Dear Renée: How Do You Forgive? The Art of Letting Go and Moving On

This week I am writing to you to answer a series of pertinent questions on how to forgive – questions which we all need to consider at some point in our lives.

By not addressing them we get stuck, and this 'stuckness' affects our general health and well-being. For the sake of our children too, let’s show them how we attempt to do this.

Dear Renée,

  • How do you facilitate forgiveness? 
  • What timeframe after a deep insult is 'usual'?
  • Can one move forward without forgiving the person who hurt us? 
  • How do you define Forgiveness?

Here is my personal offering on the subject, based on my own experience of pain, forgiveness and awareness of the pain I have (inadvertently) caused others. It can only be a subjective take and by no means a universal view.

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘to forgive’ as to no longer feel angry about, or wish to punish. For me, the experience of forgiveness – once accomplished – is huge, particularly if it relates to deep and willful hurt where the perpetrator failed to take responsibility for his or her actions.

Forgiveness liberates the wronged person and sets her free. It is empowering and invigorating, and it renews our sense of purpose. No longer is our attention fragmented or borne down, but realigned to our journey. Forgiveness re-connects us with ourselves, others and the wider world.

Once experienced, this freedom becomes a huge motivator to cultivate your willingness to forgive again and again – all sizes of slights and hurts. Yes, forgiveness energises you mentally, but an inability to forgive is linked to stress, depression, heart disease and a compromised immune system.

Forgiveness is a process

Since forgiveness nearly always amounts to a process of change, there can’t be a time-frame by which it should be accomplished.

The process is messy, non-linear and undignified at times, just like a climb up a rocky, windswept mountain where we occasionally slide down, walk round the mountain in circles but ultimately manage to reach the top. The length of time takes is irrelevant.

What really matters is your determination to set off on the path and your desire to change. ‘Shit happens’, I heard the other day, ‘but shift is a choice’.

By wanting to forgive, you're already moving ahead.

Here are some tips to help you on your endeavour to forgive:

1.     Feel connected to those who have gone before you

Individuals like Nelson Mandela, incarcerated for 27 years for pursuing his righteous fight for freedom, or the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who was kept alive in the Nazi camps while he watched everyone he knew and loved be marched off into the gas chambers. Both these men showed us how to forgive.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

2.     Develop kindness towards yourself

Learn to accept yourself completely as you are, take full responsibility for your role in the situation and forgive yourself the way you would a friend who got trapped in a similar entanglement.

3.     Guard yourself against the corrosive effect of bitterness and resentment

Hold the perpetrator accountable for his action while simultaneously cultivating an attitude of empathy towards him; an attitude of compassion for his misguided actions.

4.     Develop gratitude for the change in you that resulted from this hurt

What have learned? Have you developed or become more connected to the suffering of others?

5.     Connect regularly with your values

Very recent research findings from the University of Michigan show how people who are more in touch with their values, become much more receptive to signs or ‘messages’ from the world around them to what they can do to improve their personal well-being or refrain from things with harmful outcomes to themselves.

In this light, you might like to try the simple exercise connected to these findings:

  • Just choose a few things that really matter to you from a longer list - health, work, family, faith, fun, creativity, service, etc. Then take one and spend 5 minutes writing about why this particular value matters so much to you and how it shows up in your life.
  • Notice how it immediately affects the way you feel. Send yourself a daily (digital) reminder of the importance of that value in your life and to who you are.
  • Be intrigued by the subtle shifts this process will set off - changes in your general resilience, ability to be vulnerable, sense of creativity and optimism.

(Source: Kelly McGonigal, PhD)

“Each of us must turn inwards and destroy in himself all that he thinks he must destroy in others.”  – Etty Hillesum (who also forgave the Nazi’s by whom she was eventually killed herself.)

Work together

If after reading this, you feel you are still struggling with forgiveness or any of the other topics covered in my blogs - parenting, creative mind and emotional health - then please contact a professional therapist - you can get in touch with me to discuss one-to-one coaching and therapy in my practices in Kent or East Sussex, or via Skype.

If you would like to learn more about therapy and what you can expect from a session, then click here

About Renée

Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based between Woodchurch (Ashford), Kent and the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.

Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.

Book a session or explore the website