If you’ve ever been harmed by someone you understand how difficult offering forgiveness is. Forgiveness can feel counter-intuitive depending on the circumstances, and you may find yourself harboring ill-will or resentment. As if all this wasn’t difficult enough you may also be struggling with forgiving yourself for an error in judgement or poor behavior, and now carry the weight of regret or shame. Resentment, revenge, shame and guilt only keep you from healing and moving forward. If you’ve been holding onto past pain because you feel the need to be vindicated, or if you are punishing yourself for choices you’ve made which perpetuate feelings of shame or regret…it’s time to let go!

Healing old wounds and embracing forgiveness requires you to develop an awareness for compassion and self-love. Forgiveness is a commitment, as the process will bring feelings and emotions to the surface. Consider breaking down the forgiveness process into smaller more manageable parts, and be kind to yourself while attempting to understand your feelings and release toxic emotions. Take the opportunity to learn, heal and grow from your experience. Releasing yourself from the weight of resentment and shame allows space for a happier and healthier life.

VALIDATION —Yes,  your pain is real

When I’ve been treated poorly by someone I provide myself validation of my thoughts and feelings. This is incredibly important, since many of us have been told as children we should remain silent and not speak our truth. As adults we’re told to “suck it up” and “get over it.” Once we are able to acknowledge our pain we can assess if we are responsible for any part of the pain we are experiencing. This acknowledgment, though painful is empowering. It takes a great deal of courage to admit when we’ve moved out of our integrity or made a mistake in judgement, but it also moves us forward and assists in the emotional growth process.

If you’ve been harmed by someone but have not received a request for forgiveness…that is not your problem as you’re working on you! When we focus our energy on our own experience and emotional growth we remove the need to focus our energy on those whom we feel have harmed us (trust me, they are having their own experience). Is it worth stunting your growth for those who are not interested in their own? If you answered no, you’re ready to move to the next stage.

Helpful Tips

  1. Morning affirmations : Start your morning with positive statements. Perhaps it’s as simple as a positive affirmation you say out loud, or maybe it’s a practice of writing in a journal. If you have spiritual faith it could be a prayer. Whatever works for you, as the goal is to acknowledge and validate your personal journey.
  2. The company you keep : Take inventory of your friends, lifestyle and work environment. If anything is perpetuating negativity begin to evaluate and perhaps even remove yourself from a situation, social circle, or even a friend (have you heard of the term “frenemy?”). You may find you instantly feel empowered by taking control over your situation and happier without certain people or things you thought you needed in your life.

Holding on to negative emotions enhances cellular memory of the pain you are feeling, which in turn upsets the chemical balance of the body, causing physical and emotional stress to the sufferer.

EVOLUTION — Drop the emotional baggage

Now that you’ve validated your pain you are ready to move into the evolution stage. This stage can be painful because this is when you will need to approach your feelings, and do something with those feelings. Too often people instantly want to forget a painful situation. Be careful not to move through this stage too quickly (or not at all). Do not miss an opportunity to understand why you are making particular choices and how you can learn, grow, and modify your behaviors for the future.

When you hold onto hurt (even in your subconscious) you store it within you. Pain stored in the body can come out in the form of illness and “dis-ease.” Are your ready to approach your pain differently so you are able to fully heal? If you are still vacillating on your next step you made need to go back to the validation stage. There’s no shame in reworking stages of forgiveness. If you’re holding onto your pain as protection, find safety in knowing your intention is to heal, and you are deserving of a life free of resentment and ill-will.

Take the time to realize all of human kind is imperfect. We are all going to make mistakes and hurt each other at some point. Search for understanding and perspective. If you feel someone has caused you harm with intention, understand this person may be working through some personal matter which you are completely unaware of. However, you can make the choice to move beyond blame or revenge and into a place of compassion, healing and growth.

