what it takes to offer true forgiveness
In relationships, many of us have been hurt. And yet, we decided to stay in that relationship, choosing to forgive our partner, parent, or friend. Or, on the contrary, we have hurt someone and asked for their forgiveness. The idea of forgiveness is a recurring subject in my coaching sessions. It’s one that I enjoy helping people with because of the level of release and clarity I see them experiencing.
Putting issues behind us and moving forward is an essential and healthy part of life. It is necessary to be clear on the process of true forgiveness so that you can feel free in your relationships.
Levels of Forgiveness
Firstly, it is important to know the difference between surface-level forgiveness and true forgiveness.
Typically, when we speak of forgiveness, there has been some sort of injury, failure, disappointment, betrayal, or in short– suffering. In most cases, the result is a strong emotional charge. What I see most often is that people’s healing will take place mainly in the head and not the heart. We are intellectual beings, and understanding forgiveness versus feeling a sensation of pardon is entirely different. When forgiveness remains a rational action, it doesn’t allow the person to feel a deep sense of relief.
Surface level forgiveness is a mere attempt to rationalize pain, rather than giving it a constructive voice. It does not enable someone to entirely end their suffering.
We often assume that a rational way of approaching forgiveness will be sufficient; essentially, we talk the heart out of its feelings. However, mind efforts alone cannot accomplish the goal of true forgiveness.
For example, If I think of my own story, I had for a long time tried to rationalize my childhood pain and it was not fully working for me. My father was not involved in my childhood, he did not show any real interest in my schoolwork or what was going on in my child’s life. I saw how my relationship with him was at the core of some of my self-esteem issues. However, I knew my dad was a good person, and he did the best he could at that time. He was a young, inexperienced man, so I thought I had to forgive him. But I kept feeling similar emotions throughout my life–fear of abandonment, and it then became clear that more in-depth personal work was needed for me to completely let go of that fear, and fully forgive my father for not raising me.
Even though we can comprehend such behavior as an adult, as a child, we feel disappointed and hurt. Internally, on an emotional level, the inner child is still affected by it. These feelings are not susceptible to basic logic.
At best, reasoning about it, for the most part, will only give you relief on a superficial level. This “all in the head” traditional way to look at forgiveness results in feelings of unaddressed sadness and resentment. As a result, you may experience emotional breakdowns in the form of low self-esteem, uncontrollable anger, depression, or even diseases. So, intellectually understanding what happened to the other person or to you is insufficient.
Would it then be more comfortable to erase the past and never think about what happened? To simply “move on?”
It is indeed a very tempting thought, to erase the past (as if that were possible!) and start fresh again. Wouldn’t that be much more constructive than rehashing our wounds?
Again, this is a mental process that sounds appealing but does not lead to complete relief. It is illusory to believe that trying to forget the past would bring real comfort. Because of course: how can we truly forgive something if we pretend that it never happened?
The heart weakens if we do not address its wounds. When the heart is hurt, and we leave the wounds unattended, it creates space for resentment, bitterness, and anger. We retreat into our internal dialogue and lose the intimate, deep connection to our partner. For the most part, this behavior is unconscious.
So then, what does TRUE forgiveness looks like?
There are a few steps to true forgiveness, and it is essential to take the time to honor these steps. Don’t diminish or deny the harm being done to you, and start a process that will give you back to the possibility to be fully healed.
1. Removing the Bandage
As mentioned above, your intellectual attempt to heal your wound is like covering it with a band-aid. “Head forgiveness” is nothing more than suppressing feelings. What is required in a constructive forgiveness process is to get re-connected emotionally with your inner child. You must find your younger self and connect him/her with your desire to forgive.
If you bypass your earlier victimized self, you will never allow that inner child to fully heal. As a result, you will repeatedly find yourself experiencing similar feelings in your current life. You will repeat events like the one you had as a child; you will unconsciously use your existing relationships as a way to maintain yourself in familiar sensations.
2. Tending to Our Inner Child
The most important part of the forgiveness process is allowing your past self to let go of anger and resentment. To do that, you will need to reassure the inner child that his/her feelings were real and justified and is recognized for having been hurt. That from their child’s point of view, these feelings were extremely valid, and that, indeed, he/she didn’t deserve this treatment. Then comes the understanding that forgiving is not only related to accepting the “rightfulness” of what happened. What follows is a sincere reconciliation, not with the other person, but actually between the two sides of you—the one that wanted nothing but love and connection and the one that got hurt.
Allowing the inner child to “feel the feelings” that were pushed down will enable that part of you to move out of the duality of loving and hating at the same time. Allowing these feelings to surface permits the inner child to have a say about the situation.
When anyone hurts you, you can feel remorse and rage. These feelings are not incorrect, but a natural reaction to an offense. Identify how the actions or non-actions made you feel and then convey it. Write down how you feel when it happened at the time, and how you’ve felt since then. Writing a letter often helps (this letter is usually not to be sent, but is for working through your own thoughts and feelings).
When the young self honors and recognizes his/her feelings, they can be processed and released. You’ll reassure your inner child that all you want to do is to let go of negative emotions, so they no longer impede your ability to live in peace.
My work’s core is to compassionately honor the inner child and let my clients fully express their feelings. Only then, they see that very little has to do with the person who inflicted the hurt; it’s mainly about their inadequacy and deficiencies in being the best version of themselves.
3. Moving Forward with True Forgiveness
When we reconcile the upset child with its more evolved adult version, we can truly forgive and move on. Forgiveness comes from the bottom of our hearts—not from our heads. Through that process, an impressive shift can happen. We enable ourselves to let go of the resentment or sadness unconsciously hidden within the adult self.
You can for example write down a list of all things that happened to you as a child, and how you felt when they were happening. If it was just a one-time event, write it down as well. Take this piece of paper and do something with it that will represent you having sufficiently paid your debt to it. Burn it, bury it, or rip it off. It will provide a great sense of peace and calmness within you.
So, are you ready to forgive the people in your life who have harmed you?
Unless you learn to sincerely forgive, you may never be able to experience what does true forgiveness looks like. This would rob you of the greatest gift you could give yourself– the opportunity to create meaningful relationships with people who you can now love freely. In the end, what does it mean to truly forgive someone?
Forgiveness is a choice. The choice to forgive is courageous, and with forgiveness comes a sense of inner calm and well-being. Making peace of what has been done to you takes you further on the path of spiritual consciousness. This is really nothing less than finally experiencing love, joy, and deep feelings of gratitude.
For inspiration on radical forgiveness – sophieparienti.com/coaching