by Kassandra Lamb ~ In Part I of this series, I talked about several steps in the process of forgiving someone who has done you harm, including examining your hurt and anger on a deeper level, resolving the conflict with the other person if possible, venting your emotions, and making sure you’re safe from future harm. In Part II, we focused on how the other person might react and what to do if they won’t take responsibility for their actions. And now…the final letting go.
Today’s post is about tying up some loose ends so we can experience that final letting go that is true forgiveness.
Loose End #1: Ruminating
I mentioned last time that if you find yourself repeatedly thinking about the hurtful event weeks or months later, this may indicate that the offending behavior struck at one of your core values—your beliefs about how you should be or act in order to be a good person.
But there’s often another reason for ruminating…you’re looking for answers to questions like why did they do that, why won’t they apologize, what could I have done differently, etc.
That last one is crucial. Often, when we’re obsessing, maybe even agonizing over the event and questioning how we handled it, we’re really looking for a sense of control over a situation that spun out of our control at the time.
We humans don’t like feeling out of control, especially when the stakes are high, such as a relationship we value.
So blaming ourselves and looking for something we could have done differently to regain control is preferable emotionally to admitting that some things we just can’t control.
Also, we may be beating up on ourselves some for trusting someone who then acted in a hurtful way toward us.
So a big part of the forgiveness process is forgiving yourself!!
Forgiving yourself for being human, for perhaps not reacting ideally when caught off guard, for not being able to control everything in your life, for not being able to undo the past, and for not being able to see into every dark corner of other people’s psyches, no matter how well we thought we knew them.
Which brings us to…
Loose End #2: It’s About You!
I’ve said this in passing before, but I wanted to emphasize it. Forgiveness is for you, not the other person!
Why isn’t the forgiveness about the person you’re forgiving? Because you can’t control them and their feelings.
You can only control (to some extent) what goes on inside yourself.
If you are able to resolve the conflict with the other person, then they may benefit as well. But mostly this process of forgiving is about you getting rid of the negative feelings that are mentally consuming, emotionally harmful, and not all that good for your physical health either.
The Final Letting Go
When all the other parts of the forgiveness process have been done and we finally feel safe, the final letting go may occur spontaneously.
This happened for me regarding my abusive father. I’d spent a good bit of time, money and energy in therapy, dealing with the feelings of fear, hurt, and anger that had dominated my childhood. I’d thought that I’d let it all go.
But at my father’s funeral, I truly forgave him, quite spontaneously. While pretending to be listening to the minister’s homily, I was actually processing some new insights.
One was that my father wasn’t an inherently mean person, but he had been raised by mean people, especially his father, from whom he’d learned his abusive behaviors. My father was mostly a confused, insecure man, who spent most of his energy on trying to avoid looking at himself.
The second insight led to my realization that one must be safe from additional harm before true forgiveness can happen. I had thought I’d already let go of the feelings prior to that, but realized there had been a little bit of lingering anger. I had needed that anger to help me guard against him hurting me again. But now it was safe to forgive my father, because he was dead. He definitely couldn’t hurt me anymore.
Sometimes the forgiveness is not spontaneous, however.
And we might need to nudge it along a little. Rituals can be very helpful here. We can imagine burying the memories and feelings, or tossing them into the air so they can dissipate in the wind.
Or we may have to actually physically do the ritual, not just imagine it (remember, emotions have to “move” to dissipate completely). That letter to the offending party that we wrote but never sent—we may need to burn it, or bury it. Or bury something else that symbolizes the other person and/or the hurtful event. The list of possibilities is long. But the main thing that matters is that we pick a ritual that feels right for us and the situation.
And that we let down our emotional guard while doing the ritual and let the feelings flow.
What exactly does forgiveness feel like?
It’s not an intense feeling…it’s more about the absence of intense feeling. It’s peaceful and calm. You might feel lighter inside, like you’ve aired out your heart.
And letting go of that negative energy can have a ripple effect in your life and in the world.
It may allow you to have some semblance of a relationship with the other person, which will shift their psyche some, whether they realize it or not. It will leave you a happier person who can relate better to others in general, having a positive effect on those around you.
Bottom line: Our poor, beleaguered world doesn’t need any more negative emotional energy. It needs all the positive energy we can legitimately muster.
Keyword is “legitimately.” Again, true forgiveness is not forced; we shouldn’t do it because we’re supposed to or on any set time schedule. It’s a process, a series of steps that leads us to an emotional space where we can experience that final letting go!
Have you ever experienced a spontaneous final letting go, or have you had to nudge it some? What letting go rituals have worked for you in the past?
Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida. Plus she has started a new police procedural series, also set in Florida—The C.o.P. on the Scene mysteries. And she writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.
Misterio press produces an array of quality crime fiction. We post here twice a month, usually on Tuesdays, to alert you to new releases, to entertain, and to inform.
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