How To Forgive Others and Ourselves in Recovery
It isn’t easy, but understanding and learning how to forgive yourself and others will allow you to experience true freedom and healing.
Forgiveness is such an important part of recovery. So much so, that it is even an integral part of the AA programme. Forgiveness and making amends have thus been incorporated into the 12 steps as steps 8, 9 & 10
Forgiving those who have wronged us may sound impossible or unnecessary. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Especially in recovery from addiction, we may harbour memories and negative emotions around things that we find are too painful to even remember.
However, when we can’t forgive, it causes us to hold all that negative energy inside, and this affects us in so many different ways.
As the famous saying goes, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
What does it mean to forgive?
To be able to forgive means to release any anger, resentment, or negative feelings towards yourself or towards another person. Forgiveness is about letting go of the emotional pain that you’re holding on to.
Forgiving others isn't about excusing someone’s behaviour, nor is it about forgetting something altogether.
Rather, it’s about relieving yourself of the grudge that you’re still holding on to. In doing so, you can have a happier and healthier life.
Learning how to forgive yourself is also a major component of experiencing true freedom in recovery from addiction.
Why learning how to forgive is important in recovery
Holding onto negative emotions can make your recovery process more difficult. This is because negative emotional states can increase your risk for a relapse. Negative emotions can even prevent you from having clarity of mind and making sound choices.
Being able to forgive gives you the space to have the mental and emotional clarity you’ll need in order to work through life’s stressors, cravings, and triggers.
An inability to forgive cannot only impact your emotional wellbeing, it can also have effects on your physical health.
Holding onto anger can lead to high blood pressure, heart issues, and even a weakened immune system. Your body’s internal systems will already be compromised after long-term substance abuse. Holding onto negative emotions can actually make this worse.
Forgiving others allows you to move forward
Forgiveness is important in recovery because it allows you to move forward. It may seem like forgiveness is equated to allowing someone to do you wrong, but that is not the case. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person, but rather, it’s about yourself.
It’s about releasing the weight of negativity, resentment, and anger from your being. When you hold onto negative feelings towards people who have hurt you in the past, you only end up hurting yourself.
In one study, conducted as part of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, 260 people who harboured resentment and negative feelings towards someone were offered 5 months of educational training on forgiveness. At the end of the study, not only were the participants able to forgive, but they experienced significant emotional and physical improvements too. Over a quarter of participants reported reduced physical symptoms of stress. Furthermore, a whopping 70% of participants reported decreased feelings of hurt. Participants also reported experiencing less anger and emotional stress.
Viewing forgiveness in a new way
One way to approach the concept of forgiveness is to look at the lesson that we gained from the experience that hurt us. What did it teach you about yourself? How did the experience make you better?
It may be hard to see this clearly, especially when we are holding on to so much pain. However, every experience that you’ve gone through has shaped who you are. Every experience you’ve lived through can teach you something new about yourself.
There are many benefits of practising forgiveness. A few are as follows:
The Benefits of Forgiveness
- Reclaim your power. When we hold onto a grudge, we are giving our power away to another. The person we harbour negative feelings towards has that power over us. This can affect our mood, energy, and thoughts. By forgiving, we shift out of the victim mindset and claim our power back.
- Begin your healing. When you release the weight of grudges, you can begin to truly heal. Releasing the negative energy that comes with an inability to forgive will allow you to truly let go of the past and move forward.
- Experience spiritual growth. The ability to forgive is deeply tied to our spiritual growth. Forgiveness deepens our sense of compassion and empathy. It also broadens our perspective and allows us to view the bigger picture. This helps us to understand why certain things may have happened the way they did. Forgiveness gives way to clarity of the mind and spirit.
- Improve your health. Holding onto negative energy can impact your health in negative ways. It affects your blood pressure, your immune system, and your heart. By practising forgiveness, you release the negative energy that has been draining you mentally, physically, and emotionally.
How to forgive others
Now that you know about the importance of forgiveness in recovery from addiction, you may be wondering just how to go about doing this. After all, some things done against you may be deep-rooted, and some resentments may feel incredibly strong.
It’s important to remember that even if an emotion feels strong, you are bigger than your feelings. You are more powerful than the emotions inside of you.
You can choose to step outside of your emotions and your thoughts. Instead, you can just observe them. Accept the emotions from a place of nonjudgment, observe them, understand them, and work on shifting the thoughts that perpetuate them.
- Remember that you aren’t excusing another’s behaviour by practising forgiveness.
- Forgiveness isn’t about reconciling with the person who wronged you. It is entirely possible to forgive someone without allowing them back into your life. Forgiveness doesn’t mean having a conversation with someone or resuming your relationship with them. Forgiveness is an internal process.
- Talk it out with a loved one, therapist, sponsor, or counsellor if you’re really struggling to forgive. Sometimes it can be really, really hard to forgive. Talking to someone you trust, can help you move through the process of forgiveness.
- Remember who you’re doing this for - yourself. This is so important to always keep in mind. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. It’s about you and your healing.
- Forcing forgiveness won’t change anything, and won’t help you. Work on forgiveness when you feel authentically ready to do so.
The importance of forgiving yourself
Forgiving yourself is a major aspect of being able to move forward with a clean slate. Many people in early recovery harbour feelings of shame, guilt, and remorse over things they did whilst in active addiction.
Beating yourself up for things you did in the past will only make the recovery process harder. Holding onto negative thoughts and feelings about things you did will keep you stuck inside a version of yourself that you’re trying to grow away from.
As you work on forgiving those around you, it may become easier to forgive yourself. This isn’t easy, as the ego part of our mind can cause us to be quite hard on ourselves. However, with conscious awareness, effort, and kindness towards yourself, you’ll be well on your way towards releasing any heavy feelings you may be carrying towards yourself.
If you’re having trouble practising forgiveness, feel free to join or create a Recoverlution group. Here you can meet like-minded people who are going through what you’re going through, or, who have already worked through the process of forgiveness.
Author - Thurga
- Learning the Power of Forgiveness in Recovery - https://landmarkrecovery.com/learning-power-of-forgiveness-in-recovery/
- Why Does Forgiveness Matter in Addiction Recovery - https://www.originsrecovery.com/why-does-forgiveness-matter-in-addiction-recovery/
- Why Forgiveness is Important for Addiction Recovery - https://www.awakeningstreatment.com/blog/forgiveness-important-in-addiction-recovery/
- 8 Tips for Forgiving Someone Who Hurt You - https://stanfordmag.org/contents/8-tips-for-forgiving-someone-who-hurt-you