The word forgive in the English language actually comes out of a literal translation of the Latin root “perdonare”, meaning “to give completely without reservation”. However, modern interpretation brings with it a great deal of emotion and belief that forgiving someone or something means that we condone what was done. Because of this emotional interpretation, many times forgiveness is not something that we give freely and without reservation.
Forgiveness is not about agreeing with what happened, but it is about accepting what happened so that we can move on from it. For someone who will not forgive, I often envision that they have cinderblocks chained to their belt, dragging them around everywhere they go, making everything harder, more irritating and more exhausting. Choosing not to forgive keeps us chained to what happened and may come with the underlying belief that if we hold on to it, it will change.
Forgiveness is about unleashing oneself and finding the freedom to live life untethered to what happened and who caused the hurt. Forgiveness creates space within the person who is forgiving as well as between the forgiver and the transgression.
According to Desmond Tutu’s book The Book of Forgiving, there are four steps on the path toward forgiveness and these steps can allow us to move toward feeling whole, connected, and free once again. This process is not easy or pain-free, but it is the way to be able to move on without the hurt ruling our thoughts, actions, and lives. And our choice to forgive has nothing to do with the other person admitting the hurt, asking for forgiveness or showing remorse. It purely is a way for us to find peace and take our lives back.
A key factor in our being able to forgive is remembering that we are all human, we have all hurt others in some way, and we all hurt. Even with this realization, the process of forgiveness can take time and effort.
Let’s take a look at the four steps that are involved:
The first step is Telling the Story and this is a way that we connect with others, process what happened and begin to make meaning out of what we are going through. In trauma, being able to tell the story is a very important piece of healing. When we don’t talk about it, we can get stuck in isolation, shame, anger and fear. “Families must find shared stories of their experiences, or everyone is left to their private pain and each member of the family feels alone and isolated.” (Tutu and Tutu, 2014, p. 69) Telling our story increases our resilience by helping us to become the author of our story rather than the victim. This also allows us to step out of feeling that we have to carry it all by ourselves.
Next in the process, we must Name the Hurt. This means adding to the facts of the story by identifying what we are feeling and putting words to it. Our brains actually process what we are feeling differently when we label it. We are able to step into the role of the feeler rather than the feeling itself. When we attempt to push the feelings away- the pain, anger, grief, shame, etc, we are giving our power over to the hurt that happened. We are blocking our ability to move forward and also to feel more positive emotions. We may attempt to avoid this part of the process because this is where we have to give in to being in the pain, but we must grieve what was lost in order to open space for healing to come in to replace all of the discomfort. Naming the hurt is painful, but it can take us out of suffering, allow us to more deeply accept what happened, and give ourselves permission to move forward.
The first two steps will ready us for Granting Forgiveness. We must remember that there is no expected time frame for this to happen, but if we can move through the process, we will untether ourselves from the past. The first two steps, when repeated without moving into forgiveness, keep us stuck focusing on the hurt. Granting forgiveness allows us to take back our power to move forward in our lives and create the direction we want to move in. Granting forgiveness in no way means that we agree with what happened, condone what happened, or feel that there should not be consequences for the hurt. But, it does mean that we accept that it happened so that we can stop carrying the weight of the hurt around with us every day. When we find forgiveness difficult, it can help to recognize that we are all human and we have all hurt others at some time. The generosity of assuming that everyone is doing the very best that they can will also allow us to widen our perspective and perhaps see the pain that the perpetrator may have experienced.
The final step in the forgiveness cycle is the choice of Renewing or Releasing the Relationship. The harm done is a link of shared history that actually creates a relationship and we must choose to release that relationship, moving forward in a different direction, or to renew the relationship, creating a clean slate and leaving what happened in the past. We will not be able to replicate what the relationship looked like before the hurt because what happened will have shaped and shifted it, but we will be able to create something new. This is how we step out of the role of the victim of hurt and move forward in healing and growth.
The process of forgiveness is a powerful way to once again step into the role of creator in our lives. This is how we stop the cycle of suffering and find more peace. Consider how things can change if we can give ourselves this gift and do the work of forgiving.
I will be going through the steps right along with you.
Chat again soon,