Finding Forgiveness

Finding Forgiveness

Finding Forgiveness: “Can You Find It In Your Heart to Forgive Me?”

Every counselor and Denver therapist knows that, for many of our clients, finding forgiveness can be an incredibly important and powerfully healing part of the personal growth process. This is true for both individuals and couples. Holding on to anger — either towards yourself or someone else — will only hold you back from becoming emotionally healthy.

Living in regret, holding a grudge or holding onto guilt can lead to all sorts of problems including low self esteem, depression, anxiety, anger, and substance abuse problems, and disrupted relationships. In contrast, when you find forgiveness for yourself and others, you find peace. Here are a few of the other benefits of forgiveness:

Releasing the Emotional Burden

Forgiveness liberates us from the heavy burden of resentment, anger, and bitterness. Letting go of negative emotions associated with the past allows for emotional freedom and a sense of relief. The act of forgiveness empowers you to break free from the shackles of your pain so you can begin moving forward.

Emotional Wellbeing

Forgiveness has been linked to reduced stress levels, lower anxiety, and improvements in the symptoms of depression. The mental and emotional toll of harboring grudges can be harm your overall wellbeing, and forgiveness acts as a powerful antidote. By choosing to forgive, you pave the way for increased self-esteem, resilience, and a positive outlook on life, leading to a healthier mental state.

Healthier Relationships:

In longterm relationships, conflicts are inevitable, and forgiveness serves as a crucial tool for resolving disputes and strengthening connections. Without it, we can never truly move forward together after something has gone wrong — and something always goes wrong eventually. Learning to forgive is a valuable life skill that helps you maintain friendships, romantic relationships, good co-working relationships, and close connections with your family throughout life.

Personal Empowerment

Let’s not forget that forgiveness can be empowering. We don’t have the power to choose what other people will do, including the things that they might do that hurt us. But we all have the power to decide how we will respond. If someone has hurt you in a way that feels unforgivable, try reframing forgiveness as a choice to no longer spend your precious time and energy on feeling angry or resentful toward them. When you forgive, you shift the focus away from the wrongdoer’s actions toward your own emotional well-being, which helps you transcend victimhood and stand in your agency.

Breaking the Cycle of Negativity:

Finally, forgiveness helps us to break the cycle of negativity and retaliation, so that you can rise above the conflict and move forward with your life. Choosing forgiveness allows you to disengage from a hurtful situation and create a better environment for yourself, internally and in your relationships.

Support for Finding Forgiveness

Because forgiveness is such a vital life skill, I wanted to create an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast, about how you can find it, even when it feels really hard. I’ll be talking about how to release anger, find forgiveness… and set yourself free.

xoxo,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — You can find more free resources like this in my “emotional wellness collection” of articles and podcasts. I hope you find it helpful — I made it for YOU!

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Finding Forgiveness

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. And you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

[Intro: The Fog by The Amazing] 

Dr. Lisa: That beautiful song is The Amazing with their song, The Fog, from their 2012 release, Gentle Stream. Good stuff. I thought that was a nice segue in today’s topic. Today we are going to be talking about forgiveness. It is just something that’s been coming up a lot lately. I have had questions about it on the website. It’s been coming up in sessions and in conversations, so I figured it would be a good time to talk about forgiveness, in case it’s something that’s been on your mind as well. 

If this is your first time listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast, this is what we do. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. My background is as a marriage and family therapist. I’m a life coach. I’m also trained as a psychologist. We talk about stuff that might be on your mind. Everything on the show is all about how to help you have better relationships, feel happier, or feel like you’re more successful in your life. Our topics range from everything from marriage. Last week, we talked about blended families. Next week, I’m interviewing a really smart addictions counselor to help you tell the difference whether or not you’re drinking is just all fun, and good, and recreational, or whether or not you might have a problem. 

So if that is something that is of concern to you, you’ll definitely want to check out next week’s show. But that’s what we do here is just talk about things that are hopefully important to you. I make all these podcasts pretty much on order so send me ideas. If there are questions that you have, please feel free to email me. You can email me directly, drlisa@growingself.com; Twitter, @DrLisaBobby. So get in touch on Facebook, facebook.com/drlisabobby. I think it is what it is. As always, through our website. So I am the founder of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching in Denver, Colorado. Our website is growingself.com. You can always get in touch with us that way, too. So if you have questions or things on your mind, there are podcasts that I’ve done, I also do a lot of writing. You might find articles about topics that are important to you. 