There are things happening in the world we cannot make sense of. Instead of attempting to understand why, take the time to acknowledge we are all having our own experiences. Focus on moving through your life growing from your experiences, both positive and negative. Remove the need to avoid adversity and instead seek the courage to move through it.

Helpful Tips

  1. Mindful inner dialogue : Rumination is a difficult habit to break free of. It’s imperative to quiet the mind and change the inner dialogue so you are able to move through the stages of forgiveness. Start with five to ten minutes of deep breathing in a quiet place, and if you hear that negative voice, flip the switch and create a positive dialogue.  Be present about what you are mentally perpetuating, and modify accordingly.
  2. Gratitude : It may seem as though much of our day is filled with negative messages. All you have to do is turn on the evening news to understand there is suffering in the world. Make a choice to see beauty. It is all around you, every day. A simple smile from your child, the sound of falling rain, or the smell of your neighbor’s rose garden. Look to source these moments all day long and be thankful for them. Perhaps even a “pay it forward” action which blesses both you and a stranger who may really need a nudge to get back on track to a positive mindset.

“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” ~David Mitchell

RELEASE — True forgiveness is empathy and compassion for others and self

My mother has a saying, “release them with love.” Releasing with love is a blessing to those whom have harmed you and also a blessing to yourself. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ve been through the validation and evolution stages so you’re ready! Love is a powerful gift and we can source it at any time. If someone has caused you harm you have a choice to either dwell in a place of victimization or thrive in a place of courage and strength. Provide those whom have harmed you with something they may be unable to source themselves…love. It is the ultimate gift and is readily available if you genuinely desire to be free of negativity and on the path for emotional growth. Provide yourself compassion if you’ve behaved poorly, and consider it an opportunity and motivation to do better next time…and there will be a next time.

This stage is the most difficult and may take some time to fully embrace and trust you’ve forgiven others for the pain they’ve caused you. If you practice integrity and positive intention, you will begin to understand you do not need to burden yourself with other people’s cruelty. Moving through life this way allows you to release others to find their own way, because you’ve already moved on to a better place.

Helpful Tips

  1. Integrity check : True forgiveness will require you to be in your integrity. This means you must let go of any ideas of revenge or ill-will. When we want others to suffer (even if they’ve done something cruel) we are not in our integrity. Wishing ill-will on others only perpetuates ill-will to self. Remind yourself it is not your place to judge others. I personally feel there is a “karmic boomerang” to life, so be cognizant while navigating your intentions. 
  2. Live with love : We are all on our own individual journey and have our own priorities to manage. However, we are also here to be in service to each other. Many of us are led by our fear. We fear connecting with others because we don’t want to get hurt. We fear loving someone because we may experience heartbreak — we sometimes even fear we would never recover from such heartbreak. The reality is love in its purest form is a gift to both ourselves and those around us. When love is given freely and without expectation it adds to our lives instead of taking away. I’ve had people tell me love is hard. To that I say love isn’t difficult, but relationships can be. As humans we manifest “what if” scenarios in our minds which perpetuate fear. What if we entered into each relationship with the mindset we were going to offer a gift to someone along with offering lessons and receiving them. Wouldn’t love be perceived as a blessing which helps us grow and not an emotion we need to struggle to find and receive?

The stages of forgiveness take time to refine, so remember to have compassion for yourself. As humans we have a habit of moving to a defensive position when we’ve been harmed. In some instances taking a defensive position is helpful, but this is not the case if you wish to move through the forgiveness process. A defensive position may have worked when we were cavemen, but we are evolving and expectations for ourselves should also evolve. Take the time to practice these three steps when a situation comes up where you feel deceived, slighted, or harmed in some way. Once you allow yourself to experience your feelings and emotions differently you will find understanding in a place of calmness and growth. Remember, forgiveness is a precious gift you give to others and yourself.

About the author

Elle Martin is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and founder of SoHo Well+being. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook for more health information and wellness inspiration. @SoHoWellbeing

Originally published at medium.com