Letting Go of the Past: The Healing Power of Forgiveness & Release

h.koppdelaney's photostream Flickr.com

At some point in time, most of us have been in this position. We recognize some pattern of behaviour in ourselves that we would like to change, but often feel powerless to do so. Everything we try seems to lead nowhere. As we probe deeper into the source of this behavior, we can often link the behavior to some past event or experience in our lives. In some cases, it is the result of a single traumatic event, whether that be a betrayal, an injury, an attack or a perceived injustice. In others, it is the result of mental, emotional or physical abuse that has occured over and extended period of time. However, understanding the source of the behaviour is not always enough to change it. If we are unable to release our anger, pain and fear, all of the baggage that we carry as a result of this past experience, we remain stuck, and continue to allow these past experiences to shape our future in ways that aren’t always healthy and often create more pain and suffering in our lives.

So why is it so hard to forgive and move on? For many of us, it is a misconception of what forgiveness really means. A common message in our culture is that you should just “forgive and forget”, implying that to forgive means to forget about it, like it never happened. I personally struggled with this concept for many years. To me, to forget how I had been betrayed, abused or injured by someone or something in the past, didn’t exactly seem like a wise idea. To forget that it ever happened, would mean that I hadn’t learned anything, that I was likely to repeat the experience again.

Fortunately, I did learn that true forgiveness was something quite different than what I had been led to believe by the messages I had received from the world I lived in. You do not have to forgive and forget. Its okay to remember what happened. But you dont want to go around carrying the heavy burden of being angry, bitter and resentful for the rest of your life either. For example once you learn that if you touch a hot stove you can get burned, you are not likely to do it again. You learn something from the experience, to exercise more caution while working around a hot stove. And, you don’t blame the stove for being hot. It is what it is. And, you don’t go around for years holding onto a grudge against the stove because you got burned. Well, you can, but its not very productive is it?? Its the same thing with people. Learn from our experience and move on.

To forgive someone does not mean that whatever harm or hurt that they caused you was not inappropriate. It means that you will no longer allow the past to have a hold on your life today; that you are willing to release the hurt and the pain; that you no longer wish to be tied to the experience or the person connected to the experience in a negative way; that you are releasing both yourself and the person you need to forgive from a tie that holds you both back; that you wish to be free. When I finally understood this I was able to begin the process of forgiveness. On a side note, forgiveness does not always equal, “Welcome back into my life”, to the person who has betrayed, harmed or abused you. Sometimes it can, and that can be a good thing. However, there are times when it is neither wise nor prudent to do so. But you can still free yourself from the burden of pain, anger, fear, hate, bitterness and resentment either way.

h.koppdelaney's photostream  flickr.com
h.koppdelaney's photostream flickr.com

Forgiveness is about release, releasing ourselves from those self-imposed limitations and self-defeating behavior patterns that tie us to the past in negative ways. Forgiveness is releasing our anger, fear, pain  and resentment and opening our hearts to joy, peace and love. Yes, others may have done things that have hurt or harmed us, and they are responsible for those action. But these individuals are not responsible for how we live the rest of our lives. We are responsible for that. How we respond to these past events and what we carry into our present and our future is entirely up to us and no one else. If we allow the past to negatively affect how we live the rest of our lives, the choices we make, our relationships and our behavior patterns, that is our choice and responsibility not that of the original offender.

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself  – the gift of freedom.

What does letting go mean to you? Has forgiveness healed you in the path of letting go?

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31 thoughts on “Letting Go of the Past: The Healing Power of Forgiveness & Release

  1. This is such a beautiful post on a powerful topic. I share your insights on forgiveness and what it means, and especially liked how you pointed out that forgiving someone doesn’t mean we excuse their bad behavior. It means we excuse ourselves from having to relive it over and over again. Forgiveness involves a recognition that something or someone came to us from an intention other than love, but gives us a chance to demonstrate love when we choose to move ourselves beyond it. And as you said, it doesn’t mean we have to keep that person in our lives.

    Blessings to you, today and always!

    1. Hi Megan,
      I guess learning from our experiences is what living and learning is all about. And forgiveness tops the list. It is our choice to either live in pain or let go of it. Either way we are responsible for our own life.
      Glad you liked the article.

  2. I recently started thinking about someone I used to hate. A monster of a man who abused my sister so badly that–well, I’m still upset about it in some ways, so I won’t get into much of that.

    What I found was that, while I still think he’s an absolute monstrous waste of skin, the white-hot rage and hatred I used to feel at the thought of him is gone. It’s gone because it was in the past and I haven’t put the effort into holding onto the negativity that it would require to feel that heat today.

    There was a time when I thought I might actually be capable of killing this guy. Now all the passion, good or bad, has left the scene with the passing of time.

    I guess my point, if there is one here, is that it takes effort to hold onto negative feelings and grudges. Staying outraged takes vigilance and energy–energy that could better be used in many, many other ways.

    Great post friend. Take care.

  3. I love the way you’ve discussed forgiveness here. I especially love how you’ve clarified the common misperception of “Forgive and forget”. Whenever someone (or something) hurts us, it teaches us a valuable lesson. To forget would mean losing the lesson, and the Universe will just conspire to teach us again. So yes, let go of the anger, frustration, etc., but never let go of the lesson. Fabulous post!

