We often think of forgiveness as something we do on behalf of the person who wronged us. However, forgiveness is actually not meant to necessarily be a process that we undertake for the sake of the person who hurt us. At the same time though, the process is still about that person. There is nothing wrong with forgiving him or her in order to help ourselves feel better. This is an active choice that we make when we need relief from the toxicity of our anger and our hurt.
Below are three steps to take to let go of anger and find peace with forgiveness.
Note: (For simplicity’s sake, we will use the word “person” to describe the perpetrator of a wrongdoing, although the same concepts can be applied to include a group of people, a situation, or an event, such as an accident.)
1) Understand what forgiveness is, and what it is not. Most people do not realize that forgiveness is actually a selfish act; that we forgive for our own benefit, and not for the person who hurt us.
It takes hard work and a lot of energy to sustain anger. Not only is anger mentally exhausting, but it suspends our bodies in a state of physical stimulation that is meant to be acute – and gotten over quickly – rather than chronic and long-lasting. It is actually our anger – and not the hurtful event – that stands to cause us the most harm. Forgiveness does not mean that we condone a hurtful action or forget that it ever happened. Nor should we permit a recurrence, if there is a way to prevent it.
2) Search for empathy and understanding. Forgiveness is a choice that we can make for ourselves only once we are able to empathize with the person who angered us and understand what motivated his or her actions.
Again, understanding a person’s situation, motives, feelings, or actions does not mean you are condoning them. Rather, empathy is a starting point for forgiveness, which can be reached by ourselves and for ourselves. Empathy forms a pathway through which we can reduce anger, gain understanding and compassion, and, ultimately, find peace.
3) Make the choice to forgive. Releasing anger requires a conscious effort, and is a cognitive choice. It means harnessing empathic awareness alongside of our pain, and taking action. Action allows us to move forward – even if that means assigning grace to a person who we feel is undeserving. Remember though – grace and understanding are gifts you can give yourself, which will ultimately reduce your own pain and suffering and help you to find peace.
Forgiveness provides an opening for moving on in our lives. While it takes work to be ready to forgive, ultimately the investment leading up to forgiveness, as well as the act itself, lead us to be able to let go of our pain and anger, facilitating the closing of one door and the opening of another.