Understanding Forgiveness: 6 Steps to Letting Go and Moving Forward

Defined by Webster’s dictionary, it is stated that to forgive is “to cease to feel resentment against (an offender).” While yes, I do believe that there is some validity to this definition, I also believe there is more that can be said. To forgive, in my opinion, is to understand that whoever wronged you is only human and humans make mistakes. To forgive is to say: “What you did caused me great pain. However, I recognize and understand that you are human, no one is perfect. And I no longer will allow this offense to affect my energy or personal well being.”

As Merriam Webster points out, yes, forgiveness is to bring an end to resentment, but it is also the understanding of another soul and the loving of your own. When we forgive, we allow the healing energy of love back inside. Anger dissipates and all that is left is peace. To forgive does not mean to give up one’s personal power. It’s actually quite the opposite, as we regain center when we let go of what is no longer serving us and welcome back in the healing abilities of love.

I personally have struggled with forgiveness for as long as I could remember. Sparked by past betrayals and hurt, plus the idea that I had to be perfect to be good enough, I could just never seem to let myself, or anyone else for that matter, “off the hook.” It merely wasn’t an option. 

Until one day, I found myself hurting so profoundly, so deeply, that I could no longer function at my highest capacity. The pain grew and grew. The waters of sorrow shipwrecked my mind and drug it deep down under. Each day felt worse than the last. As a student, I found myself barely making it to my classes and even when I was present, I wasn’t fully present as my thoughts were constantly racing, constantly remembering what had happened. My mind would replay the scenes and the turmoil over and over in a grand effort to console me and say: “See, this person isn’t worth forgiving. Look at what they did to you. Look at the HURT they caused you. Do you really want to go through this again? No, trust me. It’s better we show you this scene repeatedly, so that you know what betrayal looks like before you let it strike you again.”

Unfortunately though, this kind of thinking never brought me the peace or protection it promised. Instead, it made for many miserable days. And if you multiply that experience by 365, you’ve got an entire year spent on anger and resentment. An entire year that flew by, with opportunities for joy and moving forward, that weren't fully explored due to the toxic cycle that resentment can become.

So how can we avoid this cycle and move through pain with the antidotes of forgiveness? Here are some steps that might be able to help. 

1. Are you the slightest bit willing to feel better?

To feel happiness again, or peace with an occurrence? If you are, then my friend you are officially on the path to forgiveness! WOOOO! Give yourself a huge round of applause! Wanting to feel better about a situation from your past means you’re officially ready to let it go.

2.  Take the time to acknowledge your feelings.

Yes, acknowledge them. It is very important that you remember that your feelings are 100% valid. So go ahead and take the time to write out a letter or a list of the sentiments you are feeling about what happened and why it caused as much anger or hurt for you as it did. When said person did or said what they said, how did it make you feel? Why did you feel this way? What did their actions mean for you on a deeper level? What did they mean for your relationship as a whole? Take your time to answer and work through these questions. This exercise will allow you to express your sentiments healthily, especially because no one knows what you’re feeling or how you’re feeling it better than you do.

3. Make a list of all of the things you appreciate about this person that wronged you.

Any good qualities, memories, or features that you can possibly think of. Whether it was moments of laughter, a time they consoled you, the way they smile at you, or the way that they help you feel understood. That time they paid for your lunch or brought you a pencil during finals. Whatever you can think of, write it all down. This will allow you to shift your focus on the negative and help you focus on the larger picture of the person as a whole.

4. Close your eyes.

Keeping these good qualities and memories in mind, begin to breathe deeply, and envision an exchange of peace. I personally like to imagine a tightly-gripped hug or tears in my eyes as I hold this person in my arms with ocean waves and a sunset in the background. It might sound silly yes, but I promise it makes for a really soothing scene! From time to time, I’ll even envision myself and the other person as small children. We’ll go about laughing, giggling, and playing with one another. This exercise helps ease my mind and allows me to remember that the other person is human too.

5. When you're ready, open your eyes.

Jot down how you feel now and why you think you feel that way. What shifted inside? What can you see now that you didn’t see before? Work through these questions and any other ideas that come to mind. Afterwards, compare it to the way you were feeling before. I’m a big believer in analyzing emotions because when we analyze, we have breakthroughs both with ourselves and with others. Hence, we’re able to see a bit clearer through the lens of life. These exercises are like alcohol wipes for glasses (shout out to all of the people that wear glasses and don’t feel like cleaning them every five seconds). They help remove the dirt and dust and allow you to see what’s before you with 100% clarity.

6. Forgiveness is a process.

Sometimes, it happens in an instant. For those of you out there that are instant forgivers, congrats! I seriously love the ability you possess. For those out there like me however, where instantaneous forgiveness is almost unheard of, know that you are not alone, and it’s completely okay. Your soul just needs a little extra time to heal. There’s nothing wrong with that. A broken arm doesn't heal in a day. It takes time, right? The same can be said about the process of forgiveness. In the way that you’d be patient with your body while a broken arm heals, it’s important to be patient with your emotional sense of self. Your physical and emotional body are both just as real and just as valid. 

You may repeat these steps as many times as you’d like and vary them in whichever way suits you best. 

I once heard this quote that said: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else — you are the one who gets burned.” Rather than continue to be burned by the pain of your past, I invite you today to welcome the concept of forgiveness. Even if you don’t know where to start or even if you’re scared, if you have the slightest desire to heal and feel alleviated, then trust me you are on the right path. I send you all many blessings. May your day be wrapped in the ribbons of glee and felicity!