In Buddhism, forgiveness is seen as a practice to prevent harmful emotions from causing havoc on one’s mental well-being. Buddhism recognizes that feelings of hatred and ill-will leave a lasting effect on our mind kamma and instead encourages the cultivation of emotions which leave a wholesome effect. "If we haven’t forgiven, we keep creating an identity around our pain, and that is what is reborn. That is what suffers."
Forgiveness is something virtually all Americans aspire to -- 94% surveyed in a nationwide Gallup poll said it was important to forgive -- but it is not something we frequently offer. (In the same survey, only 48% said they usually tried to forgive others.) Perhaps this is because forgiveness is something we don't fully understand. Perhaps, as Friedrich Nietzsche did, we associate forgiveness with weakness. Or perhaps we view forgiveness as an almost saintly quality that imbues only the very special and most certainly cannot be learned. In fact, the opposite is true. Those who have studied it can tell you without qualification that forgiveness is a sign of strength. Here are 10 steps to help you forgive.
1. Understand that forgiving does not mean giving permission for the behavior to be repeated. It does not mean saying that what was done was acceptable. Forgiveness is needed for behaviors that were not acceptable and that you should not allow to be repeated.
2. Recognize who is being hurt by your non-forgiveness. Does the other person burn with your anger, feel the knot in your stomach, experience the cycling and recycling of your thoughts as you re-experience the events in your mind? Do they stay awake as you rehearse in your mind what you would like to say or do to 'punish' them? No, the pain is all yours
3. Do not require to know 'why' as a prerequisite to forgiveness. Knowing why the behavior happened is unlikely to lessen the pain, because the pain came at a time when you did not know why. Occasionally there are times when knowing why makes forgiveness unncessary, but they are rare. Don't count on it and don't count on even the perpetrator knowing why.
4. Make a list of what you need to forgive. What was actually done that caused your pain? Not what you felt, what was done.
5. Acknowledge your part. Were you honest about your hurt or did you hide the fact that the behavior hurt you? Did you seek peace by reassuring the perpetrator that it was all right? Did you stay when you could or should have left? If so, then you, too, have some responsibility. (Here you start to move away from being a victim.)
6. Make a list of what you gained from the relationship, whatever form of relationship it was. Looking back you may be focusing on the negatives, the hurts. Yet if they were repeated, you must have stayed to allow the repetition. You did not remove yourself. Why? There must have been some positives if you chose to stay around. What were they?
7. Write a letter to the person (no need to mail it). Acknowledge what you gained from the relationship, and express forgiveness for the hurts. Allow yourself to express all your feelings fully. Do not focus only on the hurts.
8. Create a ceremony in which you get rid of your lists and the letter. You may choose to visualize placing them on a raft and watching it drift gently away down a river. You may prefer to burn them and scatter the ashes. You may invent some other form of ritualized separation.
9. Visualize the person you are forgiving being blessed by your forgiveness and, as a result, being freed from continuing the behavior that hurt you. Forgive yourself.
10. Now that you have freed yourself from the pain and anger, feel yourself growing lighter and more joyous. Now you are free to move on with your life without that burden of bitterness. You may decide to heal the relationship or move on without it, but either way you are free to move forward from a healthy state.
This piece was originally submitted by Diana Robinson, Ph.D., Professional Life Coach, Writer, Editor, Counselor, who can be reached at Diana@choicecoach.com