Forgiveness is a crucial part of life | We must all learn to forgive
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Forgiveness picture

Forgiveness

Forgiveness

Why is forgiveness so important? How can you bring yourself to forgive? Could unforgiveness be the root of your disease?

The answer, I have discovered is a deep rooted and painful YES.

Unforgiveness abounds in society

Time and time again I meet people who have had something unjust or nasty done to them and/or against them.

Raped, abused, attacked, assaulted, lied about, bullied and/or cheated on. Some things are beyond comprehension. The sad and miserable truth is it happens to us all and it happens under our very noses.

So the question arises, how do we as individuals deal with the fallout of these experiences on an emotional level?

I believe the answer is simple and it is the extremely powerful, yet totally misunderstood concept called forgiveness.

I believe forgiveness, for some, can be the cure to a lot of their chronic illnesses. I believe forgiveness can set people free from their anxiety, fear and/or anger?

A person who truly forgives is a person truly free.

What is forgiveness?

I believe the core of forgiveness lies in the ability to release a stronghold created through an injustice. A stronghold can be anything that controls our lives in a negative way. Check out the list below.

All of these strongholds if left undetected or unresolved will fester and rot in our hearts. These strongholds will sap all of our energy.

Only one person loses out.

Betrayal Sadness Weakness Passivity Control Anxiety Jealousy
Fear Resentment Worry Anger Bitterness Rage Lack-of-confidence

How do I know if I need to forgive?

One needs to ask a very simple question and remain brutally honest while trying to answer it. We need to ask ourselves if any form of these strongholds are present in our lives.

Do you struggle with fear or worry? Is there someone you are scared of or angry at? If the answer is yes for any of these strongholds then it is guaranteed that un-forgiveness in present in your life.

Another perspective you can consider is what others say and think about you. Do you have a reputation of being worried or fearful?

Why should you forgive?

One of the main reasons people remain bitter is because they want to punish someone (that someone can also be yourself).

I had a young patient once who had been raped. She was extremely angry at the man who did it and hated him for it. Due to this she had become an extremely independent, defiant, cynical and hard person. When I talked to her about forgiveness she laughed at the concept, imaging it to be a sign of weakness and passivity. However I explained to her that not only had this man stolen from her by raping her, he was now also stealing all her joy, peace and freedom. Her hatred had become her own torment.

It is so important to remember that forgiveness is not a process of agreeing with or siding with the person that has done a wrong to you. The wrong caused is still a wrong. The injustice is still injustice.

What forgiveness is however, is an agreement in your heart to not take justice yourself. It is making a pact within your heart to overlook the injustice and release the person, and by releasing the person you are also releasing the negative strongholds associated with it.

If you do not forgive you are only entombing your fate and setting up prison walls around you. If you do not forgive you are making a conscious choice to allow these negative thoughts and feelings to torment you. Unchecked, these emotions will change the very fabric of the person you are. Negative thoughts or emotions CAN ONLY AND WILL ONLY breed negative actions in your life – disease, failure, passivity, depression and breakdown in relationships.

Regardless of how painful a situation, there is a choice. A choice to forgive or a choice to carry on. Forgiveness will lead to freedom and the other choice will lead to a prison. Ignoring the choice or hiding it away is still a choice. You are choosing to ignore, which is tantamount to not forgive.

What does forgiveness look like?

Forgiveness is primarily a process of letting go. So what does this process look like?

Well for some people forgiveness actually produces very little evidence of anything occurring. At times it can feel utterly fruitless. It can be like staring out of a window with the curtains drawn.

On other occasions forgiveness can be like a dripping tap. Little by little forgiveness takes more ground in your heart as the stronghold begins to loosen. Evidence is clear as your heart allows you to see the person or event differently.

Regardless of whether the process is obvious or not. Everyone will know when forgiveness is achieved. To describe what this looks like for everyone is very difficult because in is unique to the individual. A lightness of heart, peace, joy or compassion – these are the typical fruits that forgiveness produces. One then simply asks at the end; is my stronghold still a STRONG HOLD in my life? If yes, then keep forgiving, if no, then it is achieved.

