THE HEALING POWER OF FORGIVENESS
Forgiveness has been defined as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment, anger, and shame which have resulted from experiences with a specific person, a group of people, or even one’s own self. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting about these painful experiences. Rather, forgiveness creates a sense of acceptance, compassion, peace, and freedom. Furthermore, through mindful awareness of the feelings or thoughts which pull out painful memories, insecurities, and/or fears, you can gradually learn how to recognize these triggers and can choose to stay focused on the present moments of your life and to move forward from these triggers by forgiving the past. By learning and practicing forgiveness skills, you are opening the door for ongoing emotional growth and healing from your past traumas.
When you choose to not forgive, you are recycling toxic, debilitating emotions, thus keeping yourself stuck in a past-oriented version of yourself. If you believe that you “cannot” forgive, the reality is that you “will not” forgive. If this refusal to forgive is working well for you, then there should be no problem in your daily functioning or relationships. However, the conscious choice to forgive a person, a group, or yourself can create a huge sense of freedom, which allows you to move on to more productive pursuits in your professional, academic, and personal life. By letting go of your focus upon the wrongdoing or mistreatment from others, you can begin to channel the strength and perseverance gained from these painful life events. By choosing not to forgive, you are creating and perpetuating an endless cycle of pain.
THE 3 MANIFESTATIONS OF FORGIVENESS: BEHAVIORAL, EMOTIONAL, AND COGNITIVE
The behavioral manifestation of forgiveness refers to the active representation of intentional behaviors aimed at moving forward. The behavioral manifestation of forgiveness involves taking present actions which are aimed at moving away from the toxic emotions of the past. You can create a specific plan which provides you with a proactive commitment to monitoring and putting forth effort toward the actions that may bring about desired future outcomes. This action plan does require frequent self-reflection aimed at the evaluation of your self-defeating thoughts and disturbing emotions, as well as your strengths and progress in implementing these actions. Furthermore, this action plan may involve revising current goals, creating new goals, and even backsliding or doing poorly on a particular goal at any given moment. The point is to be open to developing an action plan and to monitoring your daily progress and challenges with this plan.
The emotional manifestation of forgiveness refers to the process of knowing when you have certain emotions, understanding how you experience these emotions, and controlling how you express these emotions. Your emotions are adaptive responses that have a deep-rooted basis in evolutionary biology, in that the way you interpret them affects how you think, how you make decisions, and how you coordinate your actions in your day-to-day life. The emotional manifestation of forgiveness is represented primarily by the following skills: (1) self-awareness of all emotions, (2) mindful focus and acceptance of each emotion as it occurs in the present, (3) emotional adaptability to all life changes and events, (4) utilization of your emotional supports, (5) commitment to daily affirmations which relieve and deflect negative emotions, (6) evaluation of your emotional triggers and threats, and (7) pausing, not reacting, when emotional triggers occur. The emotional manifestation of forgiveness enables you to carefully judge which emotions to embrace and which ones to deflect through conscious cognitive and behavioral tools. This new freedom can serve as a valuable buffer between any current or future life experience and the resulting disturbing effects, such as fear, grief, anger, and insecurity.
The cognitive manifestation of forgiveness refers to having honest thought-processing skills, the ability to focus attention on the present, and the ability to ignore distractions. This process involves the redirecting of your pain-producing thoughts as needed to regulate your emotions and behaviors, as well as the cognitive reappraisal of reality. While a lack of forgiveness can cause you to feel victimized, you can choose to revise your perceptions of toxic emotions and memories. The cognitive manifestation of forgiveness helps you to adapt to each life challenge, no matter how painful or confusing, because you have learned to identify your cognitive triggers and have created effective skills for managing them. These cognitive skills gained through the forgiveness process also provide strength and stability which can be utilized to overcome stress and insecurity which at any moment in your daily life. Finally, an individualized cognitive plan gives you clear guidelines for monitoring and mastering your moods and related behavioral reactions. In doing so, you will feel increased freedom and empowerment in any life circumstance.
FORGIVENESS CAN HELP YOU REBUILD A BROKEN SENSE OF SELF
Painful life experiences, when internalized, can create a sense of being “broken,” which can also relate to a pervasive emptiness and perception of yourself as flawed. It is human nature to seek and to cling to certainty and familiarity, even when it is dysfunctional, irrational, and/or counterproductive to your daily well-being. Humans are instinctually hard-wired to seek security, solutions, and, yes, survival, which often means creating comfortable narratives which create a sense of wholeness and completeness to their identity. However, this is frequently done merely to avoid a sense of being broken or fragmented. Being stuck in a cycle of toxic emotions and painful memories can create an overwhelming sense of incompleteness in your sense of identity. It is key to explore these emotions and to learn the skills for revising your responses to these emotions.
When your sense of self becomes fragmented and when toxic emotions interfere with your daily well-being, it is likely that you will try very hard to get to a definitive solution, just to avoid the uncertainty. You are driven to strive for answers to painful circumstances, when, in reality, there may be no certain answers. You cannot control others’ behaviors. You can only control your reactions to these behaviors or to memories of these behaviors. Holding on to anger, resentment, and blame keeps you in a past-oriented mindset, which can cause you to feel disconnected to your present daily experiences and interactions. This past-oriented mindset can keep you in a victimized role, resulting in a broken connection between what happened to you and what you can do in your current life to achieve meaning and purpose. You may retreat to a general emptiness as a defense mechanism to avoid the pain and disappointment caused by this broken connection between the past and present. However, forgiveness allows you to revise your reactions to current situations which trigger disturbing memories and emotions. You can let go of your identifications with mistreatment and with victimization by accepting them as valuable tools for tapping into your true higher self and your innate strength. You can learn how to distance yourself from these identifications. In doing this, your thoughts will be less disturbed by external circumstances, and nothing that happens to you will have the power to offend or to frighten you. You will no longer allow mistreatment to define who you are. Openness to personal and spiritual growth begins with forgiveness, because you are no longer allowing external forces to overpower your internal resources.
You can practice forgiveness in your everyday life, ranging from emotional mistreatment by loved ones to simple rudeness and inconsideration from strangers. These are all opportunities for building strength, wisdom, and compassion within your unique character structure. When you catch yourself being triggered by a past-oriented mindset or when you catch yourself feeling angry at a rude person, remember that you may not be able to control the initial emotion but can control your reaction to the emotion. Humans strive, largely in vain, for absolutes in life, such as “right” or “wrong” and “resolved” or “unresolved.” Trying to fit life experiences into absolutes only creates anxiety, depression, and stuckness. Lack of forgiveness is a perfect example of clinging to the absolute belief that being mistreated causes permanent damage. When you choose to forgive someone or even yourself, you are harnessing the freedom to be the author of your moment-to-moment narrative. The energy spent on toxic emotions is then unleashed and can be refocused on gratitude, compassion, purposeful actions, healthy relationships, and pursuit of your cherished life goals.