Mental Health Moments: Four Ways to Reach Your Own Level of Forgiveness
⌛ By Kaylin R. Staten ⌛
Forgiveness can be a complicated word. At its root, it means a “release” -- the release of negative emotions and resentment. Thus, a feeling of neutrality or positivity takes its place.
When you forgive someone, that doesn’t always mean that you will reconcile with them. Things may not go back to how they were, and in some cases, you will choose to forgive and walk away. That has happened to me countless times in my personal and professional life, and I’ve learned so much about forgiveness throughout my life. Experiences are the best teachers, after all.
First and foremost, I have chosen to forgive throughout my life because I realize that resentment would eat me alive otherwise. It’s not always easy, Sometimes, it takes YEARS to forgive someone or look past a situation. I just know that in my core, I am not a resentful, vindictive person. Based on my values and what I want for my life, I choose to forgive and attempt to find silver linings and explanations. That said, I am most certainly not perfect, and sometimes it takes some genuine hard-hitting truths and long lengths of time for me to reach forgiveness.
There are times I don’t practice what I preach. That is just reality! However, when I fall off the wagon, I fix the broken wheel and continue my journey.
The four steps of forgiveness, created by Robert Enright, is an industry standard when dealing with and treating forgiveness. When I write about something that is bothering me, I try to employ my own four steps of forgiveness. Our modified steps are as follows:
Identify who you need to forgive and for what.
Uncover your anger. Often, we hid anger from others and ourselves because it’s uncomfortable. Trust me. I do not like confrontation when I know heightened emotions will likely be the result. Fear clouds my judgment. I’m afraid people could get mad at me, and I like to think before I speak because anger can make me feel out of control. What helps me the most is to write. My journals are a no-holds-barred zone where I freely delve into my feelings. Make a list of what is on your mind that needs forgiveness.
Make a decision to forgive.
Look over your list. Notice any themes and if the same individuals and/or situations frequently come up. It’s 100 percent normal and is human nature to encounter anger and other emotions when someone does something hurtful to you. The longer you hold a grudge, the more it takes from you, waging wars on your physical and emotional health. This is where you can you can make a decision -- you can either perpetuate the cycle by holding on to the hurt or learn to let it go. After all, you are the one holding on to the situation. It’s making you feel high levels of stress. The other person isn’t usually suffering, at least not to your internal magnitude.
Commit to forgiveness.
This is challenging, and honestly, this is easier said than done. I will admit, there are situations in which I still struggle to forgive. Just because you forgive a situation or person, that doesn’t mean you will always forget. When you commit to forgiveness, you do it for yourself. You may not get that apology you think you deserve or any conversation centered on the wrongdoing elephant in the room, but you can learn to let it go. One way to begin the healing process is by looking at past and present situations through a different lens. For example, if you worked with someone in a previous job who said something offensive to you because you were a young employee. Reframe the narrative, and try to be as objective as possible. What made that co-worker act that way? Was it his or her own fear of incompetence? Lack of a healthy home life? Did he or she have that happen as a younger-generation worker? Once you start asking questions, you can learn to develop empathy. I know, I know. This is HARD. It is especially challenging when you’re also learning to forgive yourself.
Continue the forgiveness process.
This looks different for everyone, but some basic rules of thumb can help as you begin the road to forgiveness, no matter the cause and effect. Ask yourself questions, such as: What are the benefits of forgiving? Have you forgiven in the past, and what did it take to reach a comfortable level of forgiveness? In many ways, forgiveness allows an immense weight to be lifted from your shoulders, especially at clear moments of realization. Get help with how to manage sadness, anger and other negative emotions and reactions. This could be in the form of one-on-one therapy, support groups or speaking with a person you trust. Work through your process, and be gentle with yourself. Eventually, as you work through forgiveness, your negative emotions will turn into happiness, peace and an overall feeling of lightness (or detachment). It’s normal to have a rollercoaster of emotions.
Realize that you can’t change other people, and you can’t change what happened to you. Empower yourself by learning to forgive others (and yourself), for transgressions. Life is too short to spend it focusing on negativity. We can forget, but that doesn’t mean we forget. It’s perfectly OK to guard your heart, mind, time and so on. Learning from forgiveness is what it means to be human.
Please note: These blog posts are not clinical, although we will provide symptoms and other information. These posts are based on my experiences with anxiety and mental health in general. If you or someone you know needs help, visit a website like Mental Health America to learn more.
Mental Health Moments blog posts are every other Tuesday of the month. Our CEO and contributors highlight what it's like to live with a mental health disorder and continue to fight the stigma through storytelling.
Kaylin R. Staten, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer based in Huntington, WV with nearly 16 years of professional communications experience. As CEO and founder of Hourglass Media, she uses her compassionate spirit and expertise to delve into the heart of clients’ stories. She is a recovering perfectionist, mental health advocate, wife, cat mom and Leia Organa aficionado. Connect with Kaylin on LinkedIn.