Begin with a journal exercise
With pen and paper close by take some quiet time to let a past resentment or hurt fully bloom in your consciousness. Notice how you feel – is your body tense, has your breathing become more rapid? Now pay attention to what you are telling yourself about what happened. You might hear something like, these things always happen to me or what did I do to deserve that or why is life so unfair? Write down exactly what happened along with all of your questions and feelings. (If you begin to feel overwhelmed, try paying attention to how your body is making contact with the surface supporting you or to the sights and sounds around you).
As you allow yourself to explore feelings around past hurts change the question from "why" to now what? Asking why can keep you in a position of powerlessness because your focus stays on the person and the experience of pain he or she caused. Asking why is not useful because you will never be able to come up with a satisfactory answer. The answer lies with the person who has caused you harm. Asking now what is a more useful question because it puts you in the driver’s seat. That answer lies within you. Now what reminds you that you can decide where you go and what you do next.
Questions to explore include:
· How does it help me to hold onto painful feelings?
· How would it help me to let them go?
· Was there anything I really could have done differently at that time, or is the feeling that I could have done something differently based on my current (older, stronger, wiser) self? This question is particularly important if you were abused as a child.
· Did the person that caused the harm have the emotional capacity, emotional health, knowledge or skill to treat you in the way you deserved to be treated?
· Is there anything useful or good that you can take away from the experience?
· Mine your past for lessons not excuses for limits. Don’t use past pain as an excuse for future mistakes and shortcomings.
Forgiveness does not mean the person who has caused you pain is getting away with it. Their behavior is still wrong and hurtful. But refusing to let it go does not change what happened. Often, it only limits what can happen going forward because anger closes you off, leaving little room for many of the good things in life.
Decide you don’t have to stay stuck in your pain because you are left without answers or apologies. You may not ever hear the person say what he or she did was wrong or you may never even get an acknowledgment that it even happened. Freeing yourself from a painful place is possible regardless of what the other person does or does not do. Waiting for them to make the first move will only keep you stuck instead of in your own power to change the course of your life.