by Lester Krames
We have all experienced events in our lives that have caused us to hold on to painful emotions. Perhaps your spouse unfairly criticized you, or as a child you may have felt you were not really loved or cared for, or you discovered your partner had an affair. Wounds caused by others we love and have trusted can leave us with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness or even vengeance.
Many times in life we find ourselves stuck with these painful memories which continue to re-surface. We find ourselves unable to move on because the memory of the hurt plays over and over in our heads. We continue to relive the pain wishing the event never happened or that we could have, somehow or other, responded differently. The questions “what if” or “why” prevent us from forgetting. But how can we forget harm, real or imagined, that continues to haunt us and colour the way we see our lives?
Fortunately, the path to moving on is not through forgetting but by learning to forgive. Whatever the hurt was, it is in the past and we cannot change the past; it no longer exists. The past is the story that we tell about ourselves. Forgiveness does not require that we change the past but allows us to reformulate and reframe the story.
What is forgiveness? Does it require accepting responsibility for what happened? Forgiving can seem like an insurmountable step requiring giving up a part of our very soul and taking responsibility for events we really don’t own. Most people resist forgiving because they feel it calls for an admission of guilt on their part or taking responsibility for the harm done to them. Sometime we feel the hurt is so great that it can never be forgiven.
The formula for forgiveness is simple: forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been different. Wishing that the past could have been different leaves us feeling powerless. The past cannot be changed. Wishing for something that cannot exist creates stress, and affects our everyday life and relationships. Every day we choose to hope for the impossible is another day everybody around you has to live with that decision. And feel its consequences.
Forgiveness does not release the persons that harmed you but releases you from the prison of your own suffering. Forgiveness is not condoning, excusing, or even pardoning. This is true even when the person we need to forgive is ourselves. If you don’t practice forgiveness, you will be the one who pays most dearly. Embracing forgiveness, accepting the past by reformulating and refocusing allows you to embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Lester Krames is a clinical psychologist whose work has been influenced by his exploration into mindfulness and self-compassion.