Because my mission is really just to put as much, hopefully, good and high-quality information out into the world as I can. Because it’s one thing for people to come to us, and have the opportunity to learn about all these things, and do growth work. But there are also a lot of people who are interested in having this information and working on themselves who might not be ready to pony up for counseling or coaching. That’s just my little service mission, is to be putting information out into the world. So I hope that it finds you at a time and place that it can benefit you. So that’s enough about me. 

So today’s topic, we are discussing forgiveness. Forgiveness is a tough one. When I think about forgiveness, I cut it down into two different things. They’re similar, of course, but they’re different. There’s different work involved in achieving these different kinds of forgiveness. The first thing—and probably what you immediately think of when you think about forgiveness—is how to forgive other people. In particular, how do you forgive people for things that, a) were catastrophic and not okay; or, b) how can you forgive someone that is not repentant or remorseful or is not asking you for forgiveness? So it’s that idea of how can you let go of anger or resentment about things for which there may never be justice. It’s not about finding justice; it’s about you being okay emotionally, even though bad things may have happened. So that’s one kind of forgiveness that we’ll be addressing. 

The other kind of forgiveness that surprises people, I think to consider, but a lot of people really struggle with this is how to forgive themselves. There are a lot of people who are wandering around in the world, you may be one of them, that is carrying around a lot of shame, and a lot of guilt for things that you might have done in the past. Other people may have forgiven you, but you can’t let it go. You can’t forgive yourself and that’s a problem. Because I think that to not forgive, to not do this work, sets you up to carry around a lot of negative emotion; either being mad and resentful of other people, indulging in revenge fantasies, or walking around with a lot of shame and guilt that is not productive. It’s one thing to have shame that leads to positive action and helps you make amends and do things differently. That’s not unhealthy. But to just be wandering around feeling guilty with no resolution, that will eat you up. It’ll give you an ulcer. It’ll keep you up at night, it will make you feel bad about yourself. That can spin out into all other kinds of negative things in your life; everything from substance abuse to low self-esteem to whatever.

So it’s important, it’s important. So, a few key ideas when we think about forgiveness, and we’re going to kind of address these one at a time here. I’m going to start by talking about forgiving yourself. Because it’s been my experience that people who tend to hold the grudges towards others, also tend, oftentimes, to be pretty hard on themselves, too. Sometimes forgiving yourself and doing that work can be easier, but also set the stage for you being able to forgive other people. So let’s talk about how to forgive yourself. First of all, at the core of forgiveness, is compassion. So compassion is really being able to understand why something happened the way that it did. What people were feeling. Why things made sense, in the context of what was going at the time. 

So if you think back to stages in your life, or you might have done things that you’re not proud of, it can be helpful to consider who you were at that time, or what was going on in your life. As opposed to being critical and judgmental and like, ‘“I can’t believe you did that rah rah rah towards yourself.” Really consider as hard as this might be, “How did what I did at that time make sense?” without judgment. So, for example, it is true that people, all of us, myself included, tend to behave badly when we are scared, when we’re angry, when we’re desperate. Or when we are not in a good place in terms of being able to regulate ourselves, keeping control of ourselves, that’s when bad things happen. So, even if you did something in the past, that hurt yourself, that hurt someone else; when you look at those events through the lens of the fact that in order for those bad things to happen, you couldn’t have been in a good place. Because if you were in a good place, they would have been much less likely to happen. 

This is not excusing any behavior. It’s not saying that it was okay. It’s just viewing what happened through the lens of compassion. So simply understanding the context, understanding the emotional reality of when bad things happen. Here’s another really important point is that when you’re compassionate with yourself, when you can look and see, “That is actually what was going on with me and I wasn’t in a good place,” that is one thing. But the fact that you feel badly about what you did is actually in some ways evidence that you care and that you’ve grown sufficiently to realize that what you did was wrong. In that act of growing, you have actually become a different person than the person who did whatever it was. So the mistakes that you made as terrible as they feel now, were important experiences, and maybe even vital ones. Because without having had that experience, and being able to say, “Wow, I shouldn’t have done that.” That in itself grew you and gave you the opportunity, potentially, to heal and grow and become a stronger, wiser person. 

One way of getting there is to ask yourself this question, “Would the person I am today do the things that I did in the past?” If your answer is no, it means that you’re now a different person than the one that did those things. Then being able to look at those shameful or regrettable acts as part of the process of becoming the person that you are today, for better or for worse. Really, I think, in some ways, the epitome of any kind of personal growth work is to be able to come to a place where actually, as improbable as this may sound; you’re actually appreciative of the hard times that you went through because they catalyzed your growth. When you’re able to say, “You know what, I’m glad I got that DUI,” or whatever it was, because it was that experience that helped me wake up and make some big changes. So consider things that you might have done in the past as catalysts for change and the fact that you feel as badly as you do now as evidence of the fact that that change has happened. So that is one important mindset when it comes to forgiving yourself. 

