In 1978, Dr. Dabney Ewin, a surgeon specializing in burns, was on duty in a New Orleans emergency room when a man was brought in on a gurney. A worker at the Kaiser Aluminum plant, the patient had slipped and fallen into a vat of 950-degree molten aluminum up to his knees. Ewin did something that most would consider strange at best or the work of a charlatan at worst: He hypnotized the burned man. Without a swinging pocket watch or any other theatrical antics, the surgeon did what’s now known in the field of medical hypnosis as an “induction,” instructing the man to relax, breathe deeply, and close his eyes.
He told him to imagine that his legs—scorched to the knees and now packed in ice—did not feel hot or painful but “cool and comfortable.” Ewin had found that doing this—in addition to standard treatments—improved his patients’ outcomes.
And that’s what happened with the Kaiser Aluminum worker. While such severe burns would normally require months to heal, multiple skin grafts, and maybe even lead to amputation if excessive swelling cut off the blood supply, the man healed in just eighteen days—without a single skin graft.
As Ewin continued using hypnosis to expedite his burn patients’ recoveries, he added another unorthodox practice to his regimen: He talked to his patients about anger and forgiveness. He noticed that people coming into the ER with burns were often very angry, and not without reason. They were, as he put it, “all burned up,” both literally and figuratively. Hurt and in severe pain due to their own reckless mistake or someone else’s, as they described the accident that left them burned, their words were tinged with angry guilt or blame. He concluded that their anger may have been interfering with their ability to heal by preventing them from relaxing and focusing on getting better. “I was listening to my patients and feeling what they were feeling,” Ewin told me. “It became obvious that this had to be dealt with. Their attitude affected the healing of their burns, and this was particularly true of skin grafts. With someone who’s real angry, we’d put three or four skin grafts on, but his body would reject them.” Whenever a patient seemed angry, Ewin would help them forgive themselves or the person who hurt them, either through a simple conversation or through hypnosis.
Forgiveness works! It is often difficult, BUT it works!
We often think of forgiveness as something that someone who has done us wrong must ask of US. There is always another way of looking at something. My thoughts on forgiveness suggest that you focus on offering forgiveness TO the person who has wronged you. To not forgive them is like taking the poison (continuing to suffer for what they did or didn’t do to you) and expecting THEM to die!
Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. It is not something you do FOR someone else. It is not complicated. It is simple. Simply identify the situation to be forgiven and ask yourself: “Am I willing to waste my energy further on this matter?”
If the answer is “No,” then that’s it!
All is forgiven.
Forgiveness is an act of the imagination. It dares you to imagine a better future, one that is based on the blessed possibility that your hurt will not be the final word on the matter. It challenges you to give up your destructive thoughts about the situation and to believe in the possibility of a better future. It builds confidence that you can survive the pain and grow from it.
Choice is always present in forgiveness. You do not have to forgive AND there are consequences. Refusing to forgive by holding on to the anger, resentment and a sense of betrayal can make your own life miserable. A vindictive mind-set creates bitterness and lets the betrayer claim one more victim. There is nothing so bad that cannot be forgiven. Nothing!
Forgiveness helps you heal
Holding onto resentment can sour you and keep you from finding peace. When you can’t forgive, your emotional wounds can’t close and heal.
“When you forgive, you’re not saying what someone did was OK. You’re deciding to let go of the burden of stuck and unresolved emotions,” explains Kim Egel, a therapist in San Diego, California.
“Forgiveness allows you to let go of pain and continue with a lighter heart.”
Forgiveness, in other words, enables you to begin moving away from anger and resentment before they seep into all areas of your life
The hurts won’t heal until you forgive!
Recovery from wrongdoing that produces genuine forgiveness takes time.
Don’t rush it.
It helps to focus your energy on the healing, not the hurt!
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you need to keep that person in your life
You can forgive someone for cheating. You can forgive someone for breaking your heart. You can forgive someone for abandoning you in a time of need, for walking away, for not putting you first, for letting you go.
But that doesn’t mean you trust that person again.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you’re obligated to stay in a relationship or marriage with someone who has destroyed the foundation of everything you’ve built. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you keep a close friendship with the person who betrayed you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you continue to engage with family members who have proven their disloyalty, time and time again.
Forgiveness means you accept what wrongs have been done to you, you let go of those wrongs, you calm your heart with God’s love and patience, and you begin again—with or without that person, it’s up to you.
When forgiveness is hard, call upon other strengths
Forgiveness is always hard when we are dealing with deep injustices from others. I have known people who refuse to use the word forgiveness because it just makes them so angry. That’s OK—we all have our own timelines for when we can be merciful. But if you want to forgive and are finding it hard, it might help to call upon other resources.
First remember that if you are struggling with forgiveness, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure at forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process that takes time, patience, and determination. Try not to be harsh on yourself, but be gentle and foster a sense of quiet within, an inner acceptance of yourself. Try to respond to yourself as you would to someone whom you love deeply.
