Why a single letter can set you free!
Harnessing the power of forgiveness.
Its part of western culture that forgiveness should be a core value yet its something which we seem to have lost sight of the true nature of forgiveness in the modern world.
If you are old enough you’ll remember the words of prayer we used to trot out every day . . .
‘forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trespass against us.’
But how many of us actively practice it in our daily lives let alone apply it to those people who we have issues with in our lives?
If you have experienced difficulties in your life at the hands of someone else you know that you might have had serious consequences at the hands of other people. You might have experienced issues within your relationship, at work or even as the result of the cruel and dangerous behaviour of people you don’t know.
As with anything in our lives we are presented with a choice – not one that is necessarily an easy one but a choice nonetheless. We either choose to become a victim or to forgive. The society – the law, and the media and even friends might encourage us to seek retribution, justice, satisfaction against those who have wronged us but lets consider for a moment the impact on you.
Experiencing life as a victim is a pervasive and corrosive and we tend to attribute those feelings to the person that did this to us. Whatever the action was it was probably a while ago, yet we are continuing to relive the anger, rage, sorrow and hurt we experienced and then we continue to experience.
Its our choice to continue to be a victim and keep the pain anger, and sorrow or to choose something else in our lives.
Its the same context but now there are two choices before you. Only one will help you move on.
The Restorative Justice movement has begun to have impacts in schools and communities across the world. It was the basis of a great deal of my work as a school Principle – yet even in this context it was gravely misunderstood – where many saw it as a means of exacting apologies, retribution and payback to victims. There was a continuing focus on the perpetrator in these incidents. The process has by far the most benefit on the victim in incidents.
It gave them a voice. They could see the limitations of the person who had wronged them. There was a chance that they could reach out and help the perpetrator understand the impact of their actions – but this was not assured.
Acting in forgiveness is not about the other person – its about you!
All that hurt anger and rage inside you is being held there because you want to do something about it. We might mistakenly think that we can address our feelings by waiting, fighting – seeking justice, retribution – whatever against he people who have hurt us. But its not them who carry on feeling this its you.
They feel nothing – even if they did you would never know.
Its what you are doing to yourself that is continuing the feelings you are experiencing.
Listen – in life shit happens – its how we deal wit it that matters.
When you forgive – you don’t let them off with their behaviour you confront them with it in a way that sets you free from it, but you come to the context with a new set of choices.
Writing a letter of forgiveness is a powerful and significant step to take. you’ll suddenly realise that it’s you that’s carrying this on and you that can do something about it.
Think now about your context and then say to yourself ‘I’m going to forgive you for what you did to me.’ Personally – for a long time this was somewhere I was unwilling to go to and then I realised that continuing to harbor the feelings I had were holding me back. The thoughts and feelings about what certain people had done to me and my inability to say or do anything about what was done to me was crippling and brought me to the point of suicide on a number of occasions. I’m not allowed to share what happened to me but the upshot was a life threatening illness, a career and reputation (In my eyes) totally destroyed. My families security was threatened as was my financial position – which had been based on one career choice for thirty years.
Either I could continue to rage internally about what had happened and against the perpetrators. When it was suggested that I forgive them I instantly resisted this – I’d tried pursuing them through he courts and even this had made me feel more empowered so why would letting go benefit me?
This is what I realised.
I was putting my feelings against these people in front of my own future and happiness.
I was limiting my success by living as a victim blaming them for what happened to me and why I was in the situation I found myself in.
Then my wife came back from a course and told me of an incident with a person who had upset her. Her attitude towards young people had offended her and she had been overbearing and arrogant in her attitude to other members of the course to the point where my wife had had to leave the room. Then she read out the letter of forgiveness she had written – it was hilarious and completely lifter her spirits – yes she forgave her and she forgave her because she was so limited in her own life and experience she could only express it in a way which other people found – well – offensive.
Forgive and you get control back.
Forgive and you are no longer a victim
Forgive and you can get on with your life.
Its not about letting them off with it Its about giving you your voice back.
Here’s what to do.
- Create and environment where you can work undisturbed for 45 mins to an hour.
- Make sure its safe and secure and with no distractions.
- Start with addressing the letter to a single person – if there is more than one you’ll need to write more than one letter.
Start with setting out your intention….
I’m writing this letter to you to
- Release my feelings of hurt, anger, rage, etc. for the things which you did which have so deeply affected me . .
- Release the feelings I have and be able to move on with my life
- Give voice to my experience
Here’s some suggestions for paragraphs – use the ones that fit you best.
- I feel angry that …
- I feel afraid that …
- I feel hurt that …
- I feel sad that …
- I accept … (what happened)
- I accept … (what is now)
- The deep desire of my heart now is …
- What I’m doing to support myself now is …
- What I am asking you/myself for now is …
Forgive them for their words and actions and express your understanding of their motivation. ‘I forgive you for your actions against me and I can only think that whatever happened to you to make you so determined to destroy my career must have upset you so deeply that you have carried the scars for years. It was nothing to do with me but for some reason you chose to direct your senseless anger at me in a totally needless and wasteful way which damaged not only my health, destroyed my career but continued and continues to damage the lives and well being of many others for the past four or five years. I have no idea why you chose to do this but I can now forgive you. You didn’t know any better and that must make your life so limited shallow and bitter.’
Then conclude with
What I’m going to do with my life now is . . .
In my life I’m grateful for . . . .
My intention now is to achieve . . .
What you do with the letter is up to you but its only for your own benefit and should probably not shared with anyone else and only in exceptional circumstances delivered to the perpetrator(s).
You need to read it a number of times and re=read it if you need to.
Enjoy the healing and let me know how you get on.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation. You might well achieve reconciliation but this is not part of this process. Reconciliation relies on the other person – you’ve no control or influence on them just you. If it happens then thats good but its not part of what you are doing hers.
Forgiveness is not choosing to trust again. Oh NO! There is no way you should go back and trust them again, its about drawing a line for yourself.
Forgiveness is not lack of accountability. Its a huge mistake to think that forgiveness means we do not deserve to be let off the hook. You can forgive someone and still seek justice. But the key is to seek justice and not vengeance.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. Far too many people assume forgiveness means forgetting, or acting like nothing terrible ever happened. No its about helping you move on from the hurt and the feelings not the experiences. It helps you to re-experience events in a more positive light – for you.
Which gets me to the definition of forgiveness:
- Forgiveness is learning to let go of the hatred, anger, and resentment you feel towards someone who has hurt you, either intentionally or unintentionally.
- Forgiveness is choosing to release the toxic desire to get even or hurt them back.
- Forgiveness is being able to hold people accountable without seeking vengeance.
- Forgiveness is liberating.