This is what I Learned about How to Forgive Someone
Truth be told, I’d be willing to live petty and die mad if I didn’t feel so terrible everyday. Living with resentment is NOT my best life. Forgiveness is how I choose to move forward, but how do I even begin to truly do that? In this blogpost, I will share my personal experiences of deciding to forgive before understanding forgiveness and what I learned along the way.
This blog post contains affiliate links and I am paid if you support my work by purchasing any recommended products promoted in this post.
Thank you for your support, now, let’s talk about what I learned about forgiveness.
July 12th rolled around for the 40th time since the day I was born and I was here to see it. I decided to work my ass off, pour myself a few shots, and give thanks to see the day I turned 40 years old. It was nothing like I imagined. There was no big fanfare, no girl’s trip, and no life-changing spiritual retreat. Just me, a fuzzy leopard print onesie and a meager bottle of Tequila that I’d purchased from the liquor store in my old neighborhood before making my ascent up the treacherous 27 stairs to my new-ish apartment.
There’s something about the corner stores in this new neighborhood that I don’t like. I’m not familiar with the families that own them. The guy behind the counter doesn’t ask me about my uncle Robert. They don’t wonder why he hasn’t been down there to get sweets with the change from his change jar. They didn’t see me struggling to get him and his suitcases in the car the last morning he was here. He never liked this new place. That was the easiest part of driving him hours away from here to the new care facility he’s in today.
Whose Supposed to Wipe Uncle Robert’s Butt?
2020 was awful for all of us, but 2021 hit me deep in the feels with some hefty hurdles. I ended a friendship of 2 years with my current roommate, during a pandemic, while our household is sill social distancing. I mean real social distancing too – no eating at restaurants, no events, no physical contact with anyone outside of our household, still masking/double-masking, hand washing, setting my clothes on fire upon entering the house, and staying 600 feet away from you heauxs.
Weeks before I drove my uncle Robert to his new home, my gallbladder decided that it was inflamed and needed to come out immediately, even though I was a care provider, working as a full-time engineer, and trying to live the rest of my life out as a hermit in the back of a shared house to avoid confrontation with my roommates. My Gallbladder didn’t care, however. I had to figure out how I was going to have surgery and who was going to wipe Uncle Roberts butt while I recovered.
I reached out to the only 6 living family members on my mom and uncle Robert’s side of the family. They said, “Nah.” Their mother and one of the 2 aunts in my life had just passed away. Thanks to the distance in our relationship, COVID-19, and my raggedy gallbladder, I never got a chance to say goodbye. One thing about me is that I’m definitely going to have big, dramatic feelings about matters of the heart. I don’t move on from situations, pain, and people with emotional ease. Despite years of therapy, I struggle to confront, accept, forgive, and move on.
Forgiveness is not a selfless or empathetic act, it is an act of self-healing and self-empowerment.
In pain, I made phone calls from my bed to whomever I could think to ask if they would take care of uncle Robert while I had surgery. In between the calls I wailed, cried out for my momma, and wallowed in sadness at my situation. A weak smile spread across my face and I chuckled at the irony of having held onto my anger over the falling out with my roommate. I’d made myself hard, like my momma always wanted me to be. She hated that I was soft, agreeable, and sensitive.
My Momma’s Rage
I remembered all the anger my mother held onto and could conjure up at any time. A small infraction led to explosive blowouts far beyond what any situation called for. Casual conversations were like walking through a field of landmines. She carried so much resentment that one more drop caused torrential downpours and floods of rage. When my mother passed away of stomach Cancer, there were only 2 folks to notify, my dad and her friend from across the street. I didn’t recognize most of the few folks who showed up for her funeral. Her one friend from across the street didn’t even bother to come to say her goodbyes. Loneliness and resent accompanied my mother to her grave. I hid my tears as best as I could and disengaged my roommates as often as possible. I became someone they couldn’t know and someone I didn’t recognize. Someone hard, closed, and unavailable. A stone. Then, I grew stones and these bitches were kicking my ass.
So, I decided to let the shit with my roommate go. How casual, right? In the most dramatic gesture, I got up from my death bed and ran to the kitchen with a face full of tears on a mission to forgive my old friend and move on. I asked consent to hug them and whispered into their ear, “I forgive you…” When I think about this in retrospect, they must’ve been like, “Bitch, you WHAT? Forgive ME!? Ain’t that a… ” Never-the-less, yes, I did. At least I thought I did. I really wanted to… A few weeks later, me, myself, and all of my resentment were in a screaming match with my roomie.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a conscious and deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment and vengeance against a person who has harmed you, regardless of whether they are actually deserving of your forgiveness. Forgiveness is not forgetting or condoning the harm that was done; rather, it is the ability to let go of the negative thoughts and needs for revenge through acceptance. Forgiveness is not a selfless or empathetic act, it is an act of self-healing and self-empowerment. We cannot control what others have done to us to make us feel pain, but we can control the suffering we get from it.
The first step to practicing forgiveness is acceptance. The second step is emotion regulation. Emotions cannot be suppressed for long. It’s better to recognize, label them, and interrupt them when they start to get carried away, (Mindfulness techniques can help interrupt those emotions).
