A gift to yourself
The idea of forgiveness makes many people shout, Never!! Indeed, resentment, blame, recrimination and desire for revenge seem so much more natural than forgiveness.

Is there anything to be gained by forgiving an offender? Formerly associated only with spiritual wellbeing, it is now known that it also enhances emotional, mental and physical health. It is also a way to make peace with the past. Releasing resentment, hatred and bitterness breaks the troubling connection with the offender. No longer consumed by what was done to you, you can move away from and beyond the offence. Without the crippling emotions, wounding can turn into strength and wisdom.

Some facts about forgiveness
Forgiveness does not demand you forget the experience. It does not mean you are condoning what happened or minimising the offence. It will not make you look weak or vulnerable. In fact, if possible and appropriate, you can clearly express the impact the harmful actions had on you. Your forgiveness does not depend on the offender deserving it, asking for it or expressing remorse. It does not mean reconciling or trusting if there is no sign of change or sincere regret.

Are you ready to forgive?
Forgiveness can’t be forced. It is a choice you can make or not make. You may never be ready or only many years after the incident that hurt or harmed you.

You are ready to let go of pain and bitterness when -
You are willing to let the past be past
You are prepared to look at the incident rationally and from a broad perspective, taking all factors into account
You are tired of feeling like a victim
You question the idea that the past is responsible for your present unhappiness
You realise that it’s up to you whether you accept stagnation or move forward

Choose your kind forgiveness
If you think of forgiveness as a benevolent emotion you might not ever be able to feel that. That is okay. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean you have to feel positive towards the offender. You can also withdraw from the victim/offender dynamic by consciously taking it to neutral. With rational and realistic assessment of the painful incident, you acknowledge how it came about and each person’s part in it. In that kind of forgiveness the once overwhelming emotional charge is replaced not with benevolent feelings but with matter-of-fact acceptance and indifference. This is often enough to release the negative bondage to the perpetrator/offender where they no longer play a role in your present and future life.

The four steps of forgiveness
There is nothing easy or natural about forgiving. Progress is rarely smooth, often by two steps forward, one step back with intermittent surges of negative feelings. Creating a state of forgiveness in yourself can be done in private or with a trusted person, through writing, artistic expression, imagination or specific therapeutic approaches. Most of them include some of the following steps:

Tell the story
Your story needs to be expressed and heard - even if only by yourself. Describe what happened. Acknowledge that an offence has taken place and assign responsibility appropriately. Clearly identify the person(s) who caused you harm.

Process the hurt
Acknowledge the pain you are feeling. It may rise and subside, fluctuate, getting stronger or weaker, overwhelming or dying down. Don’t try to suppress your emotions. But also don’t disappear into them. Witness your feelings and hang in there until they subside. Watch and challenge your thoughts connected with the feelings. Are they rational or dramatising the situation? Are they true and realistic or merely loud and insistent? Are they making you feel worse or helping your emotional release? Remember your ultimate aim - to lift the emotional clouds within you and free yourself from the negativity that keeps you tied to the past.

Collapse the story
Move from judging to understanding. Why might the other person have behaved the way they did? What is their story? Was the offence intentionally directed at you or was it a result of their own failing? Did they set out to hurt you or were you in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people?

Tell the story differently
Without condoning the offence, use your new perspective to reframe the experience with greater understanding and detachment.

Integrate the shift
You can do this by writing a forgiveness letter to the offender. You can send it but it is not necessary. Forgiveness is about you, not them. It is about confirming your new-found attitude, whether it is based on compassion or indifference. You can keep the letter, burn it or release to the universe. Whatever gives you a sense of completion. You can also create a ritual that symbolises your shift. For example, draw a symbol of your pain onto a balloon and release it into the sky. Or celebrate your new perspective by doing something special you enjoy. And don’t forget to be grateful that you had the strength and courage to extend forgiveness to someone who may or may not deserve it. That no longer matters. The most important part is achieving your own inner freedom.

Author's Bio: 

Christiana Star (BA Hons Psychology, BA Hons Education) is a registered psychologist and writer with extensive experience in private practice, as a corporate consultant, critical incident counsellor and workshop facilitator. Combining professional expertise and personal experiences, she now specialises in creating self-help materials for personal growth, empowerment and mental health. Her articles and upcoming book "Recover, Rebuild, Thrive" offer new perspectives, insights, practical tips and easy strategies that can be applied straightaway.