We all have times where people we care about hurt us. Sometimes these wounds are fleeting and temporary at the moment. Other times the wounds we experience are long-lasting and detrimental to our development and functioning. It’s not unusual for clients to come into my office holding onto past hurts from parents, siblings, friends/peers, bosses, coworkers, exes, spouses, and children. What they don’t realize is that they have not been able to forgive the other person and move on. Sometimes forgiveness is a process and requires intentionality.
Today I hope to relay to you a method for forgiveness and healing. It’s a way to work through the past hurt, validate your own feelings about what happened, and eventually move on and let go. It is a 5-step protocol to help you forgive and be released from the burdens of resentment, hurt, and anger. I would recommend that this process is journaled or typed out as you move through the different steps.
Disclaimer: There are situations where addressing the past hurt with the offender would be more damaging and detrimental to you than helpful (for example, any type of abuse). This model is especially helpful for situations like that. It’s also helpful in situations where the person is no longer living or you don’t have contact with them. In addition, this protocol is ideal in circumstances where the other person does not apologize or acknowledge any wrongdoing.
The first step is to recall the hurt. This means to dig in deep and recall memories and situations that can potentially be very painful. Think about the person and what they did. Write about it in detail. Talk about how it made you feel. Sometimes this is the hardest part. Don’t dismiss your feelings or ignore the hurt you felt. Really allow yourself to get in touch with what emotions were stirred up for you. Write about how the incident has continued to impact you.
This is possibly the hardest step. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and imagine why they may have treated you the way they did. Try to look at the offender through a different lens. Think about their intent and motivation to hurt you. Ask yourself the following questions: Was it malicious? Why did this person hurt you? Has someone else treated them like that before? Are they a very hurt and broken person themselves? Could this have been a result of their own stress and problems? What was their past history/childhood like? Do they know how you feel? Do they realize they hurt you? Have they done this to others?
Empathizing with the offender is extremely important for a few reasons. It allows you to see things from their perspective. It also allows you to imagine what their thoughts and feelings might have been when they hurt you. Empathy also allows you to develop some compassion and understanding for the other person and their own life experiences.
Forgiveness is a gift to both yourself and the offender. In this step, recall times when you have been imperfect and hurt someone else. Think about situations where others have shown you grace and forgiveness when they didn’t have to. Write about specific situations and events. Remember how it felt when others were kind to you, even when they didn’t have to be. Apply this same thought process to your current situation, and make a commitment to extend the gift of forgiveness to the offender.
Sometimes it feels too difficult to completely forgive the other person for the transgressions. It’s okay to just commit to working towards forgiveness if you’re not ready or able to completely forgive. Remember that forgiveness is a process and not just a snap decision that you wake up and make one day.
If you are able to completely forgive the other person, it’s important to do something visible to cement this decision to forgive. When appropriate, tell the offender that you have forgiven them in person or in a letter. If this is not possible or would possibly be a toxic interaction, then definitely find another way. Tell a trusted friend or family member, write it on a piece of paper, plant a flower in your garden, journal about it, or make something artistic or creative to symbolize the freedom you feel.
Continue to hold onto the decision to forgive. Sometimes negative feelings will still come to the surface. Allow yourself to acknowledge and validate these feelings. Don’t try to ignore them or talk yourself out of them. Also, continue to grieve if you need to. It is part of the healing process. Make sure you are journaling about these feelings and naming them.
Talk to the people who are safe that you have shared with before. Process aloud what you are still struggling with. Go back to the physical reminders of the forgiveness, such as your journal entries, the plant, or the art symbol. Remember that just because you are recalling what happened, doesn’t mean you are being unforgiving. It just means you are continuing to process the situation.
Just because you forgive someone, it does not absolve them for what they did or justify their actions. What the offender did is still wrong. Forgiveness is not about the other person, it is about you. It is about freeing you from the burden of holding onto the hurt, pain, and resentment. It’s about allowing you to move forward without continuing to drag the baggage of your past behind you in a suitcase. Forgiveness is about you finding freedom.
It’s also very important to note that just because you forgive someone, it doesn’t mean that the hurt won’t bubble up to the surface every once in a while. This is why it is important to journal about it or have a physical representation of the forgiveness that you can revisit when this happens.
If you are reading this and realize you are struggling with forgiving some past hurts, please reach out for help. Therapy is a safe and supportive environment for you to be able to work towards forgiveness and letting go. It can also help you get “unstuck” when you feel like you are holding onto past hurts.
Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW
*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.
Journey to Joy Counseling serves the Indianapolis area, including Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.
*Adapted from Everett Worthington’s REACH Method for Forgiveness