How Do I Forgive?? I’ve Never Been Able to...
We’ve had a lot of queries about forgiveness lately. I just found this answer I gave years ago on Beliefnet.com, and, to my surprise, I still like what I said. So here it is again:
Dear Belleruth, If holding negative emotions inside affects our health, it would be a good idea to forgive people when they hurt us. But tell me, how do you forgive? I've never been able to.
This is a tough one! Forgiveness is so difficult for all of us, even though I suspect it's probably the most powerful spiritual practice on the planet and, when genuine, very good for our health.
Second, let me say that it takes a lot of resentment to translate into an actual, physical health problem, and that too depends on the constitution and genes of the resentment holder, so it's not a good idea to try and scare yourself, health-wise, into forgiving!
Negative emotions aren't necessarily bad for you; it's important to acknowledge and own all our feelings. Denying feelings is potentially worse for your health. But, yes, generally speaking, it's best to acknowledge emotion, feel it for a while, and then release it, if at all possible.
Forgiveness is usually a slow, gradual process, so it's best not to expect an instant, magical transformation!
Here's what I suggest.
Every day, state your intention to let go of your anger and resentment. Don't push, demand, or harangue yourself about it. Just state your wish and resolve, even if you feel ambivalent about it. Intention, in and of itself, can carry you a long way.
You can even state it as a daily affirmation. Believe it or not, these work, hokey as they can seem. You could say something to yourself like, "More and more, I can imagine the possibility of forgiving so-and-so." All those caveats in that sentence keep you from sounding like a phony and allow you to inch your way along towards your goal.
You also want to make it clear to yourself that you are doing this for you--to make your heart freer and your life lighter. We all know that being imprisoned in our own anger is no day at the beach!
Your mind will want to keep returning to the original offense. But it is important to remember that every time you go back to thinking about the offense, you are re-injuring yourself. So you need to redirect your attention to something else--an image, symbol, idea, or memory of something nourishing and sustaining to you. You can use words like, "I choose to focus my mind on that which nourishes me." Keep redirecting your attention away from the injury, not because you're in denial over it, but because it no longer serves you to dwell on it.
Ask for help with this from all your sources--friends, guides, spiritual helpers, God, ancestors, teachers--visible and invisible, alive or long gone. Some people call this prayer. But if that word isn't in your lexicon, that's OK, too. Just call it "asking for help."
We actually have imagery for this, that keeps your focus on easing the constrictions, physical and metaphorical, around your heart, as opposed to reactivating your resentment and fury.
One day, forgiveness will tiptoe in and take up gentle occupancy in your heart. Be patient. Forgiveness happens.
Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award