Sometimes forgiveness isn’t as easy as being offered an apology and graciously accepting it. Sometimes forgiveness is hell. It’s forgiving someone who hasn’t asked for our forgiveness. Who doesn’t feel remorse for what they’ve done. Who may not even feel that they were in the wrong or may have a list of excuses a mile long to justify it. They haven’t made amends and aren’t planning on it.
Forgiveness in these cases isn’t gracious; it’s grueling. It’s opening up our own bleeding hearts and prodding them until we come to the source of the hurt. It’s learning to stitch it up ourselves so that we can heal. And we don’t do it because we give a damn about them. We do it because we matter. We’re worth it. We’re exhausted from carrying around all these goddamn feelings all the time with nowhere for them to go. They’ve become the breeding ground of distrust and resentment, and we deserve lives that resonate with our joy and hope. We decide to forgive because we deserve to let go.
And that’s step 1 on the path to forgiving someone. We decide to do it. It’s our choice and intention that defines this step.
Step 2 is the practice. What works may differ, but I like to send out the mental thought of, May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from suffering. Whenever I think of someone who I have unforgiveness toward, I think these things — and I do it even if I don’t particularly mean it. It’s a practice, and I make it a habit every time my thoughts wander in that direction. It’s the fake it until you make it step because it softens us up toward the idea of forgiving.
Step 3 is taking the time to process and meditate. And not just on forgiveness. We should process the entire situation that brought us the need to forgive. We need to take out all of those emotions that we’ve categorized as ugly or wrong or hateful and work through them. We need to get down deeper to the places that hurt and feel that pain. This step isn’t about trying to avoid it or numb it or skip over it: it’s all about feeling it.
And maybe this should be step one, but sometimes I think we need to ease ourselves into forgiveness. Sometimes we need to decide we’re going to do it, and start to make a habit of softening our hearts toward the idea of it before we start digging deep and processing all of those feelings. But when we get to this point, we can meditate on our experiences and on forgiveness. I prefer a guided meditation, but we can also simply take a long walk or sit down quietly and consider the situation and the process of forgiveness.
Step 4 feels like the impossible step when we first start. We can reach inside ourselves for love and compassion and take out the component of judgment. Yes, we were wronged. The things that happened to us hurt us deeply. Perhaps someone does owe us an apology or should make amends. They should right the wrong in some way. But that may never happen, and we have to stop counting on it. All of that energy believing that they will do the right thing simply leads to an expectation that will nearly always lead to disappointment. And it drains our energy in the process- energy that would be much better spent on gratitude or loving or spending quality time with the people who enrich our lives. And so we let go of the expectation and instead replace it with an acknowledgement of the humanity and flaws of others. We start to lean in to forgiveness, making every effort to release those ties of energy that bind us to those people and those stories about our lives.
Step 5 is the ultimate forgiveness step. It’s persistence. It’s never giving up on our path to forgiving others. It’s starting back to step 1 as many times as we need to or cycling through the steps again and again until we feel freed of the , burden of resentment and grudges that simply weigh us down. Step 5 is knowing that we are flawed. We have wronged others and been wronged, and all we can do is the right thing for ourselves. Which may mean asking for forgiveness and making amends ourselves, and it may simply mean that we choose to forgive in the absence of these things in the situations where we were hurt, violated, or betrayed. We choose it because we love ourselves too much not to, and life is far too short to spend an extra minute of it in a pain that we could heal ourselves.
And we can heal these hurts ourselves. Perhaps not easily. And not very quickly. But we have the opportunity to reach out to ourselves and grant permission not to hold on any longer to the things that no longer serve us. We can forgive. Step 1 is deciding that it’s time.