What if you held within you the cure for hurt, guilt and resentment? While it may not be a magic pill — or even simple, for that matter — Chaplain Jodi Varner, MA, says that your ability to forgive can act as a healing balm for many heavy emotions and free you of emotional burden.
“Carrying resentment is burdensome and takes a toll on our body, mind and spirit,” says Varner, interfaith minister at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “Holding onto resentment is like swallowing poison in hopes of harming another, when you really only harm yourself.”
What are the first steps on the path to forgiveness?
Varner counsels that you should be very gentle with yourself when starting the process of forgiveness.
“We do not plant a tomato seed one day and find a tomato grown the next. It takes time, dirt, water and sunlight to transform,” she says. “Sowing the seeds of forgiveness is the same; forgiveness grows with time, thoughts, feelings, communication and attention.”
Varner recommends asking many questions around your hurt, starting with the following:
- What was my part in this situation?
- What does forgiveness mean to me?
- Am I able to identify when I feel hurt, resentful, angry, sad, depressed or overwhelmed?
- If so, can I acknowledge and feel the pain of this heavy emotion
- Am I willing to admit to myself a need for forgiveness around this hurt?
- Am I willing to admit that I may need to see things any differently or find new perspective?
- Is it appropriate to apologize or would it cause more harm to engage with this person?
- Would it be appropriate to communicate my hurt and request an apology or reconciliation?
- What is available to me if I was free of this hurt?
Can you forgive someone who is no longer with you — either no longer living or not in your life for other reasons?
True forgiveness is about letting go of the pain so that it does not contaminate the future, says Varner. It does not require consent from another. We can never control another or their forgiveness process.
“If you would like to forgive someone, bring your attention to letting go of the hurt caused,” she says. “Extend a request for an apology — or your own apology — in your heart and mind. You may want to write an unsent letter documenting the ways you were hurt or how you caused hurt. You can also verbally express your apology and intention to be free from the hurt to a trusted friend or adviser.”
What if you are seeking forgiveness?
Honesty paired with humility is always a good approach to communication. Admitting to the wrong and apologizing is an act of wisdom and maturity. It is best not to blame the other or expect an apology in return. If we are willing to do our own internal work and let go of the outcome, we can expect powerful internal — and perhaps external — changes.
Whether you are ready to forgive another or hope for forgiveness, you must ask if you are willing to make the intention for forgiveness visible. Look for ways to demonstrate an apology by refraining from that behavior again or volunteering for a cause that pays it forward.
Varner offers these powerful tools for exercising emotions in a positive way while remaining open for a new perspective:
- Talk with a friend, mentor, faith counselor, support group or professional therapist.
- Get creative: Do an art project or write about your hurt, forgiveness and your desire to be free of its emotional burden.
- Attend a workshop or a therapeutic or religious retreat.
- Perform a labyrinth walk with the intention of forgiveness.
- Create and repeat a mantra, such as “I am willing to see this differently.”
- Write apology letters, either sent or unsent.
- Read books or watch films about forgiveness, such as Wild by Cheryl Strayed or Big Fish, a movie about a man learning to love his father in a way he’s never been able to before.
- Create a healing box — a box containing written requests and intentions for healing and forgiveness that can be placed at the center of meditation circles or be held during your private mindfulness practice.
“Forgiveness not only allows us to find relief more quickly when we feel hurt,” Varner says. “A wealth of research suggests that forgiveness also offers myriad health benefits including better sleep, lower blood pressure and even a longer life span.”
For the news media: To talk with Rev. Jodi Varner about the power of forgiveness for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.