How to Practice Forgiveness | Psychology Today United Kingdom

How to Practice Forgiveness | Psychology Today United Kingdom

Forgiveness occurs when, after harm, we overcome the impulse to retaliate and instead work to mitigate our own anger and even show kindness to the person who harmed us.

The person who works to forgive benefits from the forgiveness process, which eases the psychological pain of resentment—because it hurts to be hurt, and it hurts even more, both with that pain and the resulting lingering anger to live.

Source: Dave Smallen/Generated with DALL-E

Forgiveness helps us ease the painful feelings of resentment that can linger after an injury.

Source: Dave Smallen/Generated with DALL-E

But forgiving is a mentally and emotionally challenging feat – an act of strength. When we forgive, we can still hold a wrongdoer accountable, and we do not excuse or “forget” their actions. We no longer allow ourselves to be haunted by the grudges of someone who has wronged us, and we are putting ourselves through a process designed by Dr. Robert Enright of the University of Wisconsin and colleagues have described a state of greater peace over decades of research. In short, people forgive first uncovering their feelings of anger in the wake of harm, Select pardon, work show compassion to the wrongdoer, and reflective on their experience.

In an article published in the magazine Spirituality in clinical practiceI have converted these phases into a brief forgiveness practice, an exercise you can do routinely to gain deeper experience of the forgiveness process – a means of strengthening your forgiveness muscles by forgiving minor transgressions of everyday life so that you can prepared for greater injustice come your way.

A routine forgiveness practice

Step 1: Identify a minor injustice and decide if forgiveness is appropriate

Start by identifying a recent one irrelevant Harm or injustice to practice forgiveness. This should be a time when you felt only minor hurt and resentment, not a traumatic event.

Then consider whether this is a situation that can be forgiven. Forgiveness is appropriate when you are not attempting to excuse the other person’s behavior, condone their behavior, or gain a sense of moral superiority over that person. Forgiveness is appropriate when you genuinely want to try and don’t feel obligated to forgive, or when you don’t attach conditions to your forgiveness, such as having the wrongdoer apologize first. If all of this is verified then proceed.

Step 2: Acknowledge your feelings and offer yourself compassion

Step two works on uncovering your feelings of anger or resentment in response to the harm and cultivating a gentleness with yourself so that you can experience and identify those feelings.

In this practice you have chosen a irrelevant Transgression so that the emotional pain should not be overwhelming – this makes it a manageable scenario for practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion means paying mindful attention to the feelings and thoughts that come as you contemplate the damaging event, allowing your feelings to be who they are, and caring for those feelings yourself as you deal with them would do to a friend.

Step 3: Decide to forgive

Now that you have uncovered your felt experience, can you make the decision to forgive the one who has harmed you?

If you are unable or unwilling to forgive, you do not need to continue with the practice, but you can check with yourself and see if you can at least choose not to harm the person who has harmed you – and then move on to step 6.

When I teach them this practice, I suggest to my students that if they are struggling with whether or not to forgive, they have probably chosen a transgression that is too intense for this exercise.

Step 4: Broaden your perspective on the culprit

There is usually more to the story of our injury than we realize in the hyper-focused state of resentment. In this step, one considers the factors, besides malicious intentions, that might have contributed to the wrongdoer behaving the way he did. For example, was there external pressure on them that motivated their behavior in this context?

Extension also includes trying to consider the other person’s behavior without judgement. I suggest cultivating nonjudgment by reflecting on when you, too, have behaved in the same way as this other person—a way of putting yourself in their shoes.

Step 5: Use Loving Kindness Meditation to Cultivate Compassion

One of the hardest parts of forgiveness is working to process your own painful experience while also seeing if you can offer compassion to the person who has harmed you. Loving-kindness meditation can help. In this meditation, you first show feelings of caring for yourself—as you did in the self-compassion practice—but then you follow feelings of caring for the wrongdoer.

Forgiveness Essential Reads

For a loving-kindness practice, I like to use phrases suggested by Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg. First direct the concern to yourself: “May I be safe, may I be happy, may I be healed,” repeat these phrases and notice the feelings and thoughts that arise in response. Then you can address kind words to the person who caused the harm: “May you be safe, may you be happy, may you experience health.”

Notice what feelings arise – you may have felt a reduction in anger and a burgeoning of compassion.

If you don’t feel genuine compassion for the person who has harmed you, that’s fine—the purpose is just to practice intention, cultivate kindness and caring, and see what happens.

Step 6: Reflecting on the process

Finally, through reflection, we can give a coherent meaning to our experience of the forgiveness process. What was difficult in this practice? What came easy? What was it like showing compassion to yourself and the wrongdoer? Have your resentments changed or have they stayed the same?

Keeping a journal is a great exercise to organize our thoughts and feelings about the practice, as is discussing your experiences with a therapist or friend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *