To forgive or not to forgive, that is the question.. and how?

 Seldom does a therapy day pass without my needing to help my clients work through and heal from anger and pain about things that have happened to them so that they could move on without the heavy burden of their past hurts.

 Emotional wounds are like physical wounds that won’t heal because they are constantly being aggravated by associations that stimulate recall of the trauma: They ooze toxic secretions of victimization and vulnerability into every aspect of the person’s life; impacting their relationships with themselves and others. Unresolved emotional issues come to consciousness in many forms, disrupting life and creating unrest. The subconscious does its best to get the attention needed to confront and heal those wounds. It advises in dreams and in many symbolic ways (often as physical symptoms, or behavioral problems) the need for addressing the issues and for healing.

So often I hear a client say, “I know I need to forgive, and forget. But I can’t seem to do it”    Or,  “I’m not ready to forgive.”    

Forgiveness seems to be one of the main ingredients many people think of first in order to heal and move forward. Yet I’ve heard over and over again words like “I ought to forgive….” or, “I don’t know how to forgive.” “I could never forget what was done to me.”

 And, “I can’t forgive myself.”

 The subject of forgiveness comes up a lot in my practice because so many people have been hurt, or dealing with guilt that denies them inner peace. Indeed one of the most profoundly troubling mental practices is self blame; conscience is a powerful and cruel punisher.

Yes, we are told by so many people helpers from clergymen, priests, psychologists, counselors and psychotherapists that we need to forgive to free ourselves; that it’s the right thing to do; we are encouraged to employ forgiveness as a spiritually freeing act. To err is human; to forgive is divine, so we are taught.

 But what is forgiveness, and how do we do it? What’s the process? Is it really necessary?

The dictionary defines it as to cease to feel resentment (against a person); to pardon, to be merciful. In the Thesaurus: To absolve, acquit, excuse, a kind of amnesty, a reprieve, etc.

That seems to be a tough or seemingly impossible task for so many who harbor hurt, who still feel the pain, and bear the consequences of the acts perpetrated against them. They have not outlived the impact of it. We are told that time heals all wounds. This isn’t  an actual fact of life. It is how we use that time that enables healing.  If we spend that time aggravating the hurt by keeping it  always in our consciousness, thinking about how it effected us, letting it fester within us, its like  picking at an open wound,  it cannot heal.  Leave it alone and a scab will form, and leave that alone and the scab will fall off, and maybe leave a scar. But scars don’t hurt, they remind us that we have healed. Time can put distance between the painful events and the now, and allows us to do what it takes to heal. Time can change us and our ways of dealing with things, and lets the good things that come into our lives and the good feelings we experience outweigh the bad things that have happened to us.

What is your perception of forgiveness?  And how is it accomplished?

I’ve asked a great many people what their concept of forgiveness is, and how one goes about forgiving. What follows are just a few of the most common responses: Acceptance. Coming to terms. Letting it go. Releasing the pain.  Putting it in its proper perspective. Changing your attitude about it him or her.   One person made it very plain and simple, seeming to speak for many others, saying, “When the person makes a genuine apology, expresses remorse and says I’m sorry, and promises to never ever do it again, I can forgive.”

Some people say they are not ready to forgive; some say they don’t know how to forgive; they are not sure what to do. Obviously they need to have some help to go through the processes that facilitate forgiveness.  It isn’t the same for everyone, of course.

In most cases people need guidance to get to the place where forgiveness is possible. There are many things that need to be accomplished consciously and subconsciously for my clients to lighten their emotional loads. It can be a challenging and complex process.  Always rewarding, though. Thank goodness for hypnosis, it’s a wonderful tool to facilitate that journey on the deepest levels of their psyches. When that process is complete, all it takes is to decide to forgive.

I think once you decide to forgive, because the mechanism for it is already in place within you, your subconscious takes over for you and does the rest. It seems to happen just like when we instinctively give a sigh of relief.  And then you can move on. The event and the pain become memories that no longer trouble you.

I teach the power of decision in my Mind Mastery Course, in my Weight Control Seminar and whenever applicable in hypnotherapy, for decision energizes and activates free will and releases your personal power to go to work for you. It gives your subconscious the signal to use all relevant resources towards the endeavor. Many people need help to create the right internal environment in order to make a decision that moves them to action.

However, must we forgive?  Is it an obligation?  Is it the only way we can let go of the pain? How important is it?

Frankly as I’ve said in other blogs, I think some things and some people are unforgivable. Whatever motivated their actions, whatever caused them to cause pain and suffering, becomes irrelevant in the whole scheme of the terrible consequences of their acts: i.e. Hitler, Bin Laden, other perpetrators of diabolically cruel and evil acts. Also repetitive negative and cruel acts by the same person are less forgivable.

