The Gift of Forgiveness and How To Do It

Steven Gaffney This is dedicated to special people in my life who have been going through some tough times. This is an excerpt from my book, Just Be Honest, Authentic Communication Strategies That Get Results and Last a Lifetime.

The greatest gift that we can give ourselves is forgiveness! Many people think that by forgiving someone, they are in effect letting them off the hook. Not so.

The inability to let go of the past and forgive is often a barrier to attaining true happiness and achievement. This is true both personally and professionally. It has been said that when we harbor unresolved anger and resentment toward someone, we are letting that person live rent-free in our heart and in our mind.

Often, we even rationalize our lack of forgiveness as a way to punish the other person. Sadly, we are only punishing ourselves. There is a cost to this anger, and it exacts a hefty toll on many dimensions of our life.

The Cost of Forgiveness
There are five groups of questions we can ask to help determine how badly we might be punishing ourselves. Let us refer to this unresolved situation or not-yet-forgiven individual as "someone."

    1. How much time am I spending thinking about "someone?" Has this become my focus? Am I thinking so much about "someone" that it takes me twice as long to complete other tasks?
    2. Do I talk about "someone" with other people? Do I ramble on about "someone" and allow this to interfere with my productivity and happiness?
    3. Do I have similar problems with other people or situations as I do with "someone?"
    4. Do I lie awake in bed and think about "someone?"
    5. Am I letting "someone" affect my present relationships? Am I defensive or overly sensitive in a current relationship because I am still sensitive about some past or unresolved issue? Am I afraid history will repeat itself?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, consider the advice and insights in the following paragraphs.

Unresolved situations are not only a burden, they are a distraction. They cause us not to be present and focused on the moment. They become a constant stress in our life, affecting the quality of our time, relationships and happiness.

So give one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself: the gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness is essential to free ourselves from yesterday so we can have a great today. We are not required to forget, just to forgive.

What To Do
Here are three techniques for letting go of the past and creating room to forgive.

    1. Have a direct conversation with the person. Own up to the fact that holding onto the past has hurt you. Then tell him that you forgive him, if that's the case. This does not require you to be friends with the person and spend time with the person. Remember-this is about forgiveness, not forgetfulness. You will benefit from doing this face-to-face.
    2. Think about the lessons to be learned from the past and commit to specific actions that will help you avoid a repeat performance.
    3. Create a powerful goal that forces you to leave the past behind.

Example: If you received a bad performance review, ask yourself what lessons you could learn from this. Perhaps the lesson is to be proactive in seeking feedback from your boss before and during a project; maybe it is to establish and clarify expectations before beginning the work; or maybe it is to learn that you need to do a better job keeping your boss informed of your progress and accomplishments.

Whatever the lessons, identify and acknowledge them. Then commit to doing three things that will directly address and ensure that these situations are not repeated. For example, commit to getting your boss' goals and expectations of you in writing, schedule a regular meeting to review this, and during the meeting, make sure your boss is aware of your accomplishments.

Example: If someone violated your trust, commit to reading self-improvement books, seeing a therapist, and/or taking a course on relationships to determine what you may or may not have done or signs you may have missed. This will help give you the confidence that history will not repeat itself and enable your next relationship to be your best relationship.

Example: After receiving the bad performance evaluation, establish a goal of being promoted or of getting a raise by a specified date (make sure your boss agrees).

Example: If someone broke your trust, commit to a goal of being in a serious relationship by a specific date. This will cause you to take actions that will help you leave the past where it belongs-behind you.

If you ever doubt your ability to forgive someone, just remember Nelson Mandela. Many would say he was entitled to harbor resentment and animosity toward the people who imprisoned him for 27 years, but he did not. He forgave them, and amazingly, many of them participated in his inauguration as president of South Africa. By forgiving freely and completely, Nelson Mandela not only helped himself, he helped an entire nation and in the process, saved thousands of lives.

Giving yourself the gift of forgiveness will free you from the burdens of your past; help you excel in the present, and achieve in the future.

"Steven Gaffney is an professional speaker and author in the area of communication, motivation and leadership. He can be reached at (703) 243-7994 or 1-877-6Honest or e-mail Steven directly at"

Copyright 2004 by Steven Gaffney and the Steven Gaffney Company.

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Category: Work-Life, Balance
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