  4. Hi Zeenat, and thank you for this wonderful article. I agree 100% and hope that everyone who reads this will fully appreciate how vital forgiveness really is. Anger is poison to the one manifesting it. Why would we ever want to poison ourselves. I love your concluding thought, “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself – the gift of freedom.”

  5. Hi Zeenat

    I hope you are over your flu?

    As you said, for me forgiveness indeed means taking responsibility for myself. It means I take responsiblity for my own healing and that I am no longer blaming past events for how I feel today.
    Once I got to see that, that hanging on was hurting me even more, forgiveness was a lot easier to do. And to know that I am not flawless, helps me a lot as well.

    1. Hi Wilma,
      Thanks for your prayers…i am now fine. Flu bye bye…:)
      Taking responsibility for yourself…what a lovely suggestion. Its absolutely true…that once you start taking responsibility forgiveness comes a lot easier.

  6. Zeenat, you made some very good points in your post.

    The best ever definition of forgiveness I ever heard comes from Mark Twain.

    “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heal that has crushed it.”

  7. ‘Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself – the gift of freedom.’ – beautifully said. So many times we question why should we give others the gift of forgiveness … we forget that we are get the biggest gift by forgiving someone else.

    Your post reminded me of a short story I had read and shared on my blog:

    Two Tibetan Monks meet each other a few years after being released from prison, where they had been tortured by their jailers.
    “Have you forgiven them?” asks the first
    “I will never forgive them! Never!” replies the second
    “Well,” says the first monk, “I guess they still have you in prison, don’t they?”

    1. Avani,
      Thats a wonderful story…so apt for the message i was trying to put across with this post. Thank you for sharing it here. Its so wonderful how like minds can end up enhancing each others thinking isn’t it:)
      I am truly glad we found each other in this blogosphere.

  8. Hi Zeenat,

    What a beautiful article! I share your insights about forgiveness–yes we don’t have to forget, and we also sometimes feel forgiveness is superior. I am able to forgive someone because I am a bigger person. That doesn’t quite work.

    Forgiveness is release, exactly, and releasing is easy to do. Allow, accept, welcome, feel the emotions, and let go!

    Thanks for a beautifully written article on an important matter.


    1. Hi Kaushik,
      Am glad you like the article..and also so so glad you agree with me.
      I do so wish everyone would learn and understand the power of forgiveness.. The world would certainly be a better place to live in isn’t it!

  9. Jodi Sloane

    Hello Zeenat!
    You described the process of forgiveness so well! This is something I have worked years to understand. Finally over the past two years, it all started to come together and I was able to release some bitterness I had been holding on to towards a particular person in my past. The biggest thing I learned is that there is a great deal of personal freedom that we grant ourselves when we forgive someone else; and an opening towards more love in our life. The other thing I learned is that forgiveness takes time, even when we totally “get it.” Great post, Zeenat. Very thoughtful.

    1. Hi Jodi,
      Forgiveness does take time Jodi. But once we can forgive….we are doing our-self such a huge favor….and that realization comes only after.
      Glad you liked the post. Hope to see you here again soon.

  10. Lovely writing and post – thank you. I like your choice of pictures also.
    I think forgiveness is one of the hardest concepts to understand and it is certainly not encouraged or taught very well to our younger generation.

    It appears to me that folks are going through a period of anger, which is almost a Global experience rather than an experience which could be embraced as an opportunity for great and clearer communications (All the shouting about Health Care reform and blaming the messenger noise and exaggeration will have to be forgiven before there will be any resolution) If so many avoid forgiveness then I think we are in a great dilemna.

    I think you are teaching here a very great lesson that we need to learn and share. Thank you

  11. Beautifully written! I could write volumes on letting go but in a nutshell, I have learned that to carry my past (as baggage) means I’ll be too bent over to see the present properly and too exhausted lugging it around to get into the future.

  12. I forgive…but I NEVER forget.

    I’ve always told people I’m the best friend one can have…and also the worst enemy.

    One should never give other people control over one’s personal emotions…letting it go can be very helpful indeed. But I will admit, I never forget. Never, ever. It’s the way I was raised.

  13. Zeenat,

    Truly a great thought. Unfortunately, I do not believe that most of us could easily do that! It needs a strong mind and immense determination!


  14. Danny Sagan

    Resentments can stop a person from enjoying the here and now of life, as a recovering alcholic(8years now) I have experienced how dealing with the wreckage of the past can help someone move forward in their lives! To forgiven someone is to bring freedom to yourself and it is also impotant to be able to forgive yourself….

  15. Dear All,
    Thank you so much for you valuable comments on this post. Your support and insight always cheers me and my blog and makes my posts so special. I thank you al from the bottom of my heart.
    Lots of love.

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  17. Zeenat Bibi

    This is such a Powerful Post! A few months ago I used that term “Forgive and Forget” – Something I always believed in. However, I was made to feel that all the bitterness and coldness and anger has been my fault. I was made to feel that I should never have existed.

    The worst is I can never forget the good times and will never forget how things have turned out – I feel hurt and angry! I am a good friend anyone can have but when I become angry – I am my own enemy!

    My faith has helped me and I have moved on and let go of the past. It’s taken a long long time! Anyway, we share the same name and it’s like you have read my mind.

    All the best and I look forward to more of your posts.

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