The holidays are a time for counting our blessings, reconnecting with loved ones and enjoying festive family traditions. For many, it’s also a time when emotions run high and past hurts come bubbling up to the surface. Whether it’s a family member, co-worker, friend, or ex-lover, there’s bound to be someone in your life who has wronged you. When the hurt runs deep, forgiveness is often the last thing on our minds.
Whether we want to hold a grudge or not, once one is created it can seem impossible to let go. The longer we hold onto negative feelings, the more they become a part of who we are. Learning how to forgive takes time and practice. There’s an art to connecting with your feelings and creating the space to let them go.
If you’re ready to give yourself the gift of freedom from bitterness and resentment, you’ll have to put in the work. Although the process is different for everyone, going through the following exercises will help you along the way.
Make it about you
Hurt feelings left to fester create negative energy that often manifests itself as physical discomfort. Not only does letting go of a grudge lower your blood pressure and relieve anxiety, it also helps you sleep better, makes you feel more energetic and gives you the motivation to redefine yourself and transform your life.
Forgiving someone isn’t about that person at all. Instead, it’s a way to improve your life, release stress and create peace of mind. Stop giving the person who hurt you the power to rob you of your joy. Instead, release yourself from the pain of raw emotions, let go of the hurt and shift to a mindset of positive thoughts and attitude.
Understand what forgiveness is (and what it isn’t)
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you condone their actions or that what they did to you was okay. It also doesn’t relieve the other person from being accountable for their behavior or require you to simply “get over it.”
Because the act of forgiving is really about freeing yourself from the negative, there’s no reason you need to wait for the wrong-doer to show remorse. Opening yourself up to a state where you’re willing to forgive means you’ve given yourself the permission to let go and start the healing process.
Decide if you’re ready
Before you can truly let go, you’ll need to decide whether you really want to forgive the person in question. Sometimes, the answer will simply be no. If you’ve been hurt too deeply or the offender’s ongoing actions make it impossible for you to move on, don’t push it. Trying to force forgiveness will make you feel worse. Instead, set the intention to work towards being ready to forgive, then go at your own pace.
Explore your resentment
Once you’ve decided you’re ready, you’ll need to take a deep dive and explore your emotions. Acknowledge that it’s okay to be hurt and angry and allow yourself to feel whatever comes up in the process. Only by validating your feelings can you prepare yourself to let them go.
Often this is the point where we recognize that it’s our own story about what happened, rather than the situation itself, that’s causing our raw emotions. We sometimes get so used to telling the story of how we’ve been wronged that it takes on a life of its own. Try re-framing your narrative by making it about how you overcame what happened to you and learned to forgive.
Look for an opportunity to grow
Take a step back and ask yourself how you can learn from what happened. Do you need to be clearer about your boundaries? Could you have been more in-tune to what the other person needed from you? Would better communication have helped you avoid the situation?
We may not have the power to control how other people treat us, but we can always take control of how we react to it. Instead of letting a negative situation continually impact your life, embrace it and use it as an opportunity to grow
While you’re re-examining what happened to you, try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. Is it possible that you’ve overreacted or the person who hurt you did so unintentionally? In some cases, the obvious answer is absolutely not, but it’s still a good idea to take a second look. Going through this process helps you clearly understand what happened so you can put it behind you.
Say the words and let it go
Finally, decide whether you’ll tell the person who hurt you that you forgive them. Because this process is completely about you, there’s no reason to communicate this information unless you want to. If you choose not to reach out, simply say to yourself out loud: “I forgive you,” and allow yourself to truly believe it.
No matter how hard we try, the ability to forgive doesn’t always come naturally. You may find that you need to repeat the process many times before you’re able to completely put it past you. The more you practice, the easier it will get.
Eventually, one day, you’ll realize that your feelings about how someone else treated you have changed in a profound way. That’s when you’ll know you’ve finally mastered the art of learning how to forgive.