Learning to Forgive and Release the Past

By Val Silver

Learning to forgive others and yourself, to let go and release the emotional pains of the past is not always easy, yet it is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and another. What is often surprising to the forgiver is that the power of forgiveness lies not only in its ability to heal relationships, but even moreso, to heal yourself.

Sometimes the most difficult part of the process is really understanding why forgiving is in your best interest. After all, they hurt you, they did you wrong. Why should you forgive them? They don't deserve it!

Logically, you may know you 'should' forgive, yet it is a step that people often resist or find difficult.  Even more difficult than forgiving someone else of their wrongs against you is forgiving yourself for your mistakes and how you hurt yourself and/or someone else.  

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.

learning to forgive, forgiveness

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 toward oneself or another are many.

  • Nursing a grudge, anger or resentment may temporarily pump up your ego and energize you. You may even feel superior or empowered to think that you have something on someone, or have 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 think about something, or remember a negative incident with strong emotion, your brain, which cannot tell the difference between a real or imagined event, reacts as if it is happening for real. This starts the stress cycle, which in a sense is similar to dumping toxins into your system and draining you of your energy. You are poisoning and depleting your mind and your body, literally and figuratively.
  • Brain research shows that when you reinforce a thought pattern or behavior, the brain can quickly build and deepen this pathway. So if you are constantly reinforcing anger or bitterness, the circuitry for that pattern will strengthen. You will become even more angry and bitter. Likewise, when you build the pathways for love, healing or success, those pathways strengthen. Here is the kicker. The brain dismantles another pathway that is not used as much to reinforce the one that is stronger. Which thoughts and energy do you want to strengthen?
  • When you blame someone else for how you feel, you give that person power over you. Acknowledging and releasing the anger, hurt, and resentment frees you. 
  • 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 sleep than the less forgiving. 

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.

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.

A friend of mine used to say that when you point a finger at someone, you should look at the three fingers pointing back at you. His illustration summed up the law of attraction and harmonic or vibrational resonance perfectly.

Your subconscious mind sends out a frequency that attracts a resonant frequency. 

The Bible says, "Judge not that you be not judged," and "As you sow, so shall you reap." How about the Lord's prayer in which we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others? These are all law of attraction teachings that demonstrate how the energy we put out is the energy we attract. 

Why forgive? Forgiving others and forgiving yourself releases you from the torturer in your mind. It allows you to accept and vibrate with the positive energies of love, health and joy.

As I observe myself walking the spiritual path, I discovered something else. When I would build a wall between myself and another, a wall was also build 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, you have to 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 letting go of the past and releasing hurts and grudges near the top of the list.

This is not to say that you have to like everyone or be their friend or even ever see them again. It does not mean you free them from the natural consequences of their actions. It only means you have freed them and yourself from the negative bond between you. And perhaps, new doors may open to a new and better relationship between you.

But most of all, as you let go of those chains that bind, you will come to realize that the true power of learning to forgive and keeping a clean slate is that the person you really set free is yourself. 

Learning to Forgive page updated 10/2019

Continue Reading:

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

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