Forgiveness isn’t the easiest. Trust me, I know. As a girl who was neglected, abused, and manipulated, who witnessed the abuse of her mother, sisters, and brothers, who went through parents having multiple divorces, who was diagnosed with a chronic and ultimately fatal illness, who loved and looked up to addict family members…
This isn’t a sob story, but we are going to get really real. Bring that grudge you’ve been holding to the front of your mind, and buckle up. Ready?
As a woman who grew up with all of that, and as someone who has experienced multiple miscarriages, rape, ex-step parents who continue to cause pain in my family, who continues to love addict family members…
And as a woman who has forgiven them all
and, more importantly, as a woman who has forgiven myself,
I’m sharing what forgiveness looks like in my world.
How to forgive…
1| Do No Harm, But Feel the Feels
For me, the first step to forgiveness is always always always allowing myself to feel whatever I am feeling.
Sometimes it’s anger, bitterness, resentment, outright victimhood… There’s a little “why me” and “who the hell do you think you are” and “how dare you,” and I rant it to the trees on an angry hike or scribble it all out in my journal…
If I don’t let out the worst of the worst that I’m feeling, I’ll be so busy holding that back that I can’t focus on the real task at hand, which is releasing myself from the prison of unforgiveness. Of holding a grudge.
This isn’t a time to reach out to the person who hurt you. It’s not a time to call up your favorite gossip buddies or to rant to someone who is involved in any way. You can share, but choose who you share with wisely. Maybe it’s a coach, a parent, a counselor, or a spouse… but be intentional and thoughtful about who you vent to in these times.
Personally, I prefer to keep it to myself. But that’s not a rule either, if my intuition says to reach out to someone trusted to work through things, I trust that. I hope you can too.
2 | Set the Intention
Once you’ve felt the feelings you need to feel, set the intention to forgive. You’re planting the seeds of forgiveness with this step.
I do this by writing it out in my journal. Sometimes I’ll do something that feels more powerful, like writing out the anger and hatred and burning it (safely), or drawing or creating a little vision board around the situation and how I want to feel about it going forward.
It helps me to fully immerse myself in visualizing what that forgiveness will really feel like, especially if it’s a particularly difficult thing to forgive.
3 | Let It Go, But Check In
One of the most important parts of forgiveness, for me, is not overthinking it. The ego is quick to step in and tell us we are being a pushover or that we are weak for choosing forgiveness.
That’s okay! It’s just our ego doing its job, trying to protect us from being hurt again. I thank my ego for trying to protect me, and then remind myself that by choosing forgiveness I am actually choosing freedom and joy for mySELF and that forgiveness does NOT require that I put myself back in a vulnerable situation with the person who wronged me.
I am safe, and it is safe for me to forgive this person.
I practice that mantra in those heavy ego moments and let myself exhale fully, imagining fear and resistance leaving my heart as my breath leaves my body. Then I let it go, and move on to the next part of my day.
That said, I make an effort to also check back in throughout the process of forgiving! It depends on how big the pain was, but I tend to journal about it every evening initially, and then once a week or once a month after that to follow up on how I’m feeling about the situation.
4 | Follow Up With Yourself Too!
The final step I take is to make sure I’ve forgiven myself. Sometimes we blame ourselves for the situations we’ve ended up getting hurt in… and considering we create our own realities in so many ways (this is a mindblowing topic for another post), that makes a lot of sense…
But truthfully, we cannot learn from a mistake and move forward making that new educated decision until we forgive ourselves for mistakes of the past.
If you hold on to hatred or anger toward yourself for mistakes of the past, you’re wasting energy that could be spent applying those lessons learned!
And, even more importantly, you’re not showing gratitude. You’re not even allowing yourself the opportunity to feel grateful for the lessons and experiences you’ve been able to gain throughout your life.
Gratitude isn’t easy when we’ve been hurt, but something one of the best ways to get past a painful situation is to find that silver lining and see what good it brought into your life.
I’ll give you a couple examples from my own life to help you see that it’s possible to shift the perspective of any situation into a perspective of gratitude for a lesson learned and joy for the chance to live another day- a new day where that pain is over and you have new opportunities.
Here are a few situations I’ve found gratitude in, that I once felt resentful toward myself over:
Student Loan Debt | Oh boy! This one SUCKED and I was seriously kicking my 18-year-old self for not realizing what a pain it is to pay back student loans- especially during the time when I dropped out of college entirely with no intention of going back. Even after I went back and finished my degree, I was pissed at myself for all of the debt I took on.
But then I realized something… That debt bought me my first blogging laptop! It got me into the blog that, years later, became my business! And that laptop actually got me into so many awesome job opportunities where I learned to caption and transcribe videos- which ended up getting me over $1,000 in free online herbalism courses in exchange for my captioning work! I never could have afforded those courses without my captioning skills, and I would never have gone down that path without having the student loans that bought me the laptop that started it all.
