Finding Forgiveness: 5 Ways to Heal, Forgive and Move Forward
We sit on a worn couch. It's red, or maybe burgundy, and sprinkled with cat hair. The culprit, Luvy, expertly weaves her way through my legs and purrs as I absentmindedly scratch behind her ears. T offers us juice, and then dessert, and then water before finally settling in on her recliner in the corner.
"Tonight, we'll be discussing forgiveness."
For a moment, I ease back into my seat, prepared to listen, but contribute little; I don't struggle with forgiveness — I've always been an expert at making my peace, closing the door and moving on. I scan the sheet of relevant Bible verses and try to conjure up past incidents of hurt. Many seem from another time altogether — the grief hazy; the once devastating injuries softened.
And then, without warning, I'm trampled by the unforgiven elephant in the room. It's the reason I'm currently attending weekly therapy sessions, focusing my time & energy on healing, and a member of this Bible study in the first place. I think of the disbelief, the betrayal, and the anger that feels sharp and new each time it bubbles up. I think of the number of times each week that I furiously think, "F*ck, [redacted]" or wake up in a cold sweat, or daydream, immaturely, of an entire building being swept away in a flood.
T slightly raises her eyebrows as I suddenly jump to attention. I open my journal and join, somewhat guiltily, in our beginning prayer. After weeks of learning, reading, hoping and praying, here are the 5 ways to forgive, heal and move forward, that I've learned so far:
1. Practice Being Present
Remind yourself that the betrayal and hurt aren't happening in the here and now. What happened is in the past. And as momentarily satisfying as it is to think of the should've, could've, would'ves of the situation, you have to realize that it's done + over.
In full transparency, this is the most difficult step for me. I frequently indulge in flashbacks of what happened, allow myself to feel new anger about old situations, and sometimes even get angry about what might've happened (i.e., made-up scenarios fueled by my frustration). When I feel this way, I make a present moment list.
In short, I take a few deep breaths and list out everything happening in the present moment in order to bring myself back to reality. I am in my apartment in Atlanta, GA. I am in my living room. I can feel the carpet beneath my bare feet. I can feel the couch beneath me. It is Saturday. I can hear construction workers outside. I continue building up the list until that flashback-fueled anger has subsided.
2. Repeat a Mantra
Yes, we're going to get a little froufrou and hippie and free-spirited here and go the mantra route. Why? Because it works. You know how when you were a kid and blubbering after being punished, you'd repeat some arbitrary phrase to yourself over and over, and it somehow made you feel better? (e.g., "It's just not fair. It's just not fair.") Well, the same tactic comes into play here. When you repeat something to yourself, no matter how bizarre or unachievable it seems, you start to believe it. And while I've never considered myself a big mantra person, after I started incorporating a few, I felt a difference in my energy, levels of anger and ability to forgive, so I'm sharing it with y'all.
My personal mantras about forgiveness are:
This will not always affect me in this way. I will heal and find peace.
I am growing. I am learning a lesson and becoming stronger because of it.
I forgive myself for still feeling angry. I seek peace moving forward.
And honestly, I make up most of my mantras as I go. Some phrase, sentence or word will just feel right to you. And as you focus on breathing and remembering that the past is the past + it's all about moving forward from here on out, the repetition of that phrase will help to center you. Try it. Tell me what you think.
3. Ask for Help
Admitting to someone that you're angry and hurt and struggling to heal can feel terrifying, but I promise that it's worth it. When I realized I was struggling to forgive, I asked some of the people I'm closest to how they've been able to forgive. Their answers were honest and vulnerable and illuminating and, most importantly, made me realize that everyone goes through this sh*t. Forgiveness is a skill that requires a lot of practice, and yet, most of us don't work on it until someone/something has badly hurt us, and by that time, it's the last thing on our minds. It makes sense that we often have no idea where to start, or even if we should start, and turning to friends + family + loved ones + therapists for advice is totally OK.
4. Say a Prayer and/or Think a Positive Thought
T, my Bible study leader, completely changed my perspective with this one. I shared how I often thought of angry, spiteful, #petty things about the people who had hurt me, and in response, she suggested that I learn to turn those thoughts into prayers instead. At first I rolled my eyes because I'm definitely no Mother Teresa, but the more she explained, the more I decided I'd try it. And, to make a long story short, negative thoughts such as, "What a cruel b*tch" turned into, "I pray that [person] isn't cruel forever, but [he/she] probably will be," which then slowly, with practice, turned into "I pray that whatever hurt [person] feels, which caused [him/her] to act cruelly toward me, is healed and that they can find peace."
Trust me, it's a long process and I'm still working on it. Like, 50% of the time, I have that immediate petty thought and refuse to take it back, but then try to incorporate some (half-assed, tbh) nice thought into my prayers or journal that night. But that's life & things like forgiveness don't come easily, so I challenge you to test it out.
5. Surround Yourself with Good People
At the end of the day, eventually, someone will hurt you. And whether it's a friend, family member, co-worker or life partner, we'll have to work on forgiving and moving on. The easiest way to do that? Surrounding yourself with people who make you feel your best. The cousins that make you laugh until you cry, the friends that bring out your light, the co-workers that respect you as an individual and professional, the partners that want your happiness just as much as they want their own. Find them, spend time with them, rinse and repeat. And if you feel alone or like you don't have a positive person in your life, please email me; I'd love to lift you up.
Forgiving doesn't mean that you have to forget. It doesn't mean that you have to let the perpetrator of that hurt stomp all over you. It doesn't mean that you even have to talk to the person that hurt you ever again. It simply means that you take back your power. You allow no one, but yourself, to control your emotions. You recognize that you are beautiful and powerful and worthy, whether someone else thinks you are or not. You heal, you move forward, you live your brightest life.
Tell me: what does forgiveness mean to you? How do you forgive those that have hurt you? I'm here + listening. xx