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When someone hurts your feelings or betrays you, what is your response?
Do you “forgive and forget?” Is that even possible?
Perhaps you go through the motions of forgiving them and privately continue to feel resentful toward them. It is tempting to hold a grudge and develop bitterness in your heart toward others who have disappointed you, or acted in cruel ways.
Recently, I came to the realization that forgiveness is more than a theoretical idea.
I was miserable and stewing in anger and loss because of how a close friend treated me.
I recently wrote a book. I was so excited and eager to share it with my family and friends. I mailed a copy to a close friend who lived across the country. We continued our regular emails and phone calls, but there was no response about my book. I finally broached the subject and asked if they had read my book. Because of our past connection around reading and writing, I was longing to hear what they thought.
They told me that they were not able to compliment me on my book because they disagreed with the content and philosophy. They had no positive comments about it at all. This left me feeling raw and hurt. I had thought this person was someone who would celebrate my book, and instead, all I got was criticism. I was aware of feeling abandoned by someone I thought was a dear friend. I was devastated.
This event triggered a cascading shower of emotions and led me on a path of healing.
Here is what happened:
I acknowledged my anger. I vented with my husband and my coach. I wrote pages and pages in my journal. I cried, I shouted, and I released anger by furiously stomping along the forest trails. I came to realize that under the anger was hurt and rejection, and I spent extra time nurturing myself. I connected with my younger self and comforted my inner child.
I was led to a book called Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping. The organization called Radical Forgiveness contains helpful resources on this topic. This book offered a ritual that helped me to move from bitterness and anger to forgiveness and letting go. This took time, and there are days when I go back to this process to remind myself of the importance of forgiveness.
I share this ceremony as something that supported me on my healing path.
Here are the instructions I followed:
Write three letters to the person you think has wronged you or hurt you in some way.
Do not mail them!
Vent all your anger in this letter.
Hold nothing back and keep writing until you have nothing left to say. This process may cause you to shed tears of rage, sadness, resentment, or hurt. Let them flow. If you are angry, you may want to scream into a pillow or hit a soft couch with a tennis racquet to help you feel and release your anger.
This could be written the next day if you want some space to feel the impact of the first letter.
This letter carries less anger and vengeance even though it doesn’t let the person off the hook for what you believe they have done to you. It does, however, make an effort to bring understanding, compassion, and generosity to the equation. There is the possibility of forgiveness. Viewing the interaction from a different perspective helps to be more objective. For example, imagine looking down from a higher place at yourself and the person, and write from this third person perspective. You may find it helpful to imagine yourself in the position of an objective observer of the event.
This may be written the same day or the next.
Make an attempt to describe a new interpretation of the situation.
I told my friend that I was forgiving them for my sake. I no longer wanted to carry the bitterness in my heart and body and have it spoil my life. I said that forgiving them did not mean that I was ready to talk to them on the phone or that I approved of their words and actions to me. I was clear about my boundaries.
Remember, none of these letters are mailed. They are designed to shift your energy—not the energy of the recipient.
I found a safe place to burn the letters. I carried a cast iron frying pan outside to my front garden. I crumpled up the letters and placed them in the pan.
I closed my eyes and breathed in and out several times. Then, I opened my eyes and lit the paper on which the letters were written. Sitting quietly, I watched them burn. I noticed the smell, the sound, and the sight of the flames and waited for the grey ashes to form.
I kept breathing deeply and paid attention to my body and emotions. I started crying when I saw the ashes. I was struck by a sense of loss and imagined I was witnessing a memorial where I said goodbye to the friend I wanted and did not have.
I said farewell to the hope that I had been holding that some day, somehow, I would be able to please my friend by my writing, my spiritual ways, and my ideas.
As I cleaned the pan and wiped it dry, I also dried my tears. I buried the ashes under the maple tree, and as I sighed deeply, I was surprised by the lightness I felt. A miracle had happened! I was no longer burdened by the expectations of my friend. I was not worried about their feelings any longer. I had released my responsibility to please them. It was no longer my job.
When I forgive, I take back control of my own fate and feelings. I am free to be myself and create my own life of joy and love, independent of others’ expectations.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Over the past year, I have learned to care for myself as I relate to my friend.
Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and be free from the past. I trust that my experience has encouraged you to consider how forgiveness shows up for you. If you want help, find a coach or therapist to support you. Read books about forgiveness and learn how to forgive yourself.
My desire is that you find the lightness and joy that I now have because of my willingness to forgive.