How To Forgive, Even When The Pain is Unbearable

Why is it sometimes so hard to forgive? The answer is pretty simple but accepting the answer can be complicated.

Holding on to anger, resentment and bitterness allows us to feel something other than sorrow or disappointment.

It also allows us to stay connected to the person we are angry at, even when we say we hate them or never want to see them again or would perhaps speed up if we saw them crossing the street. (No judgement please).

Holding on to anger allows us to hold on to the space, time and person who perpetrated this act, who caused us this pain because sometimes, we just aren’t ready to give that up.

And you know what, that’s ok.

Until it’s not.

Before we get to what happens when we hold on to anger for too long let me share with you a bit about my experience with forgiveness.

The past 12 months have been a test of my capacity to forgive.

Last September I unexpectedly got pregnant and by the time I realized I was, her father and I had broken up. While he is a kind hearted man he was not present nor emotionally available throughout our relationship in the way I need a partner to be. Unsurprisingly, he was also not present nor emotionally available in my pregnancy or my abortion.

During some of the darkest days of my life he chose to make them darker.

At the time I said and did all types of things to justify his actions; I simultaneously emotionally bypassed the fact that he made a terrible situation unbearable and held so much anger in my heart for him after it was over that I literally made myself sick. I swung between the new age light and love bullshit answer of “he’s on his own journey” to “what a fucking moron”. Forgiveness felt impossible and for a time, it was.

Shortly after that I was violently verbally attacked, read: next step physical violence, by a man I know well. At a party filled with people I know well. Same as above with the emotional bypassing and anger; I could sense in that moment that none of his anger was actually about me and that he was a very, very, very sad person and at the same time wished that he and the father of my baby would randomly be crossing the road together at the same time and I would happen upon them in my car.

In case that’s not clear - I was filled with rage towards both of these people that I daydreamed about committing vehicular homicide.

Then my brother died and I was left dealing with that aftermath of what was a difficult relationship in life, alone. I’d been so angry at my brother for so many years and in his death it all came back at once.

It felt like my resilience and my capacity for forgiveness was being tested and for a while I failed the test and lived with the rage. It felt good to blame other people for a bit. I wasn’t ready to let go of my anger and that was okay.

Until it wasn’t.

Sometimes when we hold on to anger for too long we get sick. Our immune system might be compromised, resulting in frequent colds or flus. We might develop heart problems at a young age, in a healthy body, outta nowhere. We might get pneumonia.

That’s because anger, resentment and bitterness and all the other emotions we use to mask pain and avoid forgiveness, live in our heart and heart chakra; the same place love lives, the same spot forgiveness lives.

When we allow bitterness to stay too long we run the risk of losing our sense of compassion, of becoming more bitter than we are hopeful, of closing ourself off from love and connection.

Why do we choose to stay in a place that could literally kill us or at the very least turn us cold when we could do the work to mitigate that risk and move on with our life? Forgiveness doesn’t mean the other person is right or that what they did wasn’t painful; forgiveness means that you don’t have to live in that wrong doing and pain anymore.

I can hear you asking, because I’ve asked myself the same thing many times; but how? I’m so glad you asked.

Step 1. You enlist help; a guide, a coach, a therapist or a mentor. Someone removed from the situation and trained to assist with painful memories or trauma. I have an excellent therapist who helped me move through my forgiveness work and I am happy to connect you with her. I am also available to help as a guide.

Step 2. You give yourself time as you are doing the intellectual and emotional heavy lifting of forgiving. Lower your expectations of how long this process will take. In my experience, any type of forgiveness work takes at least 6 sessions with a professional, likely longer. The work with my therapist took 6 months and about 12 sessions.

Step 3. You give yourself space from the person / place / thing (if possible) and from people and situations that aren’t supportive of your healing. I haven’t spoken to the father of my baby or the man who attacked me since I started working with my therapist. I also cut out every single person who was at the party when he attacked me, with the exception of one, because none of them intervened. If they couldn’t support me that night, they had no clue how to support me as I healed.

Step 4. You rest. Rest allows us to integrate the emotions we are working through and the trauma we are releasing and until that emotional integration happens we won’t be able to move on. Rest has been an integral part of my healing and is a forever spiritual practice for me. It is my cure all.

Forgiveness is hard fucking work, there is no doubt, but you know what is even harder work? Living in anger.

I encourage you to take the brave first step towards forgiveness, you will be so glad you did. Promise.

Megan Soutar