I don’t feel, based on my clinical experience, that forgiving others is always necessary for healing and being able to move on. I do think in many cases forgiving the responsible party is a way for a victim taking back their power… refusing to continue to be the victim! For as long as the perpetrator is holding them captive to the experience, invading their memory and emotional states, he or she is in the position of power. If we allow this kind of empowering the guilty, we can only feel trapped in the past, more victimized and forever vulnerable. What needs to happen is the healing of the wounds, so the pain no longer causes the memory to hurt. Forgiving isn’t always forgetting, although we can also choose to forget, we have that power. As humans we have a special faculty for forgetting, just as we do for recalling what continues to be important to us.

It doesn’t mean when you forgive that you are excusing the person of wrong doing or blame, or that you are making the person’s action acceptable. Not at all:  It simply means that you are making an adjustment in how you deal with it, and choosing to heal from the hurt.

I know, though, from my working with thousands of people, forgiving oneself  IS  crucial to being able to live with one’s self.

For so many, even though they have acknowledged their wrong doing or mistakes, and have said many apologies with heartfelt sincerity, even made amends, they still torture themselves with guilt.  In fact it seems easier for some people to forgive others than themselves; just as it’s easy for some people to forgive themselves by not taking full responsibility for their actions.  

Many people hold themselves to such high standards of conduct that if they are unable, for whatever reason to live up to perfectly and always, sentence themselves to self-made prison of guilt. And errors they make become sins and/or crimes deserving of severe punishment.

 In my book, The Mind Is Willing, I’ve given this subject considerable attention, for due or undue guilt and self recrimination are some of the most damaging things a human being can do to him or herself.  Space and time herein does not allow for that lengthy attention; however, in order to begin to release you from your prison of guilt, here are some questions for you to answer.

Are you holding onto the hurt for a reason? Do you know the reason?  

Are you keeping the guilt because you deserve it as a form of punishment?

Is it because the hurt or offended one isn’t forgiving you? Is that person still dealing with the pain resulting from your actions?

Did you do what you did knowing it would hurt?  Was your action/s out of ignorance, circumstance, accidental, unintentional?

What motivated your action/s?

Did the person hurt contribute in any way to your acting as you did?

Where were you in your life and times when you acted as you did?

What was going on in your life then?

Have you have done your best to make amends?

Have you learned from the experience?

There may be other questions to be answered; however, the ones listed are good beginning.

 We need to be as forgiving of ourselves as we would be of others, that is, if we are capable of being forgiving; some people are not, or simply refuse to forgive as a matter of principle:  Is that you?  The biblical phrase comes to mind, “Judge not lest you be judged.”  Some people have double standards; they have stricter rules for others than they have for themselves which makes forgiving impossible in most cases.

Now, to begin to relieve yourself of guilt, or to begin the process of forgiving another, do the following exercise…

 Imagine what it would be like to continue to carry the hurt with you, day in and day out, feel the weight of it, and be aware of how it is impacting your internal and external world with a dark shadow of pain from the past.

How does that feel?  Is that what you choose for yourself?

Now…imagine what it would feel like to forgive, (yourself or someone else) to be moving on free of the burden of the memory, free of the hurt.

Now, relax, go within, and imagine freeing your self of it, visualize this dark and heavy burden coming out from within your whole being, from out of your soul, evaporating into thin air, and in so doing feel your spirits lighten, your emotions become calmer, and a sense of inner peace come over you.

To be forgiven for our mistakes, our errors is a blessing, it’s a relief.

To forgive others is a choice. It needs to be made from a position of inner strength.

You may have some things you need to do to before you are ready to release yourself, or someone else; for your own sake, take those steps, for in themselves they will have a profound therapeutic effect. You will feel in charge of your own inner being and your life. You will no longer be a victim, you will have taken the power away from the one who hurt you and taken it back for yourself.

As I said, the mechanism is already in place within you; all it needs is your conscious determination to set it in motion. Your wise and wonderful subconscious will do the rest.

I wish you a rewarding journey on the path to forgiveness and a sense of freedom when you arrive at your destination.

TTFN and all the best, always, from  Elaine Kissel

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One Response to “To forgive or not to forgive, that is the question.. and how?”

  1. Bonny Anderson Says:

    You did it again Dr. Kissel. Everytime I read your blog I learn something
    I enjoy readng it, I like the way you write and how you give me tools for getting insights into myself and to help me get my head straight on stuff. Thanks a million.
    Bonny

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