There are many paths to forgiveness. For some people, forgiveness is a spiritual thing, particularly when it comes to forgiving themselves. They feel that, maybe, only God or a higher power has that ability, or the power, or the depth of love to forgive anything. So, around forgiveness and redemption and what that means; this might be one of those times to make use of your belief system. If you have a belief system that involves asking for forgiveness, or specific rituals around letting things go, forgiveness, redemption; this would be the time to use them. So, you can say whatever you want about Catholics, but the act of confession and absolution is a really psychologically powerful healing tool. Most major belief systems have something, have some ritual, have some belief, some path out there; that there is a second chance built in to a lot of spiritual belief systems. 

If spirituality isn’t your thing, then psychological and secular forgiveness is the path to peace. That goes back to what we were talking about previously; understanding what happened with compassion, and really viewing the person you were versus the person that you’ve become. Because I think the psychological equivalent to spiritual forgiveness is really appreciating your own growth. 

Another really important piece to being able to forgive yourself, particularly if your actions impacted others, can be asking for forgiveness from other people. So forgiving yourself is a first step, because that will put you in a sturdy enough place psychologically; that you’ll be okay if the people that you may have harmed can’t or won’t forgive you. Because remember, asking for forgiveness, expressing remorse, making amends; it’s not about you. Yes, it can be part of your feeling better, but you can’t depend on other people forgiving you in order for you to feel better. You need to forgive yourself one way or the other, whether or not other people forgive you. But once you have that in place, then it can be beautiful to at least try. If you need someone to forgive you before you can feel better, that’s displacing responsibility. That’s not what we’re talking about here. 

So, once you’ve forgiven yourself, then your job is to become unconditionally loving and supportive to people that you may have hurt in the past. Giving to them, that is making amends and attempting to repair it for them, as opposed to being about for you. So, what does that look like? There’s a process when it comes to forgiveness and rebuilding trust when it comes to other people. There are several steps to this. The first thing you can do is simply acknowledge that harm was done; letting the person that you might have hurt know that you understand the harm that was done to them, whatever it might have been: that you didn’t understand them, that you might have neglected them emotionally, you might have done something that was hurtful to them. Or even just been selfish in a relationship, but saying out loud, “I recognize that I did this and that it hurt you.” That right there is huge. 

Once you open that up, it’s likely that the person that you hurt will, maybe, want to tell you more about what that experience was like for them. They might not. If they don’t want to talk about it, let it go. Again, because it’s not about you. But if they’re interested in working through this with you, they’re going to want to tell you how it really impacted them. They’ll feel safer if you’re willing to listen. So, you might hear things from them that make you feel bad. That’s okay because your only job is to stay grounded, breathe, practice love, and generosity, and non-defensively accept the truth of their experience because it’s about them right now. 

Once they’ve told you how they feel, again, you can let them know that you understand their feelings, that their feelings are important to you. Sharing your feelings of regret or guilt about what happened in the past can go a long way in repairing trust. Just saying sorry—that is not good enough. You need to go into more detail. Communicate that you understand why what happened hurt them, and tell them how you feel about that. “You know what? I feel terribly up at night when I think about the things that happened.” For them to hear that their feelings are important to you, that their distress affects you can be really powerful for them to hear. 

Then you might also talk about how you would handle this situation if it happened again in the future. What would you do differently if you could get a do-over? Be explicit. Some people might be interested in doing this with you and some people won’t. Forgiveness is you can’t control whether other people forgive you and finding forgiveness is always just an internal thing. It’s either something that you can arrive at or you can’t. So just know that. Of course, if you do have somebody give you another chance, just always remember that words are just a start. To really repair trust and goodwill, you have to show people that you’re sincere through your actions. So you can’t just have a conversation. I’m like, “Oh, cool, we’re done.” You have to show up. So that means not doing the things that were hurtful. Not doing it again. Or really demonstrating your willingness to be different, and service another person in a way that’s meaningful to them. So this can be really important when there’s trauma involved. 

I did a podcast a while ago about repairing trust in relationships, but particularly when it comes to things like infidelity, it’s one thing for you to feel bad and ask for forgiveness and wish were different. But you still have to actively show your partner that you are safe and reliable and trustworthy. So that means handing over your phone. It means showing up when you say you’re going to. It means being willing to answer questions and demonstrating to them that it’s safe for them to start to trust you again, and hopefully, it is. 

So those are some things to think about when you are considering how to forgive yourself for things that you have done that have harmed either yourself or other people, and how to repair some of that. A wonderful tool, if you’re interested, is to write a letter to get this started. If you hurt yourself through your decisions or through actions, write yourself a letter acknowledging like you would with somebody else, why it was hurtful for you? How it impacted you? How badly you feel about it now? What would you do differently in the future? Or it might be easier to open the door if there’s somebody in your life that you would like to repair a relationship with to write a letter to them. Tell them in writing what’s going on and ask for their forgiveness that way. My hope is that it would open up the door to an in-person conversation, but at least you would have the opportunity to send that letter. Then no matter what they decide to do with it, it will probably make you feel better just taking that action and asking for forgiveness. 

So now, let’s talk about the other side of this. How do you forgive someone that hurt you, that doesn’t seem to care at all, that has not asked for forgiveness that is going out in the world happily hurting people, again? Or just doesn’t even see your point of view that you might feel very hurt by someone’s actions, and they think you’re being ridiculous about it. If you try to talk to them, they invalidate you.

That is hard. Because I think our natural tendency is to want to be validated. We want other people to understand how and why we are hurt, and why that makes sense, and why anybody would feel this way if they had to deal with what I’ve had to deal with from you. It’s natural. We want to be validated. We want somebody to care about how we feel. Unfortunately, there are people in your life who have done things to you, that either don’t care or aren’t in a place where they’re able to just take that on board emotionally. Maybe, they’re too emotionally fragile, or they haven’t really done the growth work that would allow them to understand how they might have impacted you, or maybe, they’re a sociopath. Whatever. They’re out there, too. 

But so when you have somebody who won’t validate you; and also, I think it’s particularly hard in situations where there is no justice for what has been done to you, there is no punishment, nobody’s going to go to jail because they cheated on you, or broke your heart. Nobody’s gonna go to jail because they rejected you as a friend, or gossiped about you. You may indulge in revenge fantasies, where you think about all of the horrible things that have happened to them. That’s a stage of healing, I think is, is really indulging in some of that anger and go for it. Think about, “I hope they get struck by lightning.” Or, “Sooner or later, other people are going to see what a terrible, horrible, deceitful person they are. And nobody’s gonna want to be friends with them. And they’ll die alone.” It’s okay for you to go there for a while. 

But you’ll notice after a while, that when you do; when you are the one who is grinding away on the injustices that were done to you, and revenge fantasies, and all of this; is that what’s happening is that on the inside, you are likely feeling anxious and angry and worked up and bitter. When you’re replaying these mental movies in your mind. That is why forgiveness is important. It’s not important for the person that harmed you. Quite frankly, they might not care whether you forgive them or not. They might not even think they did anything wrong. So it’s not about them. But when you are able to forgive others’ transgressions, it saves you from turning away in this really intensely agitated state that is negatively impacting your life, keeping you up at night, giving you an ulcer, making you irritable, making you preoccupied. 

When you’re able to come to a state of forgiveness, you’re released from that. You don’t have to think about it anymore. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. It can just be done. So, how to achieve that. I think that there are different steps and different paths. Again, for some people, spirituality can be a model for forgiveness. Some spiritual belief systems have finding forgiveness, and forgiving other people as a big component of it. It’s also been my experience. Some practitioners of such belief systems will kind of say, “Yes, I forgive you.” But on the inside, they are still seething with hatred for the person that they perceive as having harmed them. So let’s talk about what psychological forgiveness looks like. 

First of all, going back again to that idea of compassion. It is so hard to have compassion for people that have wronged us. But really even when you go deeply into belief systems that advocate things like forgiveness, there is a message of compassion at the core. Instead of judging people, and thinking badly of them, it’s harder to try to understand the truth of other people, particularly when it makes them do bad things. So to have compassion for someone else’s emotional pain, or anger, or fear, or the deprivation that they may have experienced throughout their lives, the trauma that they may have experienced that has created the reality of their current psychology that would allow them to do terrible things to you. When you’re actually able to sit with the compassionate story of who another person is and the pain that they’re likely either carrying or very actively protecting themselves from; that is one thing that can make it a lot easier for you to forgive, is to see their humanity as opposed to seeing them as being the evil aggressor who’s out to get you. 

