When you think of forgiveness, does it seem easy to offer? Or do you withhold forgiveness as a way of punishing someone who hurt you? It can seem like the person who benefits most from forgiveness is the person receiving it. The truth about forgiveness, however, is just the opposite: Forgiveness is for you.

Dr. Margaret Nagib, a clinical psychologist and key faculty member of Timberline Knolls Clinical Development Institute near Chicago, recently schooled me in how the power of forgiveness can set you free.

Dr. Margaret Nagib
Dr. Margaret Nagib
When we forgive, are we really saying that something is okay? Why can forgiveness be so difficult?

Forgiveness is not saying that it’s okay, or that you’re not hurt anymore; those things may not ever go away. When we get stuck in unforgiveness, it’s more about us than the other person who may have wounded us. It’s about our unwillingness to recognize that we’re vulnerable. We need to let that go and recognize, “I was hurt, and I will be hurt again. I’m going to release this spiritually so that I can move on.” Forgiveness is about recognizing your vulnerability and deciding how you want to deal with it in the future, plus tending your wounds and taking care of yourself. If you don’t do that, you stay stuck in your woundedness and it becomes your identity.

We have so many different ideas about spirituality. When you say “release this spiritually,” what does that mean?

We’re body, soul, and spirit.  Our soul is our mind, our will, and our emotion. Ultimately, hurt comes against our spirit—that part of us that is our essence, sense of purpose, meaning, and life. Hurtful experiences are a huge attack against the spirit. We have spiritual ties that are good, and ties that are not so good. When we have things done against us, we can become connected. Forgiveness is about releasing the unhealthy connections and holding on to the good ones. What you’re saying is, “I choose to release this person that I’m tied to spiritually because of how they’ve hurt me.”

How can forgiveness revitalize the spirit?

We need to really take our time and be present to process the hurt first. We need to go through that process before we can feel ready to forgive. I wouldn’t recommend going to the person and giving forgiveness because they might not be worthy of trust. The simple 4-step process I recommend is really about you:

1. Forgive out loud. Sit down with someone you trust and say out loud, “I forgive __________ for _____________” and then get really specific. There’s a power in naming and releasing because you’re now taking control. It takes power to let go of someone who’s hurt you. Spiritually it’s really profound to do this out loud in front of someone you trust.

2. Identify the lies that were created because of how you were wounded. Often what happens is we forgive but still stay stuck. This occurs when we haven’t identified the lies that were created because of what that person or event did to us.

3. Renounce the lies. The power of truth is what we speak out into the universe. Say, “I renounce the lie ____________,” and very specifically state the lie.

4. Identify the truth. Then ask your higher power, inner wisdom, or any other source, “What’s the truth?” This is when you start to see the connection between your head and heart. When you release the lie, a magical thing happens with the truth because it goes down into your core. You can’t put something good in if there’s something bad there. So you release the bad, then there’s room for the good to come back and take residence in your heart.

And the other person can still be held accountable for their actions, correct?

Absolutely; that means you have proper boundaries. There are people I’ve forgiven in my life whom I will never speak to again. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Just because I forgive someone doesn’t mean reconciliation will happen—or should happen. Reconciliation takes two, but forgiveness is up to me.

Read about Michele Rosenthal.

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