Forgiveness is a choice!

There is only one way to achieve forgiveness and that is through a determined choice to release the person or event that created the identified stronghold. It is vital to remember that forgiveness starts with a choice and it is constant. Forgiveness is rarely achieved through a one off choice to forgive.

Forgiveness in its truest, most powerful form, is achieved through a gritty, continual act to forgive. Forgiving every moment of every day, through the heaviest and the lightest moments. Making the choice to forgive on days when you are at your lowest and on days when you are at your highest. Forgiveness is always a choice. In some cases it will be the hardest choice you will ever have to make.

When asked how many times we should forgive, Jesus answered his disciples.

I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

The point being; there isn’t a correct number of times you have to forgive someone. You keep forgiving, you keep making that choice to release the person or event until you have achieved forgiveness. If you stop before you have achieved it, then you gain nothing.

How do I know I have forgiven someone?

The answer to this question is actually quite simple, but it does take some skill in self-discernment. Full forgiveness is achieved when the feelings related to the stronghold are fully absent or are no longer triggered.

For example I am bitter towards my boss at work. My boss criticised me for doing a poor job in front of my colleagues. Yet I had worked really hard and I had no help from my colleagues. As a result every time I see my boss I get this knot in my stomach and I can’t make eye contact with him. Everything in my body tightens up and I start to feel stressed. I start to think negative things towards him and no longer wish to work hard for him. This is resentment.

So I make the choice to forgive. Every day for two weeks I keep forgiving him. Then one morning I walk into the office and he says hello to me. That familiar knot in my stomach has gone. I am able to make eye contact and my breathing doesn’t feel restriction. I feel a new sense in my heart towards my boss. A sense that I want to help him, not just in the work environment but generally in life. I want to be positive towards him and I want him to be successful.

Forgiveness when achieved at its fullest level will ALWAYS replace the negative bitterness with the opposite, in this case, joy. If you are angry then forgiveness will replace the anger with patience. If you are anxious forgiveness will turn it into peace.

Forgiveness will flip the stronghold and do the reverse. This is why it is an inexplicably powerful concept. It not only releases you from all that negative crap, but it turns it into gold and puts a new virtue in your heart.

Misconceptions about forgiveness

  • Forgiveness is not a one off choice or decision.
  • Forgiveness is not a one time declaration – “ok I forgive that person”.
  • Forgiveness is not reserved for only the spiritual or religious.
  • Forgiveness is not a passivity to forget about the damaged caused.
  • Forgiveness is not giving permission for someone to continue to aggrieve you.
  • Forgiveness is not admitting defeat.
  • Forgiveness is not a weakness.
  • Forgiveness does not mean you have to take justice.
  • Forgiveness does not mean you can’t pursue justice.
  • Forgiveness is not about forgetting.
  • Forgiveness is not sweeping the problem under the carpet.
  • Forgiveness does not involve the perpetrator.
  • You do not always have to speak to the perpetrator to forgive them.
  • The perpetrator does not need to apologise before you can forgive them.
  • Forgiveness is not competitive.

Tools to achieve forgiveness in your life today

STEP 1: Identify the stronghold.

First you must highlight or identify the stronghold. What is the chief feeling in your heart? Find a quiet place and explore your heart. Start to ask questions. Reflect and think about various people in your life.

Any feelings that cause un-calmness or a tightening in your chest is your stronghold. What is that feeling? THAT IS YOUR STRONGHOLD.

STEP 2: When and how did the stronghold enter?

Once the stronghold has been identified you need to look back in your past and ask yourself when your stronghold/negative feeling entered your life.

Believe it or not it does help sometimes to verbally speak aloud the questions. Trust any images or senses that come to you. From most likely to least likely; parents, siblings, teachers, friends and/or work colleagues are the usual suspects. If you are struggling to identify the ‘who’ and ‘how’ then start with your parents and then siblings etc. Ask the question, did they cause this?

If you still can’t identify where it came from, but you are aware you have negative feelings in your heart or are struggling with unforgiveness, then I would highly recommend a counsellor at this point. A third party to help probe in the right directions and help manage you can be extremely helpful.