So the one thing that helps me sometimes is, “Think about what this person was like, as a child, and think about what their life was like, as a child.” Again, I’m saying this as a therapist. So, I have the benefit of hearing people’s stories and seeing the whole picture of how people came to be the way that they are. But I’d like to tell you that people don’t just do bad things. When you are able to unpack things and really understand why, people’s actions always make sense on some level, even if they’re not right, or just, or moral. They always make sense to them, when you can see it in the context of their own feelings, their own life experiences, their own belief systems. So just know that. 

Also, I think one thing that is a barrier to forgiveness, forgiving other people, is that sometimes you’ll really get hung up on this idea that to forgive is to approve of or condone bad behavior. It is not. So you can really, truly forgive somebody for what they may have done to you or someone else and also, be firmly opposed to what they did, that they should be punished for it if legal action or punishment is appropriate. Just because you forgive someone does not mean that you need to open your life back up to those people. 

So, for example, if you get bitten by a dog that has been abused and kicked around, you can forgive that dog, and have compassion for that dog. But it would be foolish for you to try to go and pet that dog or hang out with a dog. There are some people where it’s the same thing. So even if you’re able to have compassion for them, forgive them for what they’ve done; you do not have to approve or condone what it was. Forgiving does not mean that what they did was okay. You don’t have to give up the right to protect yourself from them. Because it might be very foolish of you to “give them another chance” if that means being vulnerable to them again. So you can forgive somebody and still have boundaries that say, “You know what? I just got to know you a little bit better through this experience. And I’ll be friendly to you and we can have a conversation, but I’m not gonna lend you money,” like that kind of thing. So just know that. 

Then lastly, at the end of the day, forgiveness is a choice.  I think that that’s why it’s so hard for some people because it’s like, “How do I get there?” At the end of the day, you simply choose to forgive. It might help by even reminding yourself of that, “I am choosing to forgive.” So these are a lot of ideas, and I hope that they help you. Sometimes, I found that just hearing the ideas is like, “Okay, that all sounds good,” but it can be hard to put it into practice. 

One tool that I have for you, if you’re interested in really taking action on some of the stuff I’ve talked about, I’ve developed a free training that teaches you how to take some of these new ideas, and actually make them actionable in your life if you’re interested, it’s totally free. I just put it out there because I know it’ll help you. If you watch this video, quite frankly. So you can just go to growingself.com, and it’s the very first happiness class. It’ll teach you how different ideas impact you and the way that you feel. By really reaching for the ideas that we’ve discussed today around forgiveness and very intentionally learning how to shift your thoughts, it’ll help you feel better. It’ll help you feel more forgiving and it will help you find the peace that you’re probably looking for if you’re listening to this podcast. So that is all for today. Thank you for listening and I will talk to you again very soon.

[Outro Song]

 


Episode Highlights

  • Two Kinds of Forgiveness
    • The first type of forgiveness is forgiving other people, while the other is about forgiving yourself.
  • Forgiving Yourself
    • The core of forgiveness is compassion, which is understanding why something happened the way it did.
    • Instead of being critical of your past mistakes, view yourself without judgment.
    • Ask yourself if the person you are today would still do what you did in the past. If not, then you have grown.
    • If you are religious, tap into your belief system’s ideas about forgiveness. For example, Catholicism has confession and absolution.
  • Asking For Forgiveness From Others
    • Forgiveness from others is not about you. 
    • The first thing you need to do is acknowledge the harm you have done. 
    • If the person you are asking forgiveness from decides to open up about their experience, be willing to listen.
    • Also, talk about how would you handle the situation in the future. Show them that you are sincere to be of service to them again.
    • You can also write a letter to yourself or to others as a start.
  • Forgiving Others Who Are Not Remorseful
    • Indulging in your anger by having revenge fantasies is a step towards healing. But if it goes on for a while, it will negatively backfire on you. 
    • Try to understand why the people who have wronged you did what they did. Often, their actions make sense even if it is not morally correct.
    • Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you condone bad behavior. You can oppose their actions while making peace with what they have done to you.
    • In the same vein, forgiving does not mean you open doors for them to wrong you again. You can forgive someone and set boundaries.
    • Finally, forgiveness is a choice.

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2 Comments

  1. I once felt that I was being taken advantage of in a business situation, and it made me feel angry and resentful. When I was able to recognize that I was making a choice to be involved in the situation my anger vanished. In retrospect I think I was angry at myself… Finding compassion (and control) in the situation helped me forgive and move on.

  2. I once felt that I was being taken advantage of in a business situation, and it made me feel angry and resentful. When I was able to recognize that I was making a choice to be involved in the situation my anger vanished. In retrospect I think I was angry at myself… Finding compassion (and control) in the situation helped me forgive and move on.

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