The third step is shifting perspectives. You want to observe thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Practicing empathy and compassion towards others is the fourth step as compassion helps ease suffering. Finally, radical responsibility. People are only accountable for themselves, their actions, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Take responsibility for your recurring harmful behavior.
Recommended Reading & Workbooks
You don’t have to go about the work alone. Plenty of professionals have shared their expertise through workbooks, audiobooks, and the written text. Dr. Ilene Cohen is a psychotherapist known for her work on the psychology of people-pleasing. I highly recommend diving into her workbook series, The Forgiveness Workbook: Cultivate Compassion, Release Resentment, and Find Peace if you’re struggling to let go of your own resentment and to create healthy boundaries while going through the journey of forgiving.
I’m a big audiobook fan but I’m a Highly Sensitive Empath, so voices and tones can be super jarring for me. The audiobooks that I recommend take my needs for particular reading styles and tones into consideration along with the actual content. One of the two audiobooks on forgiveness that I recommend are Forgiveness: The Healing Power of Forgiveness: Discover How to Use the Power of Forgiveness to Truly Live a Much Happier, Productive, and Fulfilling Life. I appreciate the author’s directness on the work of forgiving. Give a listen to the audio sample and you’ll hear what I’m referring to. Ace digs right into the work without drifting too far into “Forgiveness Theory” and fluff.
Lastly, Di Riseborough offers resolution for the situation that I specifically struggled with here; unresolved resentment. A psychotherapist and coach in the OWN network, Riseborough’s spiritual and energy-based roots are apparent throughout her writing. In Forgiveness: How to Let Go When It Still Hurts, Riseborough shapes forgiveness as the key to letting go when letting go is most difficult. She also narrates the audiobook herself and I enjoy her lovely accent.
Forgiveness Does a Body Good
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, forgiveness:
- Improves your sleep
- Lowers your blood pressure
- Helps with depression and anxiety
- Helps with pain
- Improves cholesterol levels
When you’re hurting mentally, your body is hurting too. Cortisol is a hormone that’s released in your brain when you’re stressed. Cortisol levels rise with your blood pressure and an increase in your heart rate. It’s your body’s natural “fight or flight” response. Cortisol itself isn’t a problem, but having high cortisol levels are. Prolonged high cortisol levels have been associated with:
- Intestinal problems, such as constipation, bloating, or diarrhea
- Anxiety or depression
- Increased blood pressure
- Low libido, erectile dysfunction or problems with regular ovulation or menstrual periods
- Difficulty recovering from exercise
- Poor sleep
Your body also produces more Adrenaline and Norepinephrine when you’re mentally hurt. Adrenaline is another “fight or flight” hormone that makes us feel like we need to react immediately in a situation we are unsure of. Norepinephrine makes you more alert by shifting some blood flow away from areas where it is not necessary, and guiding it towards your muscles in case you need to “fight or flight.” Anger is driven by fear, and fear drives adrenaline. Being in the fight or flight response around someone all the time impacts the brain and the body.
A cut doesn’t stay a cut forever. One day the cut will heal and it won’t be as tender as it was when it first occurred.
The Mustard Seed
Uncle Robert went with my two chosen family members and I was whisked away in an expensive, obviously 4-star, ambulance to have my very first surgery. While I was away racking up these fancy new bills, doing expensive medically supervised narcotics, I tried to figure out how the fuck to forgive somebody. I’d blurted it out in this grand expression but truly had no clue how to begin to forgive them. I just knew that I didn’t want to feel like this anymore. The pain of not having a supportive family, the pain of the end of our friendship, and the pain of my inflamed gallbladder were dog-walking my Black-ass for hobby and I wanted out.
Forgiveness became like a mustard seed of faith that I could feel different than I now felt about these situations. It was a spec of hope that these feelings wouldn’t be constant and consistent forever and that I was not inconsolable. If I wasn’t inconsolable, then I could heal.
To prove this, I decided to acknowledge every moment I felt something other than sadness and anger. Every single time I smiled, laughed, sang, danced, felt calm, felt pleasure, or excitement; I acknowledged it. Those moments became proof that I could feel something other than sorrow at the loss of a friendship and the failure of connecting with distant family.
I Can Heal
I sat my inner child down and told her that if she can have all these feelings, (confusion, curiosity, creativity, etc…) then surely it’s possible that contentment is in there too. A cut doesn’t stay a cut forever. One day the cut will heal and it won’t be as tender as it was when it first occurred. Someday, you won’t flinch when someone touches the site of the injury. Someday, somebody is gonna tickle you where it used to hurt and you’ll laugh without even thinking about the pain that was once there. I still get sad and angry, but I also have a whole 500 other emotions a day that isn’t sadness or anger. I’m grateful for every single one of those other feelings.
I encourage myself by praising myself for being willing to do the work related to healing everyday. Knowing that I can get on the other side of my grief makes me ask myself what else am I willing to let go of? Who else can I forgive? What else am I holding onto? Can I forgive the men who raped me? The adults who abandoned me? I started with, “I have faith that I can feel something other than the exact feeling I’m currently experiencing.” I was imperfect and I’m still here, in the work of forgiving. Baby steps, friend. Be patient with yourself and respect your grief. Being transformed by your life experiences is no vacation. I miss my uncle Robert. I’m gonna visit him soon.