Forgiveness “to do” list
____Understand fully that forgiveness does not mean that it is all right for the aggressive behavior to ever be repeated. Forgiveness is meant for past behavior that was unacceptable.
____Give up the unrealistic hope that the perpetrator will apologize, answer your questions or be able to explain why he or she hurt you. Even if apologies or answers were forthcoming, they would not alleviate the pain. The perpetrator’s views, and depth of insight, will differ from your own.
____Understand that the pain is all yours, not the other person’s. When you forgive, it is for the purpose of dealing with your own pain.
____Make up a list of the specific things that were done to you which you have decided to forgive. This means acknowledging and grieving the losses that have resulted from being hurt, and this may generate potent feelings of anger, sadness and fear. (These intense feelings may be an indicator that you may need to work some more on your losses before you are ready to forgive, and the help of a supportive person – a therapist or a trusted friend – may be needed as you progress through this experience.)
____See if there were any positives about the relationship. In some cases there may not be anything positive – but if they do exist, acknowledging them could help you move toward a more compassionate view of the relationship.
____Write a letter to the perpetrator (this is a letter that you will never send). Allow your feelings to flow onto paper. Write freely about your hurt and anger, but include any positive feelings you may have about the relationship. If it feels right to you, acknowledge that the perpetrator may have been only doing the best he or she knew how to do at the time, or perhaps had been strongly influenced by her or his own upbringing. (If you don’t want to write a letter, imagine having a dialogue with the perpetrator. Or engage in a role-playing exercise with a therapist.)
____Create a ritualized separation ceremony which ends the link between you and the perpetrator. For example, you might burn your letter and lists and then scatter the ashes. Or you might visualize a final goodbye where the perpetrator – and your feelings of hurt – will become smaller and smaller and eventually disappear. As part of this ceremony, give the perpetrator your blessing and forgiveness. You are now free to live your life unburdened by the pain of your past hurt. Celebrate that freedom.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT