The Power of Forgiveness
by Mary Fisher Bornstein, LISW-S, and Betsy Kohn, MA, PC
In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” This attitude often translates into a lifestyle; one where we are able to stop blaming others for what happens to us and take responsibility for our own actions. We are able to focus on learning from what we are doing, rather than pointing a finger at others.
When people learn they have cancer, they often search for solutions and cures. They may experience a variety of emotions that are unfamiliar and confusing. They may have questions that no one can answer. One way to heal and find peace is through the process and freedom of forgiving. Forgiveness is a great goal, but how can we forgive when we have been hurt or wronged? Is it worth the effort it takes to try to forgive? The answer is yes.
Forgiveness is a great goal, but how can we forgive when we have been hurt or wronged?
Many of us want to forgive but are unable to do so because we don’t know how. How do you cultivate this attitude of forgiveness? It’s not always easy to do, as so many times we feel anger, resentment, or negativity toward ourselves, those who we feel have done us harm, or a higher power. We often hold on to grudges and are unwilling to consider forgiveness as an option. Not forgiving can give us a false sense of power and control over someone. It makes us feel like they owe us something, even if they are unaware that we perceive they have harmed us.
Forgiveness is a personal goal; it releases us from anger and resentment. It doesn’t help the person we are trying to forgive; they may not even know we’ve been holding a grudge. By forgiving, we are taking care of ourselves.
The inability to forgive can manifest itself in many ways. Physically, we may experience fatigue, irritability, a lack of concentration, and a decreased attention span. Emotionally, we may have strained relationships with family and friends. Spiritually, we may have lost our connection to our higher power. In order to find freedom from this place of conflict, you can begin on the path of forgiveness by following these four practices:
1. See it.
Visualize whom in your life you want to forgive and where the conflict occurred.
2. Say it.
Say aloud the name of the person you want to forgive so it can be absorbed into the universe.
3. Let it go.
This may be a difficult step, but try thinking about what you need to communicate to the individual you want to forgive or to yourself to help you let go of the attachment you have to your resentment or anger. Think about the alternatives that exist. Can you replace the negative feelings with peace and kindness?
4. Let it be.
Focus on facing forward and moving on. What matters now is your commitment to living the life you want without the burden of retaining past hurt.
As you continue on the path of forgiveness, be patient and loving toward yourself, and remember forgiveness is a process. Redirect your energy toward activities that bring you joy and fulfillment, and find things that energize and excite you. Perhaps it’s being in nature, listening to music, journaling, taking a yoga class, or surrounding yourself with those you trust and love.
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Mary Fisher Bornstein is a program staff member, and Betsy Kohn is the director of volunteers and a member of the program staff, both at The Gathering Place, a cancer support center in northeast Ohio. They have developed gratitude and forgiveness workshops to help individuals and families find additional ways of coping while on the cancer journey. To reach Mary or Betsy, call The Gathering Place at (216) 595-9546, or visit touchedbycancer.org .
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2012.