How Forgiveness Can Serve Your Well-Being
POST WRITTEN BY Svetlana Whitener
Emotional Intelligence Executive Coach InLight Coaching. Let Emotional Intelligence enhance your career and relationships with EQi-2/360®!
Forgiveness is a strong word, and rightfully so. Often, it can seem like a monumental task to forgive others and almost impossible to forgive yourself. But it can be done.
As usual, let’s define what we’re talking about before we go on to describe what you need to do to accomplish forgiveness.
To forgive is to cease to feel resentment against another person. It is the act of feeling compassion for the real or imagined harmful acts of others. In other words, you see through the superficiality and externality of what has been done to see the offender’s inner humanity and universality. It is to look beyond foibles to understand and feel the other person.
Forgiveness can be transformational because it provides a sense of relief and purging. Therefore, it impacts your emotional intelligence (EI) and your moral beliefs by enhancing them both. Use forgiveness to become the “bigger” person constantly seeking higher ground, above the petty jealousies and harbored grudges, which make you small.
As leaders, a barrier to forgiveness is often our conditioning to see forgiveness as a sign of vulnerability and fear that others will take advantage. Deal with this barrier by realizing that exhibiting vulnerability is a sign of being brave, not being timid. Only confident people are unafraid to demonstrate their vulnerability and fragility. It takes guts to show it! When you show up as a victor, not a victim, you overcome the forgiveness barrier.
Step 1: Self-Forgiveness
You have two options:
1. Be timid and suppress your feelings of guilt, which would result in bad moods, irascibility and an inability to move forward; or
2. Be brave and own your conduct. This allows you to clean up your messes and move on with proud self-forgiveness.
To learn to become a generally forgiving person, you first need to learn to forgive yourself and release yourself from past mistakes. Freely admit your errors and transgressions, and take responsibility for the negative outcomes you have created.
To do this, quit being a perfectionist, and stop holding yourself to an impossible standard. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Recognizing that in yourself helps you to recognize it in others and makes you a more compassionate person.
Step 2: Feeling And Naming The Pain
Whether someone hurt you or you hurt another person, name the emotional experience, and describe it to yourself. Was it something that made you sad, angry or scared? Name it, and own it. Making something concrete out of it like this gives you a better understanding of why you feel or felt a certain way. It doesn’t suppress the underlying emotion, but it does give you something you can readily identify and deal with.
A lot of us were taught that human beings have survived so long because they are wired to avoid pain. But this doesn’t include emotional pain. Emotional pain must be dealt with by directly confronting it and going through the process of forgiveness. It is only through forgiveness that we can truly heal.
Step 3: Actually Forgiving
Now that you’ve gone through the first two steps, it shouldn’t be much of a stretch for you to apply the learning you used to forgive yourself in order to forgive someone else. Forgive by learning and incorporating the following:
• Willingness to forgive: Every act of forgiveness usually involves one or even two negative emotions: anger and fear. You can feel angry by refusing to forgive, and you can feel fearful by failing to let go of your hurt. Both are detrimental to your emotional well-being. Thus, it is in your best interest – as well as the best interest of others – to be willing to forgive.
• Unintentional hurt: The person who hurt you probably didn’t do it maliciously. Most likely, they justified their hurtful action in some fashion. Knowing this, your job is to examine their motives. Why did they act in a hurtful manner? If the hurt was unintentional, you need to recognize that.
• Naming it out loud: Say the name of the person, and then imagine what positive forgiveness will bring to your life. For instance, it might bring peace, calmness, gratitude, ease, etc. For example, you might say to yourself, “If I forgive Bill, I will feel a new sense of peace because I will no longer be focusing on the negative.” If you speak from your heart, you can let go of negative emotional feelings. The words will flow, and a smile will come easily. Get past your ego, reframe your resentful thoughts and allow your soul to speak.
• Acceptance of control: You can only be in control of your own actions. You cannot control what other people think, feel or do. If someone asks you for forgiveness, follow the steps set forth above to recognize that you are the one in control. Take all steps necessary to make yourself the “bigger person,” and let the chips fall where they may. If the other person doesn’t reciprocate in the manner you would have liked, so be it. You have done all you can. Be OK with whatever happens.
Step 4: Ingraining The Process
Learning how to forgive yourself and others requires practice and the ability to look beyond the initial pain to the long-term benefit. Like with most any tool, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. So, learn how to forgive by labeling the negative emotions and figuring out how to process them faster, and then practice forgiveness again and again. When you do that, you increase your emotional intelligence, learn to impact your current mood and adjust your attitude toward others.
Forgiving is transformational because it serves your intention to stay in touch with your real values and adjust your beliefs in order to become the best version of yourself. Also, it’s part of practicing empathy.
Cultivating forgiveness is not easy, and depending on the offense, it might seem impossible. But you can do so if you are moved by empathy, kindness, or compassion, which are the enhancers of your well-being, rather than by anger, bitterness or resentfulness, which are the derailers of your well-being.