“Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” ~ Buddha
Do you struggle to let go past hurts?
Would you like to be free of the burdens of the past but simply don’t know how to go about it?
Extending forgiveness is one of the hardest things we can do, but it is absolutely essential for spiritual growth and well-being.
Probably the biggest obstacles to forgiving are the unconscious myths we hold about the process of forgiveness. Learning to forgive inevitably involves exposing and debunking these myths.
If you’re struggling to forgive, one or more of the following commonly held myths may be holding you back:
1. The offender must ask for forgiveness first
Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine you were suffering from a debilitating migraine but had medication that would relieve your suffering. Would you wait for another person to give you permission to take your medication or would you just take it when you needed to?
The answer here may seem obvious but when we refuse to forgive because the offender has not asked for forgiveness, we’re basically waiting for their permission to relieve our own suffering.
Though forgiveness may involve pardoning a person who acknowledges their wrongdoing, the essence of forgiveness is about healing our own pain. It is only by addressing our own pain that we are then able to offer a sincere pardon.
2. Forgiveness means offering a free pass
Sometimes we withhold forgiveness in an attempt to punish someone who’s hurt us. But as the popular saying goes, “resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Forgiveness has nothing to do with condoning or accepting the actions of another person. It means choosing to let go of any internal resentment such actions may have precipitated.
Letting go, by the way, does not mean that you give up your right to seek reparations in appropriate circumstances—as long as you understand that seeking justice is not a precondition for letting go.
3. Forgiveness is about being reconciled with another person
While letting go of hurts may pave the way for repairing broken relationships, this is not always possible. Some mistakenly believe that if they’re unable to be reconciled with another person, either because the person is unwilling to participate or because they have died, they’re doomed to the prison of resentment, bitterness, or self-loathing.
In his book Forgiven and Forgiving, Rev. William Countryman writes:
“Forgiveness means, among other things, that we’ve recognized the ultimate impossibility of putting the past fully ‘right.’”
The process of forgiveness means recognizing that, even in cases where broken relationships are repaired, things will never quite be the same as they were before the breach. This reality is ultimately freeing because it allows us to let go rather than wait for the right conditions to appear before forgiving others or ourselves.
4. Forgiveness is a one-time process
When we treat forgiveness like it’s a magical potion, we can feel disappointed, even betrayed when we still experience feelings of anger and resentment after we’ve consciously decided to forgive.
Making a conscious choice to forgive is not the end of a one-time process, but the beginning of a journey that can have many emotional twists and turns. The decision to forgive is really a commitment to remaining present to these emotions. As hurts resurface, a forgiveness mindset will allow you to let go the emotion in that moment—and to let it go in as many moments at it will take to be healed of the underlying hurt.
If you’re committed to playing the long game, you’ll find that it becomes easier to let go as time goes on.
5. Forgiveness will help you forget the past
The great value of forgiveness is not that it will help you forget the past—for this is neither virtuous nor possible—but to help you let go the negative feelings associated with these memories.
This process transforms our memories from nightmares into powerful motivators for reducing future suffering in yourself and others. Remembering your past will allow you to have greater empathy for others going through similar pain.
And your witness about how forgiving allowed you to carry on despite the pain will be a source of hope for those who need it most.
Drop the Myths and Free Yourself
There’s no question that learning to forgive is hard.
But the process can be made easier by dropping the myths you may be carrying about what it means to forgive.
Because life’s too short to waste away in a prison of your own making.
Forgiveness will give you the keys to free yourself for good.
Editor’s Note: Cylon has generously offered to give five readers free access to the Kindle version of his book Self-Love: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally. With this book, you’ll learn how to overcome negative thinking, grow your confidence, and transform your life.
To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment below. You don’t need to write anything specific—“count me in for the giveaway!” is sufficient. You can enter until….28th October.
Cylon is a spiritual chaplain, musician, devoted husband, busy dad of six, and author of Self-Love: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally. He blogs about practical spiritual tips for living well at Spiritual Living For Busy People. Sign up and get his free guide 20 Little Tricks To Instantly Improve Your Mood Even If You Feel Like Punching Something (or Someone).