The Power Of Forgiveness

"We move through life hurting others as well as being hurt.

"We move through life hurting ourselves as well as being hurt by others.

"And forgiveness is needed.

"I have written extensively in Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love about what forgiveness achieves and allows. What follows is a summary, recognizing that when forgiveness is absent, so is self-respect and perhaps self-love.

"Forgiveness is the most demanding of all the qualities; in our world, it is also the most essential. We live in a world where cycles of revenge or just plain bitterness and resentment rule in countless encounters from the most private to the most public.

"Forgiveness breaks those cycles. It allows you to say, 'I may hate what you have done. I may despise everything about you. But I nevertheless acknowledge that you are a complex human being, as I am, and I do not wish you harm.'

"It also lets you say, 'I hate what you have done — but I want to move forward, if only for my own sake.'

"Sometimes the person we find most difficult to forgive is our own self. Yet, no matter what we have done, reconciliation with ourselves remains just as essential if we are to go forward in our lives in a hopeful and compassionate way. As long as we can't forgive ourselves, we will be shut off from our own respect-and from love.

"There is no timetable to the process of forgiveness, especially when there has been a deep betrayal. However, these steps help both psychologically and spiritually.

"Know that:

• "Forgiveness is an acknowledgment of our shared complex humanity. 'The sun rises on the just and the unjust. . .'

• "It is irrelevant whether the person 'deserves' to be forgiven. You are forgiving to release yourself at least as much as the other person. And you are forgiving because you can.

• "Forgiveness does not pretend that something that was wrong is now right. It is not condoning.

• "Forgiveness has its own timetable; but you can make yourself ready. ('I will start by thinking more about the present than letting myself go over and over the past.')

• "Forgiveness is an act of Love that transcends the rational mind and calls on spirit or your highest self — yet has perceptible psychological and physical benefits as stress decreases and tension subsides.

• "Forgiveness happens in small stages. It starts with a determination not to let those past hurts or betrayals dominate your entire existence.

• "Forgiveness should not lead to forced reunions. There may be some people you are better never to see, hear from, or even think about.

• "Sometimes our greatest rage and resentment is directed toward the people we ourselves have hurt or injured. We may believe that making them 'wrong' saves us from feeling bad. It doesn't.

• "To begin the process of forgiveness, you need to let go of the wish that the other person would understand what they have done and suffer for it. They may never understand. They may never suffer 'enough.' That must cease to be your business.

"Know that revenge and hatred weaken you. Even to begin to forgive strengthens you.

"When the person you need to forgive is yourself:

• "Acknowledging what you have done, making appropriate reparations, learning from it, and valuing all of who you are will help.

• "Recognize that you are capable of learning from every situation that you are in — however painful. Take time to discover what you have learned.

• "Pay conscious attention to positive experiences also (you do 'deserve' them).

• "Practice gratitude for what is good and supportive in your life.

• "Don't keep talking about what you have done wrong — get professional help if you feel obsessed by it.

• "Support your need for self-forgiveness with clarity and compassion; not self-pity.

• "When self-hatred or self-pity fill your mind, meet them with compassion — but don't cultivate them. Pay attention to something uplifting. Focus on your strengths.

• "When you have hurt others, offer your apologies unconditionally. But know that an apology is worthless if it is not backed up by a change in behavior.

"When it seems too hard to forgive:

• "Monitor and strictly censor how often you talk about the person or the offense.

• "Know that 'forgetting' is part of forgiving but doesn't imply never remembering or pretending something hasn't happened. It means living without that person or event being constantly in your mind almost every second of the day. What you learn from a difficult situation, and from the process of forgiving, is worth remembering.

• "It can be remarkably helpful to imagine that you are putting the person who has caused you harm into a small boat, and that the boat is traveling back out onto the ocean of life. Give it a great heave! Soon it's far out of your range of vision. You are not causing that person harm; you are leaving them to their destiny. You are getting on with your own.

"When someone asks you for forgiveness:

• "Accept other people's apologies unconditionally. Don't expect them to 'suffer more' to make you feel better.

• "If there are chronic cycles of hurt/forgiveness/hurt, this is a relationship problem that needs urgent professional help.

"In thinking about forgiveness, understand that it offends the rational mind. It is a Divine quality that human beings can and must learn to practice."