adamant that the opposite sex is "not worthy of their time." Instead of realizing they had a painful experience, acknowledging it and moving on, they continually focus on their pain. Meanwhile, one thousand perfect matches could walk right by and they would never know. They are too busy focusing on life's injustices. Many friendships end this way. There is some fight or spat between close friends or neighbors, and instead of practicing forgiveness, people practice grudge-holding. Eventually, hearts grow bitter and less trusting.

At one point in my life, I was so concerned with how others saw me. I wanted to make sure everyone had the actual facts on which to base their thoughts and opinions. If someone held what I perceived to be an unfair view, I would go to great lengths to get my own "evidence" into their hands or to defend myself. I cannot tell you how exhausting this was. Liberation came when I made the decision to truly "let go." I began to focus only on blessing others - no matter what they thought of me. I quit trying to "present my case" and instead began to "live my life." Everyday I set out to live the best life, and do the best work I am capable of doing. I will let that action speak for itself.

Forgiveness means to "give as before." To quote John Bradshaw from his book The Family, "It means that we give up resentments and release the energy that has kept us in bondage."

Think about an event where you have not forgiven someone. Write down what emotions you feel when you recall that event. Now think back to a time before that event happened. Did you feel these emotions? You probably did not. When you forgive, you give yourself the freedom to let go of the hurtful emotions and enjoy the positive that can be found. When there aren't any positives to be found, forgiveness gives us permission to let go, move forward and grow.

Even when we have been able to forgive those who have hurt us, we often cannot forgive ourselves. Many of us unfairly hold ourselves prisoner to unrealistic standards that we would never expect of another person. Patricia Commins writes, "self-love is the only way to move forward. It is the only cure for the wounds of the soul, the only escape route from the negative patterns of the past."

Self-Forgiveness Reality Check Exercise

Recall an incident for which you have not forgiven yourself. Write about the incident in your journal. Now close your eyes. Imagine a morning where you are sitting in your kitchen with a cup of coffee one morning when a dear friend knocks at your door. Your friend is trying to hold back her tears, but you know she has been crying from her tear-stained face. You invite her in and she crumbles into the chair across from you. When you ask what is wrong, she bursts into tears, mumbling her story of sadness through strained breath. Imagine that her story of sadness is the same or parallel to the event recorded in your journal. Visualize yourself advising your friend. What do you say? Do you make her feel worse, by amplifying her mistake? Do you lecture her, implying she should hold herself hostage to her mistake and let it cause unhappiness throughout her life? Or do you take a different tactic? Take a moment to thoroughly visualize your response, and then write about it in your journal.

A true friend would not let another friend suffer indefinitely - even for the worst of actions. Instead, a true friend would suggest accountability while encouraging self-forgiveness and forward movement. Try offering yourself that same wisdom.

Try another quick visualization. This time imagine it is you who is crying at the table. Take the same attitude with which you responded to your friend, and apply it to your situation. Write out the council you receive in your journal. Try this exercise whenever you feel you are being unforgiving of yourself.

Simple Self-Love Exercise

For those of us who have not practiced self-love, it can be a difficult concept to grasp. Begin with a simple gesture of self-directed love. Perhaps it is five minutes of uninterrupted reading, or a hot bubble bath, or a walk in nature, or meeting a friend for a cup of coffee. It can be anything that validates the importance of treating yourself well. Create a list in your journal of simple ways you can express self-love. Affirm your value daily by practicing one of these exercises.

Brook Noel is the author of The Change Your Life Challenge: A 70 Day Life Makeover Program for Women. Her unique program has helped thousands of women "makeover" all aspects of their lives. Learn more at http://www.changeyourlifechallenge.com

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