Learning to Forgive and Release the Past

By Val Silver

Learning to forgive others and yourself is to release the emotional pains of the past. This is not always easy. Still, it is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and another. The power of forgiveness lies not only in its ability to heal relationships, but to heal oneself in the process.

Logically, you may know you should forgive, yet it is a step that people often resist or find difficult.  After all, they hurt you, they did you wrong. Why should you forgive them? They don't deserve it! You may fail to see how forgiving them is in your best interest. How could it be?

It can be even more difficult to forgive yourself for harming yourself and/or someone else. Perhaps you tell yourself that if you keep reminding yourself, keep punishing yourself, maybe, just maybe, you won't repeat that mistake again. 

Why Forgiving is So Difficult

Learning to forgive is the easy part.  Actually doing it is another story. 

Part of the reason seeking forgiveness and being forgiving is difficult is that our brains are wired to protect us. We hold on to traumatic memories and resentments as a survival mechanism. It is one way humanity has been able to survive. Those who could sense danger and flee survived to reproduce another generation. We learn from our mistakes. We punish ourselves for our mistakes so we do not repeat them.

Depending on your definition of forgiveness, you may feel that it you are better off holding onto your hurt and resentments rather than risk being hurt again. Your culture probably has strong teachings about when, how and who to forgive. Or perhaps you feel you deserve the retribution, punishment, or attention that nursing a wrong brings. It feels safer to hold on than to let go.

To add to the confusion, our thoughts and actions around forgiveness are often contradictory. We may long for it, but would sometimes rather suffer with guilt and fear than ask for it.

We have the power to show compassion, but choose to be hardhearted and consumed with resentment and feelings of victimization instead. This is especially true when you feel someone (or yourself) truly deserves to suffer for  terrible wrongdoing and are undeserving of mercy. 

Why is this? Is it about ego? About the balance of power? About getting attention and payback because you are a 'victim'? Does it help you avoid facing and acknowledging your role in creating the problem, if any?  When you look at the faults in another, does it help you avoid looking at your own shortcomings?

Perhaps clinging to old hurts provides an excuse to stay stuck instead of moving forward. 

These are not always easy questions to answer. Nor are they meant to be judgmental. Sometimes forgiving is a difficult process that forces you to dig deep within yourself. Sometimes you just are not ready. Often, learning to forgive is a matter of really understanding what forgiveness is and what it means to you.

What if You Do Not Forgive?

Just like any spiritual practice, learning to forgive is a choice. Like all choices, there are consequences, positive and negative, that result from your choices. Choosing to hold on to hurts from the past and all its accompanying bitterness, resentment, guilt, blame and pain may create an illusion of personal safety and power, but the cost you pay in your physical, mental, relational and spiritual well-being is great.

drinking poison unforgiveness quote

You already suffered the sting of  hurtful words or actions once. Why suffer the far greater fallout of your ongoing bitterness and negativity?

Why carry negative feelings for years and years, even after the other person is gone? When you resist forgiving others, you hold onto pain and keep giving your energy to the past. 

You can be sure that lots of depressed, angry, unhappy people are harboring unforgiveness over wrongs committed against them.

The personal consequences of unforgiveness

The personal consequences of withholding forgiveness toward oneself or another are many. 

  • Nursing a grudge may temporarily pump up your ego and energize you. You may even feel superior when you have something on someone, You might feel more powerful having something to 'hold over their heads'. But in an energetic or spiritual sense, this is an illusion. You really have nothing over them. 
  • The stress of holding on to resentments make you ill and unhappy. The person you hurt most is often yourself.
  • When you remember a negative incident with strong emotion, your brain reacts as if it were happening now. This starts the stress cycle, which is like dumping toxins into your system. The energy it takes to relive the stress of the event drains you.  In the process, you poison and deplete your mind and body. 
  • Brain research shows that when you reinforce a thought pattern or behavior, the brain quickly builds and deepens that pathway. If you constantly reinforce anger or bitterness, the circuitry for that pattern strengthens. You become even more angry and bitter. Likewise, when you build pathways for love, healing or success, those pathways strengthen. Here is the kicker. The brain dismantles a seldom used pathway to reinforce the stronger one. Which thoughts and energy do you want to strengthen?
  • When you blame someone else for your negative feelings, you give that person power over you. You free yourself of the grip of anger, resentment and hurt when you acknowledge and release them. 
  • Refusing to forgive can disrupt your sleep.  A study of more than 1400 adults published in the journal Psychology & Health revealed that people who are more forgiving of themselves and others are likely to get longer, better quality sleep than those who cling to resentment and blame. 
pointing finger

A friend of mine used to say that when you point a finger at someone, look at the three fingers pointing back at you. How often we blame someone else for a problem when we are at least partly to blame as well. It is easier to overlook and disown those traits and behaviors in ourselves when we project them onto someone else.

How Learning to Forgive Helps You

Why forgive? Learning to forgive is powerful. Forgiving yourself and others helps you gain new understandings, heal your perceptions, and your relationships.

The Bible says, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned." (Luke 6:37 NASB) No one is without fault. No one is innocent of wrongdoing. When you become less critical and more forgiving of yourself, it is more natural to extend that same acceptance and compassion to others. When you are more empathetic toward others, it is easier to extend that same compassion to yourself.

This is not to say that discernment and correction are never needed. But there are a lot of times it is sufficient to let bygones be bygones for the highest good of all involved. This is where discernment comes in. Even when it isn't prudent to overlook a wrongdoing, there is a big difference between assessing a situation and being judgmental, making corrections and punishing. Sometimes, it is wise to end a relationship. In any case, forgiveness is always possible. When you do this, however difficult it may be, you free yourself from the victim mindset and reclaim your power. 

Being free of grudges increases your happiness. You reclaim all the energy you were using to keep your resentments alive. Once released, that fuel becomes available for healing, pleasure, and your life goals. Along with your physical and mental energy, your vibrational energy frequency also increases, making you feel happier, more balanced, and more open to the good things the universe has to offer.

You only win when you forgive.

Summary of Learning to Forgive

Why forgive? Forgiving others and forgiving yourself releases you from the torturer in your mind. It frees you of feeling like a victim, of being judgmental, of the mental and physical energy required to hold onto resentment. It spares you from reinforcing negative brain circuitry and the "poison" of the stress chemicals reliving past hurts pours into your body. Forgiveness allows you to accept and vibrate with the positive energies of love, health and joy.

As I observed myself walking the spiritual path, I discovered something disturbing. When I build a wall between myself and another, a wall also goes up  between myself and all others, including the Divine. There is no way around this.

If you want to experience the power of spiritual wellness in your life, learn to forgive others and yourself. If you want to understand the mindset of happy people and experience authentic happiness for yourself, you will find that releasing hurts and grudges tops the list.

This is not to say that you have to like everyone or be their friend. It does not mean you free them from the natural consequences of their actions. It does mean that you have dissolved the negative bond between you. Perhaps, doors may open to a new and better relationship between you.

But most of all, you will realize that the true power of forgiveness is that the person you really set free is yourself. 

Source: Luke 6:37>/a>

Learning to Forgive page updated 12/2020

Related Pages

Quotes about Moving On - Read inspirational quotes to help you to find constructive ways to move on after a broken relationship, a death, or the loss of a job, and to build a great new life.

Source:Let it rest: Sleep and health as positive correlates of forgiveness of others and self-forgiveness

Learning to Forgive page updated 12/2020

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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