"My heart eased immediately and I could see the tension released in his shoulders." -- Immaculee Illabagiza, from the book, "Left To Tell."
"Forgiveness is the moment-to-moment experience of peace and understanding that occurs when an injured party's suffering is reduced as they transform their grievance against an offending party." -- Fred Luskin, Ph.D., from the book, "Forgive for Good."
Forgiveness isn't always an option, especially when a person has been severely hurt. They say that time is a great healer, and sometimes time is the only way.
It's not about letting someone off the hook. Forgiveness is about freeing ourselves so that we can move forward in our lives and not continue to suffer. When forgiveness is possible, it's a conscious choice and it's a gift to the self.
It also benefits our mental health. The Stanford University HOPE projects (HOPE 1 and HOPE 2) gave forgiveness training to several men and women who had tragically lost their parents, spouses, siblings, or children in the conflict in Northern Ireland. After the forgiveness training most of them registered significant reductions in hurt, anger, stress and depression.
Others studies of people with less severe unresolved hurts have shown significant improvements in how they felt after forgiveness.
Drawing from some of this forgiveness research and personal experiences of bullying, below are my five tips for how to let go of the past.
5 Forgiveness Tips
1) Make a determined decision to forgive
Acknowledge that forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook, but about freeing yourself so that you can fully get on with your life. This gives you motivation to move forward.
2) Realize it is good for you to let go
Acknowledge that forgiveness will benefit your mental and emotional health, the health of your heart and help you to move on with your life.
3) Develop empathy
Acknowledge that you too may have hurt people in the past, and from this train of thought try to develop some empathy for the person who has hurt you (if that is possible -- if the transgression was not too severe). Could their behaviour have been the result of some way they have been hurt in the past? Could they have had a bad childhood, for instance? Could they have now changed, as you might have done? When we develop empathy, it makes forgiveness much easier.
4) Write a letter to the person who has hurt you (but don't post it)
This is about getting things off your chest. Write about how you feel, how you were hurt, and say what you would like to say to the person. Imagine talking to them face-to-face and finish by saying that you are choosing to let go now and move on with your life and that you wish them well with theirs. It's important to get stuff off your chest but to finish on a positive note. You can turn this into a ritual and have a "letting go" party, where you and some friends might burn your letters.
5) Take a positive action
This is about doing something positive that demonstrates to yourself that you have moved on. What have you not done because you have been holding onto the past? Could you do it now?