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The Power of Forgiveness

Re-posted from Michelle's Weebly blog

Looking to start the new year off in a healthier way? Want to learn from your past and not keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again? Forgiving yourself and others who have hurt you is a wonderful way to start to move your life forward in a happier way. It may not be easy...but it is life changing and makes us wiser and more compassionate in the long run. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. We all know this. So, why do we beat ourselves up and judge ourselves so harshly when we make a mistake? Why do we lose sight of our true potential by holding grudges against those who have hurt us? The act of forgiveness does not say, "What you did to me (or what I did to you) is ok, and I will forget it." It says, "What you did was hurtful or damaging in some way. I will not forget it, but have compassion for you and myself and want to move forward with my life, knowing everyone makes mistakes...and that I will learn from my experience with this hurt." Forgiveness takes away the pain of an event and replaces it with freedom, healing, compassion, and wisdom to know better next time and not repeat the same mistakes. Here are some steps you can take to help you forgive: 1. Assess the real damage (whether it is you who must forgive yourself for what you did...or whether it was someone else who hurt you) of what was done. What can you learn from the damage? What, if any, role did you play in the situation...meaning how did you allow that person to hurt you (if you were an adult, rather than an innocent child? This may be difficult to answer or painful, but be honest with yourself.) Did that person intend to hurt you...or was it possibly unintentional? Is that person dealing with any type of mental illness? Did you mean to hurt them (if you need to forgive yourself in the situation)? Did you or anyone else become stronger or learn something important as a result of the mistakes that were made in the situation? Sometimes, the greatest part of our own power and strength can be realized when others hurt us. We can survive and even thrive, finding new gifts we never noticed before, after challenging circumstances push us to our limits. 2. What, if anything, did you or the other person do to make the situation better? If it is you who hurt someone else, and if you are sorry for what you did, try to make it better in some way, directly or indirectly. For example, if you picked on someone who had some type of disability when you were a child, but don't feel comfortable finding that person and apologizing today, then perhaps consider donating money or time to a charitable foundation that supports those with the same type of disability. If it is someone currently in your life, apologize from your heart and make a promise to yourself and to that person to not continue to make the same mistakes. You could also try to pray or meditate on the situation to think of the best way for you to make things better. 3. Make an effort to not judge (whether it is you who you need to forgive or another person). Remember that when people are unkind or do things to hurt others, it is often because they are hurting and/or broken in some way. Try to put yourself in that person's shoes. Perhaps that person was abused or mistreated and didn't know how to he/she did the only thing he/she had learned to do, which was to hurt someone else to feel stronger. While this is not a healthy way to cope at all and only makes everyone involved hurt more, it is a relatively common reaction for those who have been hurt to continue the cycle of abuse until they are aware of their own habits/patterns and have learned healthier ways to cope with trauma and have improved self-esteem. Recognize that although that person may never have apologized to you, that he or she may feel bad for what was done to hurt you. 4. Be real with yourself and the other person involved. If you don't feel you can approach or confront the other person involved, then write a letter, and then tear it up and throw it out or burn it after you get your authentic feelings about the situation vented on paper. You could also talk to a friend or counselor to vent openly and get the feelings out to make sense of them. If you can speak with the person who hurt you, then be honest with him or her and explain what you would like to help improve the situation if possible and regain trust or confidence in your friendship with that person. 5. If you see continuing or repeating patterns in your own life, like being hurt in the same ways by different people in different situations...or if you are making the same mistakes, stop...analyze what is the central cause here and the possible root of the issue going on with this repeating situation? Why are you allowing yourself to continually be the victim, instead of learning from mistakes and hurts and treating yourself better? You deserve the same respect and happiness that everyone else does. Make sure your needs are being met, so that you don't end up hurting yourself or others repeatedly and that you have healthy boundaries with others in your life. Reading self help books and talking about this with those you trust or a counselor can help you to do this if you aren't sure where to start. Remember, forgiveness is not about giving a "get out of jail free" card to the ones who hurt you, releasing them from all blame or responsibility and continuing to trust them if they haven't earned it. It is about YOU, being able to move forward in a healthier way in your own life, being stronger, wiser, and more compassionate with yourself and others, which ultimately leads to a happier and more fulfilling life. If you make mistakes, try not to judge yourself. Instead, attempt to learn from what you did and look at why you did that. Then, take steps to not make the same type of mistake again and to make the situation better in whatever way you can. Here are some websites that may help: The Peace Abbey: The Forgiveness Project: Psychology Today How to Forgive Blog: The Mayo Clinic--A Great, Healthy Resource: You can also feel free to explore the links page on our website: Recommended Reading: The Wisdom of Forgiveness, by The Dalai Lama The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process For Resolving Anger & Restoring Hope, by Robert D. Enright, PhD

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