If I hadn’t been so irresponsible for that little bit, I wouldn’t have my best friend and furry little soul mate, Elsa the cat. I adore her and her presence in my life is worth every freakin’ penny of student loan debt.
Ultimately, that debt bought me experiences and new decisions in life that couldn’t have come to fruition without the whole experience.
Being Raped, Getting Pregnant, then Miscarrying | This is a heavy one, but I’m trying to show you it’s possible with any situation.
Look, it’d be shitty to say “I’m grateful someone raped me.” That’s ridiculous, and I’m not going to try to pull that lie off.
BUT at the same time, because I was raped, I ended up looking to yoga for help (along with counseling and such, but that’s not the point). Through yoga, I found a new level of self-discipline and inner joy and peace… If I hadn’t been trying to escape the absolute hell that my mind had become after being raped, getting pregnant, and then the emotional disaster of then losing the child of rape, I never would have been able to find the deep inner peace and love inside of myself that I found in yoga later that year.
The experience brought me to a point in my life where I wanted to be able to trust myself and know that I followed through with what I said, because I wanted peace and for me peace looked like being able to count on myself and know who I was again. Without all of that, I would never have started my own business, I wouldn’t have been able to be a life coach, and I wouldn’t have found the new levels of love, joy, and kindness in my relationship with my husband.
As much as it hurt and as disgusting as it is that people rape in this world, I know that this experience brought more love to my life in its own way. I am grateful for the love, the light, and the peace that have come into my life as the result of this cruel event.
Abusive Ex-Stepfather | One of my ex-stepfathers was physically abusive to my mom and verbally and mentally abusive to my sisters, my then-baby brother, and me. To this day, my family is brought to tears. My sister nearly took her own life over the suffering one man caused in our lives. But I love my half-sister and half-brother dearly, and they love their father. And I believe in their right to love him… So as their big sister, and as my mother’s daughter and as the sister of my other sister who suffered so much at that man’s word… forgiveness was, and sometimes continues to be, really tough.
BUT… if it weren’t for his cruelty, I might not have grown into the incredibly gentle, caring, and loving person I am today. Through all of it, I developed a deep fear of being cruel or mean, and that’s a block I’ve had to overcome just to be able to speak up for myself, set boundaries, and enjoy my own life… but through that, I’ve learned to be kind AND to be empowered. And now I’m able to teach that to my sisters and brothers, to my mom, to the incredible women in my husband’s family, and to my friends, clients, and readers.
I think in some ways, what I experienced at that man’s hands actually gave me a precious piece of wisdom and a beautiful and unique way to express and share that wisdom, and for that I am eternally grateful.
It’s okay for forgiveness to be difficult.
It’s okay for it to still hurt. It’s okay to forgive someone else and to forgive yourself, and to still have to come back and remember that forgiveness and choose it again on tough days.
It’s okay for it to not feel “official” right away. Sometimes forgiveness takes time. Be gentle with yourself, and allow it to fall into place. So long as you set that loving intention and remember that forgiveness is about your own freedom, joy, and love, it will come. You can do this, and you deserve the peace that comes with it.
If there’s something you need to talk about, you’re welcome to shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll respond personally. I’m not a mental health professional or a medical professional of any sort, but I’m a woman who knows that the worst sort of prison is the hell we create in our own minds, and I’m grateful for any opportunity to support another healing human being. Reach out if you need to, I’ll be here.
Jessica Pena | Lifestyle + Blog Coach
P.S. There are some powerful truths I’ve learned about forgiveness through my journey. I’ll share them in hopes that they help you to find your own peace.
Forgiveness doesn’t hurt anywhere near as much as holding on the anger and pain do.
When you forgive another, you truly do set yourself free. It’s a whole new world when you no longer carry the burden of anger and resentment toward another OR yourself.
Often, in resisting forgiveness, we sabotage our own natural loving core, and suppress our instincts to love and grow. We cause ourselves pain and suffering and we put our own lives on hold when we resist forgiveness.
To forgive doesn’t mean that there is no more pain or that the memory of the wrongs done to you disappears. It means you are no longer obligating yourself to think about or feel bitter over what happened.
Forgiveness is giving yourself permission to move forward with your life. It’s not admitting to being wrong, letting someone else’s actions slide without consequence, or being a pushover. It’s making the empowering and love-driven decision to move on with your life in a more joyful and expansive direction.
Just because you’ve forgiven them doesn’t mean you need to 1) say so or 2) let them back into your life. If your heart says to communicate the forgiveness to the other person, then by all means go right ahead. Trust your intuition… but keep yourself safe and understand that to truly forgive someone doesn’t require having a conversation with them about it.
Sometimes, after you forgive someone they will disappoint you again. You’re allowed to forgive them again. You STILL don’t have to have a conversation with them or give them the power to step into your life and drag you through the mud again.
You deserve forgiveness. And if you can’t forgive yourself, I forgive you. For whatever it’s worth, I forgive you. Please give yourself peace.