Forgiveness frees us from a self-imposed prison.
I know that sounds extreme, but it’s true.
Rather than making you a sucker, choosing to have a forgiving nature makes you so much stronger.
This article looks at the important habits of people who know how to let go.
1) They feel and release their emotions
Here’s what forgiveness is not:
Brushing your perfectly natural and normal human emotions under the rug.
It’s not about pretending you’re fine when you’re not. Or acting as though you are over something when deep down you are seething.
We cannot use forgiveness as a way of bypassing our feelings.
Forgiveness doesn’t allow us to lock away our emotions about something and someone rather than deal with them.
In fact, quite the opposite.
In order to find forgiveness, we are called to really confront how we feel. That can mean experiencing some messy, uncomfortable, and downright painful emotions.
But people who are good at forgiveness are prepared to do this. Rather than repress, they express and find healthy outlets for their emotions.
They go through the pain, anger, disappointment, and frustration rather than try to go around it.
Then when they feel ready to let it go, they do so for the sake of their own well-being…
2) They focus on forgiveness for their own sake, nobody else’s
Forgiveness seems like a very noble act.
But it’s just as much about lightening our own load as it is about offering the other person absolution.
In the words of Bishop T.D. Jakes:
“I think the first step is to understand that forgiveness does not exonerate the perpetrator. Forgiveness liberates the victim. It’s a gift you give yourself.”
The point is that letting go serves us, just as much (if not more) than it does the other person.
You cannot make someone feel something. So carrying around bitter feelings towards somebody never teaches them a lesson.
All it does is weigh you down with negativity.
As the saying goes:
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
But when we are ready to forgive how do we start to let go?
It all begins with creating a better story.
3) They choose to create a better story
We all have a very loose relationship with the truth.
That’s not to say that irrefutable facts don’t exist. But it is to say that the truth is ultimately a narrative.
It’s a story, and depending on who is telling it and how we tell it, it’s going to sound very different.
But we can use this to our advantage. Let me give you an example:
Many years ago when a relationship broke down in a very painful way after my partner had cheated, I felt torn.
My positive memories felt tainted by betrayal and how things ended. I guess you could say that my story of us had been ruined.
It wasn’t easy, but ultimately what helped me was consciously choosing a story that served me and my own healing.
Rather than be quick to let the pain take over that story, I chose a better-feeling one. And realistically, one that was far closer to the truth anyway.
One that didn’t make things so black and white, and acknowledged the grey areas.
One that recognized our relationship was over, but that we had many good times which I felt grateful for.
We experienced love together, and that hadn’t changed, regardless of what followed.
I didn’t need to ruin every moment of the time we’d spend together with false stories about what had happened or who he was.
I definitely think this attitude helped me not to get lost in bitterness.
It also helped me to accept that we’re all just doing our best, even when it’s not good enough…
4) They remember that we’re all only human
We all make mistakes. We all can mess up and get it wrong.
That doesn’t mean it’s ok. But it is the realistic acceptance that nobody is perfect.
We all go around inadvertently hurting one another.
Rather than take it personally, it’s better to see that it’s human nature.
In another circumstance, we may be the offenders looking for forgiveness.
Rather than get on our high horse, it can help to remember that the unfortunate reality is that people f**k up.
There’s not always a way to avoid the fallout, all we can do is choose how to handle it.
5) They don’t continue to feed negative thoughts
When you feel wronged by someone you might notice that negative thoughts and feelings play on a loop.
They’re usually repetitive and pretty distressing.
Negativity is a bit of a monster, the more you feed it, the bigger it grows.
When we get struck in rumination it’s so much harder to let go.
Mindfulness and trying to stay focused on the present can help us prevent this spiraling.
People who have a forgiving nature resist the urge to feed these negative thoughts.
That doesn’t mean they don’t acknowledge what’s happened. But they don’t embellish events.
Because all it’s doing is keeping the loop of negativity playing in your own life.
The reality is that this can take some real self-awareness and plenty of self-responsibility.
6) They don’t play the blame game, they take full responsibility for themselves
It’s so easy to point fingers and dish out blame.
They are wrong, I am right.
They are the villain, I am the victim.
But the problem with looking at things this way is that it’s pretty disempowering.
We lay total responsibility for how we’re feeling at their door. And in doing so, we give them power over our own happiness.
When we recognize that nobody can “make” us feel a certain way, we get back that power.
Our feelings and our thoughts are our own. We are the ones who are in control of them.
7) They live and learn
It can be easier to forgive when we manage to learn lessons from our experiences.
That’s because, as much as they suck, even the hard lessons in life are valuable.
They tell us a lot about ourselves, the world, and other people.
The truth is that sometimes shitty things happen, and at the time it feels nothing but negative.
Yet years later down the line, we realize that it has shaped us and our lives in positive ways.
Some people manage to take the most gut-wrenching of circumstances and still take something positive out of them.
They do this by searching for the growth.
Rather than let it destroy them, they use it as fertilizer to grow even stronger.
But part of learning those lessons means having firm boundaries.
8) They protect themselves with clear boundaries
Maybe you’ve heard the saying:
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
I think it’s a good reminder of the responsibility we have to ourselves.
That’s certainly not to say when someone treats us poorly it’s our fault. But it is to say that we take an active role in the relationships we foster.
Sometimes we let people stay in our lives when we shouldn’t.
We do it because we care, because we are attached to them, and because we so desperately wish things were different.
But we have a significant role to play in keeping ourselves as emotionally safe as possible.
And we do this with clear and healthy boundaries.
Because we can both forgive someone and decide they no longer deserve a place in our lives.
9) They don’t mistake forgiveness for acceptance
There is a really big difference between forgiving someone’s bad behavior and accepting it.
Forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily mean letting them off the hook and back into your life.
The truth is that forgiveness doesn’t even need to involve the other person. You can silently forgive them in your heart without ever saying a word.
As I said earlier, it’s really more about putting down any pain, anger, or sadness you may be unnecessarily carrying around.
Forgiveness is never an excuse to justify poor treatment.
It is possible to let go of grudges, forgive, and forget whilst cutting all ties with someone.
Sometimes we can confuse accepting negative behavior with forgiving it. But here are the big differences between the two.
Forgiving negative behavior looks like:
- Letting Go
- Removing the source of unacceptable behavior when appropriate
- Feeling at peace
- Personal boundaries are upheld
- Feels empowering
Accepting negative behavior looks like:
- Holding On
- Allowing the source of unacceptable behavior to stay
- Feelings of resentment or anger are likely to remain
- Personal boundaries are crossed
- Feels disempowering
10) They practice loving kindness
The antidote for bitterness is always compassion.
When we can soften and approach someone with kindness and love, it’s easier to heal ourselves.
One practical tool that can help us to cultivate more understanding is loving-kindness meditation.
Research has shown it’s an effective way to enhance social connection and positivity towards others.
It’s been found to activate parts of the brain responsible for emotional processing and empathy.
Which is why it can be a useful part of the puzzle for finding forgiveness.
To conclude: Forgiveness is a process, not a magic fix
Because forgiveness is an inside job designed to benefit you, there’s no point in faking it.
Sadly, there isn’t a shortcut to it either.
It’s not always linear and it may take some time and effort.
Talking about how you feel, journaling, or even therapy can help with that process.
But it all starts with the desire to forgive so that you can move on with your life.