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Steps to Forgiveness

Steps to Forgiveness


I have noticed most of my clients struggle with forgiveness of themselves or others. On some level, they know that harboring these feelings of anger and resentment holds them back, but they don't know how to get to a place of forgiveness. Forgiveness isn't simple. 


 As with most things we struggle with, we don't know the correct path to follow to get what we want. We need a better map. One with steps to forgiveness. The truth is, you likely have some practice forgiving and don't realize it. To function in relationships, we have to forgive some hurts and mistakes that have happened. You are likely doing this often. 


You've probably heard the quote by Jack Kornfield," Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past". I like this quote because it speaks to the freedom that forgiveness can give us. Most of us struggle to forgive not because we are bad people, but because in some way, a part of us thinks it's keeping us safe. 

The quote helps to highlight the reality that not forgiving is keeping us stuck. Forgiving is something we do for ourselves, in most cases, and not for the person who harmed us. 


 Why don't most of us forgive?

There are three main reasons

  1.  We are afraid that it will leave us vulnerable. It's important to keep in mind that forgiveness doesn't mean that we are more vulnerable at all. Our mind is confused here, but it's only trying to keep us safe by refusing to allow us to forgive. It means well, but causes us more trouble as it often does. 
  •  Forgiveness does not mean that we pretend we were not hurt.
  •  Forgiveness does not mean that we open ourselves up to being hurt again.
  •  Forgiveness does not mean that we ignore or shortcut our grief process 
  • ( otherwise known as spiritual bypassing).
  •  Steps to true forgiveness may include a long grief process where intense feelings and trauma a processed.

2. We don't understand we will be happier. If we are able to get here, it can free us from the difficult and painful feelings of anger sadness and fear.  

3. We don't know how to do it or the steps to forgiveness. It's often a long road to forgiveness. That process cannot be circumvented. The grief trauma sadness and anger must be honored. You may need a therapist to help you with this process. On the other side of this, if you can get there is freedom for you.

Gina Sharpe, in her article, "The Power of Forgiveness," outlines  steps to forgiveness that include forgiving ourselves for harming others, forgiving ourselves for hurting ourselves, and ultimately progressing to the final stage of forgiving someone else for harm to us. She uses meditation to do this. 



Why forgiving ourselves? This is a great approach. In my work with self compassion, for example, I find that the more we learn to direct love and kindness towards ourselves, the more we are able to feel and offer compassion towards others! This is a similar approach. The more we are able to offer forgiveness to ourselves, and to recognize how we have harmed ourselves and others,  the more we can extend that to others! This may seem counterintuitive. I promise it helps. 

Sharpe also suggests we allow forgiveness to unfold in its own time. She stresses the importance of practicing patience and acknowledging our heart may be closed and protective as part of the harm done to us. She says forgiveness is an attitude of "spaciousness" that will take time to grow. And in practicing, we have to be patient with ourselves and the process. I love this kind of gentle process. My observation is we are not kind and gentle with ourselves about much.  

Her description of steps to forgiveness includes quiet body mind meditations that begin with this forgiving of oneself. She also suggests you start with less intense offenses to forgive, and one you get the hang of it, you open up to more challenging ones. 

Steps to Forgiveness: What to do When Remembering 

- For each step:

  1. sit with your feet on the floor, breathing in and out  
  2. focus on your heart
  3. visualize the painful feelings you are holding on to 
  4. remembering past situations that caused harm 
  5. relax and breath into your heart 
  6. concentrate on feeling your emotions and how you have closed your heart
  7. look for the shift

- In progression, we think about the experiences:

  1. we are holding onto that we will not forgive ourselves for 
  2. we want forgiveness from others for 
  3. we want to forgive others for 

Steps to Forgiveness: The Mantras

We also work with the mantras below for each harm. ( SHARPE 2019)

- The harm we have caused to others

- "There are many ways that I have hurt or harmed others. And I remember them now. Ways that I have betrayed abandoned, or caused suffering, knowingly or unknowingly, out of my pain, fear, anger, or confusion, "I ask for your forgiveness. I ask for your forgiveness." 




- The harm we have caused to self

- "Just as I have caused suffering to others, there are many ways that I have hurt and harmed myself. I have betrayed or abandoned myself many times in thought, word, or deed, knowingly or unknowingly.". "For the ways that I have hurt myself through action or inaction, out of fear, pain, and confusion, I now extend a full and heartfelt forgiveness. I forgive myself. I forgive myself. I forgive myself."


- The harm directed at us

- "There are many ways I have been harmed by others, abused or abandoned, knowingly or unknowingly, by thought, word, or deed." Picture the ways you have felt harmed. Remember them."


Sharpe says this, the process repeated can eventually lead to forgiveness with diligent practice, but only when the emotion is ready to be gone. 



References for steps to forgiveness

Sharpe, G. (2019, August 14). The Power of Forgiveness with Gina Sharpe. Retrieved August 16, 2020, from https://tricycle.org/dharmatalks/power-forgiveness-forgiving-ourselves-and-others/


Leave steps to forgiveness for 

Acceptance in Life

Letting Go of anger

Self Compassion

Compassionate mind training

Asking for help