STEP 3: Acknowledge the level of damage/pain.

Sometimes the stronghold is just simply too much and has caused havoc in your heart. The pain caused by others can be unbelievable. So it is important to acknowledge this and respect it. It is definitely advisable to see a counsellor at this point. Don’t try and unwrap something that will create a black hole if you are not prepared for it.

STEP 4: Write down the name of the person and the aggrievance.

Once you have identified your stronghold and the person that caused it (remember it can sometimes be an event) write it down. Write down their name at the top of the paper and then make a list of everything they have done which has caused you pain. Believe me this list can become quite long. Once you have done this you are now ready to start the process of forgiveness.

STEP 5: Make the choice.

Declare aloud “I forgive [name of perpetrator] for doing [first thing on your list]. Then repeat again for the next item on the list and so on. Keep doing this every day and every moment you feel those feelings in your heart. Sometimes you won’t necessarily feel anything but on other days you could feel pain/bitterness 6 or 7 times. Every time the pain arises you must forgive that person. Forgiveness is an exercise you have to take with you and use at the opportune moment. It is not enough to just sit down in the morning and read the list. You need to take action throughout the day and at any moment.

Step 6: Burn the paper.

One simple, tangible step you can do is write the name of the person on another piece of paper. Then burn it and declare out loud you forgive them.

STEP 7: Visualisation.

Visualisation can also be a helpful process. Once you have identified the stronghold or pain, put an object to it or a colour. So for example I have identified I am angry at my Dad. I could assign the colour red to the anger and make my Dad into any object. A ball, tree or chair. Whatever pops into your mind.

I now see a red ball. With visualisation in your mind you can do a number of different things. One you can try and change the colour of the ball. You can try to change it to a colour that gives you peace, maybe green. Alternatively you may want to discard the ball altogether. So I visualise that I throw the red ball into a bin or I throw it into the deep sea or into a huge forest. Throw it anywhere where you would have difficulty finding it again.

This is all called CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). There are CBT therapists out there and can provide another form of counselling for you.

My patient Jane and a swimming accident

I had a patient that came to see me with neck pain and headaches. The cause was a swimming accident on holiday a few months prior. She was swimming at the hotel resort when a young man jump into the pool and landed directly on her neck.

As part of my treatment approach I lead her through forgiveness towards this young man, which she did verbally. Her chief emotion was fear, fear that she was permanently injured. I also lead her through a simple CBT process. She visualised a ball, which represented her fear. She then saw herself place the ball in a bin. After that a huge forest enveloped the bin and the bin was no more. She then saw herself walking away free. She made a full recovery.

STEP 8: Keep a journal of your feelings.

Journalling for some can be a really powerful processing tool. Journalling is not just for women, men you can do it too. Having that cognitive process of verbalising what you are thinking can really transform the abstract nature of feelings and emotions into a structured concept.

STEP 9: Consider the need to contact the perpetrator.

Now that you are well on your way in the process of forgiveness, you eventually will come to the one remaining question.

Do you need to contact the person that caused the stronghold in your life?

Let me be clear straight away. Not every perpetrator needs to be contacted and not every perpetrator needs to apologise.

For some contacting the person and simply telling them you have forgiven them is enough. Sometimes a hearty conversation is essential for you to move on. Sometimes you need to meet the person face to face. Sometimes the perpetrator can be profoundly impacted by your choice to forgive them. This actually happens a lot and it is without doubt the most beautiful and powerful experience you will encounter.

The key here to remember is you are not going to the person to accuse them or confront them. If you do this, then you have completely miss-understood what forgiveness is and you have not achieved forgiveness. Forgiveness does not seek revenge, it seeks resolution and peace. If you are having thoughts of confrontation then you are not ready.

Stef and her father

I had another patient that shared her story with me. She had a father that was very absent during her childhood. He drank and partied. She was left, in many situations, to look after her younger brother.

