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Why Forgiveness Will Change Your Life

October 19, 2012

Forgiveness is the essence of freedom. It will free you from your past; it will free you for your future. It will free up space within you to create the life and the love you really want. (I’m talkin really, really want.)

In this post, I'm going to talk about what forgiveness really is, why it's so important, and how to make it happen. If you're interested in changing your life, keep reading.

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Most of us are under the misconception that forgiveness is about the other person. I definitely used to think this way. I thought, “They are going to come to their senses about how they have harmed me, and then they are going to come crawling back, and then maybe I’ll forgive them!” (said with a sneer and a really ugly look on my face).

Of course, that’s what I thought before I knew better, because I was listening to my ego. Thankfully, I now understand the truth about forgiveness.

The reality is that it starts and ends with you. It has very little to do with the other person. 

I know—this is hard to understand at first. But here's the deal: what we hold onto within ourselves dictates our reality. Holding a resentment is like holding yourself hostage. Only you can release the prisoner, and (reality check) YOU are the prisoner.

We choose to forgive when we decide it's more important to be happy than to be right. We choose to forgive when we decide we are ready to let ourselves be free.

I know this is provocative stuff. You might be thinking, “But wait, I was really, really wronged!”

And you’re right, you probably were.

Forgiveness is not about denying what was done to you. Quite the contrary, actually.

Forgiveness is about feeling the hurt, the pain, and the anger about what happened to you, and even amid all those feelings, making a choice to forgive. 

Forgiveness is a decision.

Well, why is forgiveness a decision you'd want to make? Because unresolved resentments dictate our lives.

One more time, because it's that important that you understand this statement: resentments dictate our lives.

When we hang on to resentments we can't escape them--we may escape the people who triggered them, but unfortunately the feelings we're running from will make their way back into our new relationships. It's an infuriating process!

We often think the answer is outside of us--if we just found the "right" person we wouldn't feel the pain we've felt in other relationships.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but the truth is that what you hold onto internally is going to show up in front of you. Resentments included. That's the bad news.

The good news is: forgiveness is how you let it all go.

Forgiveness has the power to transform all of your relationships. (Seriously, this is powerful stuff). You can forgive anyone, and you might want to think about forgiving everyone.

But let's start small. Choose someone you are resenting and go through these steps. See what happens. Be open to a transformation. If it works--if you actually let your harsh feelings go--your whole world can change. So why not give it a shot?

Here is a mini-guide of what to do:

Step 1: Become Willing to Forgive. 

Willingness means that you are open to the possibility of forgiving. You are OPEN to it. It is a possibility. It does not mean that all of the sudden, you’re over it. It does not mean you erase the past (which is actually just stuffing it into the unconscious—we already know this is a big no-no).

It just means that you consciously create within your mind (and heart) a space for the possibility of a new reality—the reality that you are no longer resentful; a reality that you have forgiven.

Step 2: Bring Your Resentments to the Surface. 

Ask yourself, "Why am I angry?" Clearly pinpoint the feelings you are holding. You might want to make a list—how have you felt wronged or victimized? Just get clear.

Step 3: Distinguishing Soul from Ego. 

This step is all about recognizing that we are all essentially good people who've been hurt, and because of this, we make mistakes and hurt others.

We have a true self, which is our inherent goodness (Soul), and a wounded self, which operates from fear (ego). It is your wounded self, not your true self, that hurts other people. This is true for everyone.

When we operate from our wounded self (out of fear and hurt), we hurt other people. And we've all hurt other people! Many of us have hurt people that we really love! This doesn't happen because we're bad. This doesn't happen because we are flawed, or less-than, or just plain f-ed up!

It happens because we're also hurt! And the same goes for anyone who has hurt you too. Anyone who hurts others is also hurting. Does this make it ok? Of course not! But it's true, so it's better to recognize it as a reality rather than staying caught in the illusion that certain people are evil.

Viewing others as "bad" calls for justification of anger and resentment; viewing others as wounded calls for compassion.

(Again, this isn't easy, but it's true.)

Step 4: Look at Your Part. 

It's time to look at your part and to take some personal responsibility. Ask yourself, "How have I brought pain to this person or situation? How have I done a similar thing that was done to me?" This can be hard to do, but it is so important.

Getting honest about your part in the situation is essential. Your part may be that you've done something similar to what was done to you (this is often the case, especially in our adult relationships).

Or your part may be that you've held onto your own anger and hatred against a certain person for a long time. (This might be the case for things that happened to you when you were young.)

Get as honest as you can. Go down your list, look at the specific things you listed, and ask yourself "Have I done a similar thing?" You might be surprised at what you find.

Step 5: Surrender. 

Now you've done all the dirty work and it's time to let your feelings change on their own time. All of the steps above will guide you towards a shift.

I can't tell you how long it's going to take, but I can tell you that if you intend for it to happen, it will. If you can, spend a few minutes each day going through these steps and see what changes.

You will forgive.

And when you do, everything else will change for you too.

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Shelly Bullard, MFT
Shelly Bullard, MFT

Shelly Bullard, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist with a holistic and spiritual approach to relationships. She has worked with thousands of clients on improving their relationships with others and themselves, and she's also the instructor of the popular mindbodygreen courses How To Become The Most Attractive Version Of Yourself and How To Attract A Partner.

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