holiday season a time for forgiveness

Understanding Forgiveness

The holidays can be a difficult time for many. People may notice grief and resentment or grapple with life transitions. Some may feel the weight of grudges and contemplate forgiveness. Holding on to heavy negative feelings and cognitions for an extended period of time can influence physical and mental health. Forgiveness can reduce fatigue, negative emotions, chronic pain, and overall distress. It can improve sleep quality, heart health, and eating habits.

Forgiveness can be an antidote to prolonged suffering. Forgiveness allows people to let go of resentments they hold toward people who have wronged them. It enables making peace with what has happened and paves the path to move forward in life. It does not mean forgetting what happened or reconciling with the offender. It also does not mean the harm is normalized or minimized. Forgiveness is a process and will take time.

There are 4 stages of forgiveness

Stage 1: Uncovering

  • Gather information about how you’ve been hurt and changed by the offense. What has the offense cost you? Reflect on how the offense has affected you mentally and emotionally.

Stage 2: Decision

  • Commit to the process of forgivingness after considering the cost of not forgiving and defining what forgiveness can do for you.

Stage 3: Work

  • Develop in-depth understanding of the offender, the self, the relationship. Some form empathy and compassion for themselves, and other times, for the offender. This can be a difficult stage.

Stage 4: Deepening

  • Search for meaning in the suffering. Perhaps you may feel more connected to others or acknowledge that suffering is part of life. Many people may share your hurt. How has your life changed after the offense? How has it revealed your purpose in life and core values?

Practicing forgiveness takes reflection and patience

How to practice forgiveness

  • Reflect on what happened and how you feel about it. Break the situation down to clearly identify and define what about the situation bothers you. Be as clear and specific as you can. If you feel comfortable, you may share your experience with a close friend or family member.
  • Make a personal commitment to move towards forgiveness and realize that this is for you, not the offender. Forgiveness does not have to involve communication with the offender or acceptance from the offender. It is not reconciliation. Forgiveness may look like a private process.
  • Clarify your understanding of what forgiveness is and isn’t. Understand that forgiveness is for you to be able to let go of the heavy weight of the offense. It can promote inner peace, self-compassion, and deep understanding as it alleviates the need to blame and hold anger. Forgiveness is not to be understood as making up for or excusing the offense. It is not a minimization or normalization of past offenses, and in no way does it invite future offense to happen.
  • Recognize the shift in your emotions as it relates to what happened. Upon reflection, you may notice that present distress may stem from hurt feelings, thoughts, and physical sensations. Such feelings are fluid and will vary from day to day and hour to hour. While these sensations may resemble sensations you felt on the day of the offense, it is important to differentiate them by reminding yourself that the offense is not happening now.
  • If you feel overly activated during the forgiveness process, you may consider engaging in relaxation exercises and soothing self-care activities. His might look like taking deep breaths, going on a walk, or engaging in mindfulness practice.
  • Make room for uncertainty and accept that some situations are out of your control. We have no control over how people feel and act. This is a good opportunity to channel your empathy and sympathy for the human condition, and the pain that affects humanity.
  • Prevent engaging in prolonged rumination and contemplation because you may get caught up in a negative emotional spiral. Your energy might be best used toward constructive and proactive change, prioritizing your well-being.
  • Notice the kindness, love, and joy you have access to. Whether it is the neighbor’s rose garden or a bird in the sky after rainfall, embrace the motions of life as it is. Put intention and effort behind noticing what you have. Practice gratitude for what you have and what is left for you, and what you have yet to unlock for self-actualization. You can acknowledge pain and suffering without giving it all the power.
  • Be gentle and kind to yourself. Remember that you are courageous and wise for choosing forgiveness. You are choosing you over the pain; you over the offender.

The holiday season is a time of love, joy, and family. For those with unresolved conflicts and emotional wounds, it can also be a time of tension and stress. Understanding the four stages of forgiveness and how they apply in the context of family relationships is essential to finding healing and peace. The art of forgiveness can transform your holiday experience and extend its effects into the rest of the year. This holiday season, let forgiveness be a gift that keeps on giving. If your family needs support with communication or reconciliation, join PCI’s free family education night, every other Tuesday at 7:00 pm on zoom.