Surround yourself with good and wise people who support you and who have the patience to allow you time to heal in your own way. Also, practice humility—not in the sense of putting yourself down, but in realizing that we are all capable of imperfection and suffering.
Try to develop courage and patience in yourself to help you in the journey. Also, if you practice bearing small slights against you without lashing out, you give a gift to everyone—not only to the other person, but to everyone whom that person may harm in the future because of your anger. You can help end the cycle of inflicting pain on others.
If you are still finding it hard to forgive, you can choose to practice with someone who is easier to forgive—maybe someone who hurt you in a small way, rather than deeply. Alternatively, it can be better to focus on forgiving the person who is at the root of your pain—maybe a parent who was abusive, or a spouse who betrayed you. If this initial hurt impacts other parts of your life and other relationships, it may be necessary to start there.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting
Baked into our culture is the notion of “forgive and forget,” the idea that in order to forgive we need to forget the wrongs done to us.
This is NOT true.
Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. While we must always forgive, there are times when we must not forget. Forgive and forget implies that we exonerate the one who has offended us and never again call to mind their actions. By all means, exonerate the other! Our Lord expressly told us that we are called to forgiveness and that we will be forgiven by our heavenly Father in the same measure that we forgive others.
No matter how terribly we’ve been treated, we’re required to release that person or persons from all responsibility or burden for their actions. By forgiving them, we erase their debt to us as consequence of their actions. Forgiveness is a conscious decision not to dwell upon past hurts and to refrain from rubbing it in the other’s nose so as to foster guilt and shame. Forgiveness frees the other, but also frees us – we are released from the pain and hard feelings resulting from the offense.
We vow to move on.
You can’t control your memories, but you can control your attention.
Forgiving someone does not mean you no longer feel the pain of their offense.
In most cases, the only way you can stop hurting is to stop feeling, and the only way you can stop feeling is to die emotionally. But passionless robots can neither truly love God or others. This may be the primary reason people are reluctant to forgive. They know they can’t stop feeling the sting of the sin against them and they don’t want to be insincere by saying they forgive when deep down inside they know they didn’t.
Let’s suppose that Anna discovers that her husband Jake has cheated on her. The agony and deep feelings of betrayal are intense. Although Anna seeks healing through counseling, she eventually separates from her husband. Upon their reconciliation, she forgives him, but is under the assumption that for her to do so means she must never again feel the pain action. Then one evening she sees Jake smiling and talking to another woman outside library. Although it was nothing more than innocent friendliness, the suspicion of his betrayal comes rushing back into her soul. She questions her feelings: “What’s the matter with me that I can’t get over this?” Anna has to learn that the pain of her husband’s cheating will probably never go away, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t truly forgiven him.
What happens if I can’t forgive someone?
Forgiveness can be challenging, especially if the person who’s hurt you doesn’t admit wrong. If you find yourself stuck:
- Practice empathy. Try seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view.
- Ask yourself why he or she would behave in such a way. Perhaps you would have reacted similarly if you faced the same situation.
- Reflect on times you’ve hurt others and on those who’ve forgiven you.
- Write in a journal, pray or use guided meditation — or talk with a person you’ve found to be wise and compassionate, such as a spiritual leader, a mental health provider, or an impartial loved one or friend.
- Be aware that forgiveness is a process, and even small hurts may need to be revisited and forgiven over and over again.
Be Kind Instead of Right
There is a Chinese proverb, If you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves, which is saying to me: your resentments will destroy you.
The world is just the way it is. The people who are behaving “badly” in the world are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. You can process it in any way that you choose. If you’re filled with anger about all of those “problems,” you are one more person who contributes to the pollution of anger. Instead, remember that you have no need to make others wrong or to retaliate when you’ve been wronged.
Imagine if someone says something to you that you find offensive, and rather than opting for resentment, you learn to depersonalize what you’ve just heard and respond with kindness. You are willing to freely send the higher, faster energies of love, peace, joy, forgiveness, and kindness as your response to whatever comes your way. You do this for yourself. You would rather be kind than right.
What if the person I’m forgiving doesn’t change?
Getting another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words isn’t the point of forgiveness. Think of forgiveness more about how it can change your life — by bringing you peace, happiness, and emotional and spiritual healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.
The Difference Between Forgiveness and Enabling
“You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.’”
— Maya Angelou
t’s important to draw a line in the sand when you recognize a pattern of hurtful behavior. There is a difference between forgiving someone and enabling a hurtful or abusive person. Holding onto a grudge or even hate toward someone who has hurt us only continues to hurt us more. If we’re able to forgive them, we’ll feel so much better — but that doesn’t necessarily mean letting them back into our lives. If they’ve proven themselves to be a consistently negative influence or repeatedly cause us harm, we can forgive them and move on without them. Those two things aren’t mutually exclusive.
So we ask that you take a moment to think about someone you’d like to forgive — no matter how difficult — and maybe take a step to better your own health through forgiveness.