Forgiveness, like change, is a process. It's not an event. You can't schedule forgiveness on your calendar for two weeks from now. It doesn't happen overnight. In fact, forgiveness encompasses two processes: grieving and healing. When you complete both processes, you can fully forgive someone, that is, if you choose to do so.
Why is grieving part of forgiveness?
“You cannot step into the same river twice.” (Heraclitus) You aren't the same person you were last year. You aren't the same person you were this morning. You could be in a better mood or a worse mood. You could have witnessed a catastrophic automobile accident on your way to work this morning that is making you look around and feel grateful that you made it to work OK. People are always changing. When something has happened that you have to forgive, it changes you.
Maybe you'll think twice in the future before you do something. Maybe you'll never ever do what was done to you. Maybe you'll fight tears every morning for the next two months. Maybe you will define who you are differently after “the event.” But you are different.
Some differences in your life are a good thing, like losing weight or saving money or getting married. But when something happens that you weren't counting on, it changes your plans for the future. It can end your dreams in an instant. You have lost your sense of comfort, control, and hope. It's a loss. And loss means grieving.
Elisabeth Kubler Ross shared five stages of grieving. There is no set order or length of time to experience those stages. Actually, not everyone goes through all five stages, and some people even repeat a few of them before they complete the process. My theory of why some people repeat some of the stages has to do with grieving “mini-losses. You can look at the loss as one big event to grieve or you can view it as working through each mini-loss that is related to the big event.
For example, if your spouse cheats on you, that's the whole. But within that, there are mini-losses that each work through the grieving process. Grieving the loss of trust. Grieving how complicated things are now. Grieving that perfect image you had of your relationship. Possibly grieving your future together. Grieving the images that are now popping in your thoughts. Grieving the things that you said out of anger. Grieving what got the two of here in the first place. So each one of those mini-losses has to be grieved and healed from in order to move on without being tied down to the past. (I know that can seem like a lot! But it can be done. Focusing on the healing part of the process can help it to happen.)
Remember: there is no set time for the grieving process. I wish I could give you some count-down calendar. Instead of focusing on how much time has gone by or how much longer it will take until you feel better, give yourself permission to go with the flow. Decide which things are essential for you to do and which things can slide in all parts of your life. Grieving is draining, not just emotionally, but physically, too. You may feel your appetite change. You may sleep more than you used to (or less). You may have a short fuse. You may not be able to concentrate. You may not feel very social with others. Decide which things you have to do, and which things you can do later or not focus on at all. It will help.
What does the healing process look like?
The healing process is very personal. There's not a chart I can share with you on what that looks like because it needs to be based on you. But I can give you an idea of some things that may be a part of your healing journey.
- Give yourself the gift of “just being.” No pressure. No timeline. It's basically mindfulness.
- Doing something you've always wanted to do. This is a great time to look at your bucket list and put something into action.
- Visit a destination that will give you strength and comfort.
- Exercise. Move. It doesn't matter if you start running, join a gym, or tackle some yardwork. Movement releases endorphins that will help boost your spirits.
- Revise your boundaries, and if you don't have a list of them, now is a great time to make one.
- Utilize your support system. This isn't a time to “be strong.” They will help ease the burden.
- Take a time out when you need to do so. Being around too many people for too long can deplete energy you simply don't have.
- Journal, paint, write songs or poetry, play music, nurture an orchid- it really doesn't matter what. But take time to release your emotions in a healthy way.
- Read books about the topic.
- Formulate a revised scheduled to follow during your healing time. Go back to your old schedule when you're ready.
- Have someone mentor you through the healing process: a counselor, a coach, a minister, or anyone else you trust and feel is in a healthy and knowledgeable place to guide you through the process.
Your action steps:
1. Get specific on what it is exactly that you're working towards forgiving, grieving, and healing. You can be forgiving one thing, grieving another, and healing from something else- all at the same time.
2. Identify what things could be holding you back from moving forward with the process(es).
3. Answer the question: “What would it take for me to let go of this resistance?”
4. Be kind to yourself. Of all of the action steps, this one is the most important!
5. Act on what you've just identified.