How to Forgive: Symbolism

As Natalie discussed yesterday in Part 4 of our blog series on forgiveness, it's important to try and hang onto forgiveness, once you have gone through the steps of the process.  While she discussed some different ways you can make the commitment to forgiveness, what happens if you are struggling with this, and the memories continue to come back?

First of all, we want to validate that forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean that you don't remember the hurt, betrayal, or original wound.  What it means, however, is that you make a conscious choice to not allow the pain from the emotional wound to keep controlling and dominating your life-- which is the freedom that we discussed this week.  It's important to expect that from time to time (sometimes more often than others), you will struggle with your pain and memories surfacing again.  Try to be gentle with yourself, and remind yourself that you have already forgiven.

Sometimes it's helpful to pull out the symbol of your pledge to forgiveness, whether it's a certificate or small stone with the person's name on it (as Natalie mentioned yesterday), and truly spend some time remembering what that object represents to you-- the hard work of forgiveness that you have already done.  Sometimes, it's also helpful to do some writing exercises, where you remember the forgiveness you have already done.  This could be in a letter to yourself, a letter to your pain, or in a journal where you free-flow in your thoughts and feelings.  Often, I will encourage my clients to see their resentment or feelings of betrayal as an animate object, with it's own personality and vivid description.  Early in the process of forgiveness, I might actually have them draw a picture of it, so when they feel their hurt and betrayal, they truly understand how that feeling manifests in their life and heart.  When they start recognizing those feelings creep up on them after having fully gone through the process of forgiveness, I encourage them to visualize themselves seeing that object that represents their old pain.  Then I might ask them to just continue to walk by it, and refuse to pick it up,   

The idea of this step is to continue to remember over and over that you have already forgiven.  It will eventually fade and lose even more of it's emotional power over you, which is incredibly freeing!  If you need to take several trips through this process, that is okay.  Because forgiveness IS a process.  It reminds me of so many other difficult life changes we make-- losing weight, going back to school or changing a career, learning a new hobby, making healthier changes in food choices.  At first, it feels overwhelming and insurmountable, but if we look at it in small steps, it feels much more manageable.  It takes a conscious choice every day, and persistence, knowing that we are headed towards a goal that will improve our lives and make us healthier.

I hope you found this weeks blog to be helpful!  If you are struggling with feeling hurt, betrayed, or resentful about something that has happened in your life, we encourage you to start working on forgiveness.  If you get stuck, it can be very helpful to have a professional therapist assist you in the process.

Below are some resources for further reading in forgiveness:

Forgiving the Unforgivable by Beverly Flanigan

Forgiveness is a Choice by Robert Enright

Forgive For Good by Dr. Fred Luskin

Forgiving Our Parents; Forgiving Ourselves:  Healing Adult Children of Dysfunction by Dr. David Stoop

Healing Is A Choice by Dr. Stephen Arterburn

Joleen Watson, MS, LMFT, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling, and specializes in infidelity counseling and helping couples heal from an affair.  Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.