There are five stages of forgiveness:
- 1. Acceptance
- 2. Empathy
- 3. Acknowledgement
- 4. Meaning
- 5. Perspective and Gratitude
We cannot forgive trauma without accepting trauma. We have to understand what happened to us. We need to accept that something was taken from us. What was taken might be as specific as an object, as nebulous as a sense of identity or as all-pervasive as time. Something has been lost, and it cannot be restored.
To forgive the loss, we have to accept the loss. To accept the loss, we have to understand the loss. How can we change the story if we don’t understand the story to begin with?
Too often we try to forgive before we really know what we’re forgiving or understand the harm that’s been done.
This gets us nowhere. In fact, this often leads to more resentment, more suffering and more harm. If we feel compelled to forgive without understanding what or why we’re forgiving, we just create extra stress in the body.
Think of it this way: just as a doctor needs to diagnose the illness before they can decide on a course of treatment, so we need to understand the sources of our pain before we know best how to manage it.
Here’s a Body Scan exercise to get you started
Find a place where you won’t be disturbed. It needs to be somewhere you can stay for 20 minutes (or maybe a little more), somewhere peaceful and somewhere safe. Thank you for trusting me with this.
Sit or lie down comfortably, close your eyes and breathe out. Really breathe out: breathe out every scrap of stale air that’s languishing down in the bottom of your lungs, every particle. Breathe out everything that the day has brought you and then breathe in just as deeply. Inhale. Taste the air on your tongue and in your throat. Feel the air filling your lungs. Breathe in and then out again.
This time, I want you to breathe out the specifics of your day. What’s bothering you? What’s nagging at you? What’s frustrated you this morning? Breathe in (deeper than that, as deep as you can) and then out again. What have you brought with you to this exercise? What have you brought to this room? Breathe in and out. Is this exercise hard? Are you stressed? Are you in pain? Breathe in, and out again. On the next inhale, I want you to imagine bringing the air right down to your toes (however that looks like to you). Feel the air move through your entire body: the spine, the belly, the hips, the legs, the four corners of the feet. Feel your toes. Feel every toe on each foot. Do your toes hurt? Maybe you’ve never had to contemplate your toes before. Breathe into each toe (whatever that means to you). Breathe for the little toes, the middle toes, the big toes. Do they hurt? Where are they hurting? Breathe in and then breathe the pain out. Picture it, if you can.
Breathe for the balls of your feet, the soles of your feet, the tops of your feet. Is there tension there? Do they hurt? Do you hurt? Breathe in and then breathe the pain out. Breathe for your ankles, your shins, your calves, your knees. Any pain? Any tension? Breathe in and then breathe the pain out. Breathe for your thighs, hips and pelvis. Bring your attention and your breath right down into the bones, the muscles, the organs and the blood. Any pain? Any tension? Any feelings or sensations? How do you feel? Breathe in and then breathe the pain out. Move your attention up your spine and into your rib cage, your lower back, your upper back, your belly, your chest and your shoulders. Any pain? Any sensation? Breathe in and then breathe the pain out. Now focus on your arms, elbows, hands and fi ngers, including your fi ngertips, palms and wrists. Let your attention run along the lines of the bones, and then back up into your shoulders, the top of your spine and the base of your neck. Is there tension there? Is there pain? Is there any sensation to notice? Notice everything. You are worth consideration. Your pain and sensations are worth considering. You must take your pain into account when you work out where to go, and how to do it. You have to acknowledge and accept your pain. Breathe in and then breathe the pain out. I see you.
Now move your attention to your head and your face: the jaw, the cheeks, the temples. Are you clenching your jaw? Are you holding your face rigid? Relax your face; relax as far as you can. Breathe in and then breathe the pain out.
What’s hurting? What’s helping? Where are you carrying tension? Give yourself permission to answer honestly. You don’t need to put on a brave face here. You don’t need to say it’s nothing. Be yourself, as absolutely as you can. The most helpful thing you can do is to tell yourself the truth. What hurts? Why are you here? What do you need?
When you open your eyes, be proud of yourself. It isn’t easy to look at your own pain like that, and it isn’t easy to sit or lie like that. It’s difficult to find the time without being put off by internal allegations of self-indulgence or dangerous decadence.
This isn’t an indulgent exercise; it’s necessary for your own wellbeing and that of the people around you. You need to know. You have to know.