In her thirties she decided to go through a forgiveness process. As forgiveness was achieved she felt the need to write to him and explain her experience as a child and that she had forgiven him. So she wrote a letter. A few weeks later her father called her and cried. He thanked her from the bottom of his heart and explained he had wanted to say sorry for years but just didn’t know how to do so.

STEP 10: Put down good boundaries.

Sometimes it is important to put down an appropriate boundary towards someone. Sometimes people control us, treat us badly and/or walk over us. This can cause all manor of complications. Sometimes within forgiveness a step needs to be taken to no longer allow these people to continue with these previously bad habits. Professional help and guide books are highly recommended at this point.

STEP 11: Achieve the highest level of forgiveness.

Choose to look at people with love and to look at them differently. We have to remember that pretty much ALL rejections and pains we experience are because that person was also hurt and rejected. We need to look beyond our own pain at this point and see the pain in the perpitractor. When we start to see others are in pain we respond differently.

The hardest challenge of forgiveness – injustice

ne of the hardest challenges I have found with forgiveness is the apparent injustice of it all. There was one time I was trying to forgive someone. I had written a list and I was working through it, but there were a number of points that caused such turmoil in my heart. It was like I was in a wrestling match. I wanted to forgive because I knew my heart was so bitter and toxic, yet I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I felt like the person deserved to be punished.

I soon came to the very core of my grappling match. If I forgave this person they may never know the pain they had caused me. This for me was the very root of my issue. This was the very nature of the injustice and the very thing I needed to surrender if I was to achieve forgiveness.

I decided I would allow this person to go free, knowing they would never know the pain they caused me. After weeks of forgiveness my bitterness was released through that choice to not take justice and seek retribution. The conclusion to the story occurred 3-4 days later. I was out walking when I suddenly burst into tears. I knew instantly my heart had released the bitterness and I was now free. So I let the tears come and I sobbed.

It is interesting to note that the body will always release toxicity via some form of fluid from the body, whether it be tears, pee, stools or sweat. So for me my toxic release was through my tears. And believe me when I say this, these emotions are highly toxic to our bodies.

How can forgiveness heal chronic diseases?

I could write a lot under this section but I am going to summarise it with a simple point.

The adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol does many things but for simplicity sake let’s just see it as adrenaline (which technically it is). Now everyone knows what adrenaline is and most of us know what it does. Cortisol is released to combat stress. It is the stress hormone.

When we as humans walk around with fear, anxiety, worry, bitterness and resentment, it is very obvious to say these are stressful emotions. If you ever look back and think of a time when you were in fear. It is horrible. It is without doubt one of the worst feelings in the world.

Now everytime you have an episode of fear or worry, say you remember you haven’t paid a bill or you bump into someone that you don’t like. It is a stress reaction – adrenaline is released. Now imagine some slightly worse feelings. Someone you dearly loved died recently or you found out your partner was cheating on you. These are emotions that keep being triggered all day long. What happens – adrenaline is released all day long.

Adrenaline is designed to respond to stress and help you body react to it and cope. However your body is not designed to be in stress 24/7 for long periods of time. The cells in your body will begin to break down. Your ability to absorb nutrients from your food becomes less. The ability for your body to expel toxins is affected.

In other words having these emotions is exactly like being in a stressful situation. The stronger the emotion the stronger the stress levels within the body. The problem with this is that for the majority of people it is an invisible stress. Add on top of this the stress we all experience from normal daily life. Wow you have a huge amount of stress to deal with.

Forgiveness therefore is not something that can be neglected, especially if you have a medical condition.

Believe me, I have seen patients recover from musculoskeletal issues to complicated diseases, purely because they started to forgive.

Quotes about forgiveness

Forgiveness is a reflection of loving yourself enough to move on.

Steve Maraboli

Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.

Martin Luther King

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness the attitude of the strong.

Mahatima Gandhi

Bearing grudges only hurts you. Forgiveness forgives you, releases you.

Leo Buscaglia

There is no peace without forgiveness.

Marianne Williamson

Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace.

Jonathan Lockwood Huie

Practising forgiveness does not mean accepting wrong doing.

Me

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