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How to Forgive, Let Go of Bitterness, and Move On With Your Life I have met many deeply hurting people

who seem to be vaguely aware of a desire to be well and vaguely aware that it is bitterness over hurts from the past that is keeping them trapped in pain and poor health, both emotionally and physically. They express a desire to be free, but when the word forgiveness is presented, they say something like, but you don't understand what I suffered. I CAN'T forgive. Not EVER! There are two things I have come to be very certain of regarding the subject of forgiveness. One is that forgiveness is NOT impossible. And the second is that, in many situations, forgiveness is very, very difficult. It is a battle, a war to be won, and we need some weapons. That is the purpose, very simply, of this article. I want to offer you weapons in the battle against bitterness. The first weapon I can't actually give you, of course, because you already have it. So I will just remind you to take advantage of it, to use it. The first and most powerful weapon is the power of God. We are not in this battle alone. God asks us to forgive and he gives us the power. Forgiving others is not impossible because, with God's power, NOTHING is impossible. Jesus looked at them and said, With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God. Mark 10:27 (NIV) I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 (NIV) Still, even with the power of this very important weapon, people are often at a loss regarding where to start, HOW to make this forgiveness thing happen. So what I am offering in this article, as a second weapon, is a four step process, four stages of forgiveness. Forgiveness is all about choice. But making the choice to forgive is difficult. People tend to be hesitant, unsure that forgiveness is the choice that is the most personally beneficial, the choice they WANT to make. Forgiveness IS the best choice, ALWAYS!! There are actually NOT any exceptions, no extenuating circumstances that would cause forgiving to be the wrong or personally harmful choice. (I'm thinking you may be skeptical of such an extreme position, but I can back this up, really! I will ask you to keep an open mind and read the rest. If you still disagree, let me know. I will listen and keep an open mind as well.) I will say it again: Forgiving is ALWAYS the best and most personally beneficial choice. People have trouble recognizing this very important fact because of a tangled mess of misconceptions and false beliefs that obscures their ability to see clearly. And it is this mess that must be cleaned out so that the journey of forgiveness can proceed. One of the misconceptions is the perception that forgiveness is the same as reconciliation. It is not. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two entirely different concepts. And when people find themselves believing that forgiveness is possibly a bad choice that could cause harm, they are most likely thinking of reconciliation, which is, of course, NOT always the best choice.

Forgiveness means letting go; letting go of the expectation, the demand, the need to be compensated somehow for a wrong that has been done. It means letting go of past hurts and bad feelings toward another person. And with that letting go comes freedom. Wow!! Imagine being finally free of all that old baggage! Reconciliation, on the other hand, means continuing or reestablishing a relationship with the person who is being forgiven. And certainly, in many cases, that can also be a good and beautiful thing. But it is an entirely separate issue. If reconciliation is to be workable, a person would need to proceed with caution, with a clear and carefully communicated plan regarding changes that might be needed and problems that may need

to be resolved. Still, as I said previously, that is an entirely separate issue. I believe the confusion between forgiveness and reconciliation, which causes one to question whether forgiveness could be a bad choice, is connected to the fear of putting one's self at risk for being harmed again. And it becomes more complicated because many people hang on to unforgiveness over a particular incident and that unforgiveness grows into a mistrust of others in general. Unforgiveness becomes something that is seen as a source of protection against all sorts of possible future harm. Still, it is possible to forgive while being reasonably cautious and sensible regarding trusting, both the particular person who caused the harm and other people in general. Some relationships should not be continued or reconciled, but forgiveness can still happen. One can choose to fully forgive and work toward becoming free of bitterness and emotional baggage while, at the same time, firmly saying good-by permanently to an unhealthy relationship. Besides the confusion between forgiveness and reconciliation, other roadblocks that get in the way of making the choice to forgive include the tendency to stay stuck ruminating over things that can't be changed. I love the Serenity Prayer. You know it I'm sure. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. It is a very clear and concise way of stating the foundation of all therapy and self-help efforts. If we don't keep this foundation clearly in mind, we end up just wasting a good

deal of energy, both by beating our heads against a wall wishing we could change things that we can't and also by making excuses for not changing things we can change. Anyway, I mention the Serenity Prayer to clarify some simple facts that are so easy to lose sight of. One very large category of stuff that belongs in the things I cannot change box is, of course, THE PAST, the entire past, ALL of it! Everything we have done, everything anyone else has done to us, all the random unfair things that have happened. If it happened in the past, whether 50 years ago or 5 minutes ago, it can't be changed. Therefore, dwelling on how things SHOULD not have happened the way they did is of no value and is counterproductive to personal healing. And understanding this concept is an important part of clearing out the mess so that we can proceed with making the choice to forgive. Another very large category of stuff that belongs in the things I cannot change box is other people's choices, behavior, and responses to us. You may find yourself saying things like: I would forgive, if the other person would apologize or if I could see that

they had learned their lesson, or if I could see that they were willing to change, etc, etc. If you observe this kind of thought pattern in your mind, recognize it as another roadblock that needs to be cleared out. To clear out this particular roadblock, you can say something like this: That person has caused me enough harm already. I am no longer a victim. I refuse to allow another person's wrong choices or bad behavior to prevent me from receiving peace, healing, and freedom in my own life! Another roadblock that complicates the choice to forgive, another part of that mess of misconceptions and false beliefs, is the belief that choosing to forgive carries certain meanings, which, in fact, it does not. Choosing to forgive does not mean we are saying that what the other person did was really not so bad. Choosing to forgive does not mean that we are minimizing the significance or severity of the hurt we have experienced or that we are saying our own feelings are not important. Choosing to forgive does not mean the offending person DESERVES to be forgiven, or that the behavior should be excused, or that the person should not have to take responsibility for their actions. Here again, we can choose to let go of the bad feelings while at the same time proceeding with legal action or whatever might be appropriate in the particular situation. To throw in a bit of clarification here all emotions have a purpose. And the purpose of anger is generally to motivate a person to take action that needs to be taken. However, the problem comes in when anger or any uncomfortable emotion is allowed and

encouraged to linger long after it has done its job. It can be very difficult sometimes to determine at what point anger has finished its job. This can be especially difficult in those situations where, due to some of those things we can't control, we are prevented in some way or other from taking action that we believe is needed to rectify the situation to our satisfaction. And if some of those factors are things over which we are very uncertain about how much control we do or don't have, when some of those factors may even be our own personal weaknesses, then knowing when to let the anger go can definitely be a very complicated thing. Still there comes a time when we need to recognize that we have done all we can. We need to recognize that, though we may have made mistakes and let opportunities pass when a different choice may have provided a different outcome, all that is in the past. We need to let the anger go and choose serenity! But I will write more about letting go of anger when we get to step 2. For now, I will summarize step 1. Step one is clearing out the roadblocks that get in the way of WANTING to forgive so that we can be sure that we clearly, definitely, and unreservedly KNOW that we want to forgive.

Then after we are very sure that we WANT to forgive, we can begin Step 2. Step 2 is becoming READY to forgive. The truth is, as important as forgiveness is, it should not actually be attempted too soon. And here again, I will bring up a point of caution: This fact should not be used as an excuse to stall the forgiveness process far longer than necessary. Many of us can likely recall incidents from childhood where our well-meaning parents pushed us to resolve conflicts with a sibling too soon and without the option of choice. Tell your sister you're sorry. Ok, sorry. (Reluctantly, while making a disgusted face) Ok, good. Now, tell your brother you forgive him. I forgive you. Then the parent turns their back and the kids stick out their tongues at each other, right? The point is that trying to forgive too soon and/or under compulsion or a sense of obligation will be insincere and ineffective. Trying to forgive without having done enough preparation work will not likely result in freedom or true forgiveness, but will just bury the anger and hurt more deeply where they will sprout up in a whole variety of ugly ways. Step 2 in the forgiveness process involves identifying any ACTION that may need to be taken in order to become READY to forgive. Remember that anger has a purpose and we need to identify whether or not the anger has done its job of motivating toward action in the particular incident we are dealing with. Depending on the various specifics of the

situation, the needed action may involve assertively expressing feelings, resolving some problem, setting more effective boundaries, or taking some kind of legal action. Even in cases where the offending party is no longer available, feelings may need to be expressed, such as through writing or role play. This work of identifying and making a plan of action needs to occur in a fairly short period of time. Anger, as a useful short-term emotion, needs to finish its work quickly. Otherwise, it turns into bitterness, which does not serve a useful purpose, but is a perversion of anger, a parasite which destroys from within. In cases where some legal action is involved that may not be completely finished for a long period of time, anger is generally only needed to motivate a person to get the ball rolling. We should then be able to proceed with what needs to be done without anger, simply following through with the plan, understanding that it is the right thing to do, that the offending individual needs to take responsibility for their actions and that those who have been harmed and those at risk for being harmed in the future need to be protected.

To summarize: Step 2 involves: 1) Identifying action that needs to be taken, 2) Making a specific plan, and 3) Following through on setting the action in motion. Once the action has proceeded to the stage where anger is no longer needed (keeping in mind that anger is a useful, but dangerous emotion that is designed to finish its work QUICKLY), then we should be fully prepared for Step 3. Step 3 is committing ourselves to the choice. Once we know we WANT to forgive and that we are READY to forgive, we make the choice that NOW is the time. At this point, what may be most useful is to put something in writing. We are making a contract. Our contract might look something like this: I,_____, fully understand that forgiving _____ for _____ is the choice I WANT to make. I understand that I am making this choice in order to set myself free from the harmful, destructive force of bitterness. I understand that even though ____ may not deserve to be forgiven, I am making this choice for me, because I NEED to be free. The actions I needed to take were ____, ____, and ____. I have taken those actions. I am now READY to forgive. Therefore on this date ____, I CHOSE to forgive. Step 4 is simply maintenance. It is the understanding that the temptation to take back the bitterness will be strong for a time. This is why making the contract is important. When a temptation comes, we can refer back to the specific date and strengthen ourselves with the reminder of that commitment. We can confront the temptation by saying something like this: I have forgiven and I refuse to entertain a thought of bitterness. I refuse to let it back into my life. I refuse to be that dog returning to its

vomit!!! (Proverbs 26:11) After firmly confronting the temptation, we then distract ourselves by replacing the thoughts of the old offense with more positive thoughts and activities. With time, the temptation to return to bitterness and dwelling on past offenses becomes weaker. We stop having to fight so hard. And at some point, there will likely come a moment of joy when we notice we are no longer struggling at all, but are finally completely free!! We have made it through to complete forgiveness!

RoseDQ May 2010 (I know there are many books on the subject of forgiveness already and I'm sure that what I have said has been said before in all sorts of different ways. But I have given much thought to the question of HOW to forgive and wanted to share a practical answer to that very important question. I hope that it will be of some benefit. May God bless

you all in your journey to find peace and healing!)