Forgiveness and forgiving
Forgiveness can be a complex issue. It isn't always simple and straightforward to forgive those who have wronged you. Often there are a lot of negative emotions and trauma attached. And separating and releasing those can be anything but simple.
This week, Melissa Ebken joined me on the podcast, to talk about the topic of forgiveness and forgiving. Her calling centers around working with individuals on both forgiving others and forgiveness of oneself. Melissa was a biologist and worked for the IL Army National Guard as a utility helicopter mechanic.
Over the past 25 years, Melissa has observed how amazingly peoples’ lives are changed when they can forgive and be forgiven.
She has repeatedly witnessed these differences firsthand, when people learn to forgive themselves and others. The results can be profound and deeply healing, driving Melissa’s passion to guide those overcoming difficult challenges and experiences in their lives.
“The act of forgiveness takes place in our own mind. It really has nothing to do with the other person.”
- Louise Hay
Personally, forgiveness has certainly been a complex topic. I had a hard time understanding that forgiveness did not need to revolve around forgiving and forgetting. Not being able to let go of the complex feelings associated with forgiveness, exacerbated my own mental health distress. And it took a long time to understand that I did not need to continue to hurt because of someone else’s actions. That is the true power of forgiving.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a quality that characterizes a relationship in which one is able to forgive oneself to forgive others. It can be a gift you offer to yourself or others. Forgiving can mean different things to different people; however, it typically involves letting go of anger, hurt, shame, guilt, grudges and any plans for taking revenge. It could also involve accepting that you are worthy and deserving of forgiveness. Especially, if you were the one who caused hurt.
Although the initial act that caused the trauma, hurt, or offense will always be, forgiving the person who has caused it might help you break free from their hold and loosen its effect on you. Sometimes, the offense could be too great to consider any relationship after forgiveness. It is for you to decide what feels right and to work in small steps for your own healing.
But the act of forgiveness within yourself, without involving the other person, could bring healing and a sense of release and peace. Other times, when the offense has been small or minor, you might even feel compassion, empathy, or understanding for the person who hurt you. You might be able to move through the experience together.
Forgiveness does not entail making amends with the offender or forgetting the hurt they caused every time. Many people believe that forgiveness justifies misbehavior, but this is not what it actually is. Forgiving offers a kind of “inner peace” that makes it easier to move on with life. It's about allowing oneself to let go and stop letting other peoples’ actions control or punish oneself. The result can be profound healing.
Forgiveness and mental health
Whatever the trauma involved, forgiveness is a potent mental and physical healer. It can reduce heart disease risk, reduce stress, and improve emotional suffering. When sustained over time, both physically and emotionally, anger may be a highly damaging and toxic emotion. Forgiving can help release and heal anger.
Forgiveness can definitely be challenging. Especially if you never receive a justly-deserved apology, for example. There is also the possibility that the person who wronged you is not sorry for what they did. In other cases, the person you want to forgive may have passed away, making it significantly more challenging to find closure.
One benefit of forgiving is that it frees us. We continue to allow other people to harm our life when we hang onto the rage, hurt, and resentment stemming from what they did to us. Although the other person may no longer be a part of your life, your internalized anger can still be there for a long time afterwards. Years can go by, and you might still carry these emotions with you.
Other emotional advantages of forgiving others include better relationships with individuals already in your life. Think about the potential impact your deeply held resentment and anger may have on other relationships. You could discover that when you forgive people, you are more receptive to love, acceptance, and trust in your existing relationships.
According to research, controlling stress and anger can help people sleep better, feel less anxious, and have better overall health. In general, forgiving others gives you a chance for tremendous personal growth and facilitates the development of more profound and satisfying connections.
Working with a Forgiveness Coach
So, how can we achieve "letting go", especially when it sometimes seems like an impossibility? Even if we want to consider forgiveness, often our emotions can surface with a vengeance and leave us feeling helpless and angry at the situation.
Melissa Ebken works with an eight-step process that helps her clients forgive and live a free and peaceful life. Working through these stages with a professional therapist, counselor, or coach can be incredibly beneficial. If you feel stuck or unable to move forward, working with someone might facilitate the beginning of forgiving. It can be helpful to have someone you can open up to, who listens to you, and can help guide you on the journey of forgiveness for your peace of mind.
Working with a forgiveness guide has a lot of benefits. One of them could be helping you become aware of and acknowledge your suffering. Only once you become aware of what is happening, can you begin to manage how you move forward. Whether you were on the receiving end or you caused the hurt, acknowledging what has happened can stir up a lot of emotions and pain. A forgiveness coach can help you talk through your experiences and begin to process them.
You may want to journal about your experience, or confide in a relative or close friend. Even just talking about what happened can begin the forgiveness process. It is important to be honest with yourself about what you are feeling. Often, we are not aware that a situation has caused a lot of internalized sadness or anger. Fully experiencing and accepting anything you might be feeling can help you heal. A coach can also provide you with resources that can help you address forgiveness from different perspectives.
One benefit of forgiving is that it can free us, mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Often, we continue to allow other people to harm us, when we hang on to the anger, hurt, and resentment stemming from what happened. Or, you may be feeling guilt, shame, and fear over what happened. Although the other person may no longer be a part of your life, your internalized feelings are still there, hurting you.
This hurt can last for years, and can eventually manifest as mental or physical distress. Some people develop insomnia, pains in their body, or deep sadness and anxiety. Letting someone else’s control over your emotions go, can help you move through the hurt they caused, so you can live peacefully.
Certainly, forgiveness does not condone or justify someone's actions. Trauma can be so deep and intense that a relationship with the person will simply not be possible; however, forgiveness is about allowing yourself to separate from the negative emotions their actions have caused within you.
It is about allowing yourself to heal, so the impact of their actions does not continue to re-traumatize you.
Forgiveness can be a bit like a scar. You still know that you had an injury where the scar is, but you are no longer bleeding and in pain from it. Think about the impact that pain, anger, and resentment may have on your life now. You deserve to forgive and be forgiven, so you can become whole and healed.
You deserve to close that wound, so you can have your life back and find some peace.
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