- Understand fully that forgiveness does not mean that it is all right for the aggressive behavior to ever be repeated. Forgiveness is meant for past behavior that was unacceptable.
- Give up the unrealistic hope that the offender will apologize or answer your questions or be able to explain why he or she hurt you. Even if apologies or answers were forthcoming, they would not alleviate the pain. The offender’s views, and depth of insight, will differ from your own.
- Understand that the pain is all yours, not the other person’s. When we forgive, it is for the purpose of dealing with our own pain.
- Make up a list of the specific things that were done to you which you have decided to forgive.
- This means acknowledging and grieving the losses that have resulted from being hurt, and this may generate potent feelings of anger, sadness and fear.
- See if there were any positives about the relationship. In some cases there may not be anything positive – but if they do exist, acknowledging them could help you move toward a more compassionate view of the relationship.
- Write a letter to the offender. This is a letter that you will never send. Allow your feelings to flow onto paper. Write freely about your hurt and anger, but include any positive feelings you may have about the relationship. If it feels right to you, acknowledge that they were probably doing their best at the time or perhaps they had been strongly influenced by their upbringing.
- Regardless of whether or not you write a letter, you can use your imagination and have a dialogue with the offender. Try to talk out loud if you do this. If you have their picture, look at it while you talk. You can also imagine what they might say in response, and then you can reply to what you imagine they would say. It may be helpful to look at your reflection in the mirror while you have this dialogue. When you do this you are witnessing yourself letting go of your pain. An alternative to this is to engage in a role-playing exercise with a close friend or a professional therapist.
- Create a separation ceremony which ends the connection between you and the offender. For example, you might burn your letter and the lists you made and then scatter the ashes. Or you might visualize a final goodbye where the offender-and your hurt feelings-float away like a balloon, becoming smaller and smaller and eventually disappearing. As part of this ceremony, give the perpetrator your blessing and forgiveness.
- Celebrate your freedom to live your life unburdened by the pain of your past hurt.
If you have intense feelings during any of these steps, this may be an indicator that you may need to work some more on your losses before you are ready to forgive. The help of a supportive person – a professional therapist or a trusted friend – may be needed as you progress through this experience.
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