A Powerful Forgiveness Technique
At a recent workshop, Nancy became acutely aware of the pain she had caused her ex-husband, Gregory. She had loved him more as a brother than a husband and, after twelve years of marriage, had fallen in love with another man, finding the depth of love she had hoped for all her life but had given up ever finding. Now eight years into her new marriage, and feeling more fulfilled than ever, she saw that she had never sincerely apologized to Gregory. Instead, his anger and feelings of betrayal had become the dominant theme. After all, she was the one who left him. Nancy had adopted a position of defensiveness, protecting herself from his anger by keeping a safe distance. This tactic, however, kept her in survival mode, kept her from truly letting Gregory go. More important, her defensiveness was keeping her from a deeper peace.
We encouraged Nancy to do something she had never done, to write a letter to Gregory asking his forgiveness for the pain she had caused him, even though she never intended to do so. During a break in the workshop, she wrote the letter and later read it to the group. As part of asking for forgiveness from Gregory, Nancy sincerely apologized for some big mistakes: staying married to him even when she knew she wasn’t in love, leaving him abruptly for another man and, perhaps most importantly, not knowing that she deserved to be truly loved on a soul level. It was a heartfelt, humble letter from a person who was sincerely taking responsibility for her part of a painful situation.
The result was immediate. Nancy was glowing with the light of a deeper peace. Although she determined to send the letter the next day, the writing of the letter was her healing gift to herself. It would not matter how Gregory responded, or even if he responded at all, for the process of asking for forgiveness never depends on forgiveness being given by another person. Rather, it is an inner process of resolve and completion through taking responsibility and becoming vulnerable. The letter of forgiveness is one of the most powerful healing techniques we have ever come across.
Why a letter? Why not a phone call or even a meeting in person? A letter is the least invasive or confrontive method. It doesn’t put pressure on the recipient to respond or react in the moment. It allows time for reflection.
Everyone we have ever met has hurt someone, whether intentionally or not, at some time during their life. One man at a workshop remembered how he taunted and bullied another child in grade school. A woman realized for the first time the pain she caused her mother during her teen years. An older man saw his part in the estrangement with his son many years previous. Another man understood the pain of rejection he had caused by letting go of an employee. All these people benefited greatly by writing letters asking for forgiveness.
Can you think of someone you have hurt, even if they have also hurt you? Would you like to take another step along your path of growth? If so, here are some guidelines for writing a letter asking for forgiveness:
1. Take responsibility for your part, how you hurt the other person, rather than give any attention to how they hurt you. In fact, if you haven’t expressed your own hurt, this may need to be the first letter. However, for healing to be complete, you eventually need to take full responsibility for your own actions, or even thoughts.
2. Be vulnerable. Reveal your own sadness or remorse for causing them pain.
3. Let them know you are not asking them to respond in any way. You are doing this for yourself, not to get forgiven by them. If they write back, it needs to clearly be their own choice.
4. If you can, include some appreciation for this person. Look at who they are rather than the painful interraction with you.
5. Write the letter with the choice of not sending it. Asking for forgiveness is, after all, a very personal and inner process.
6. Share the letter with someone you trust, and get their feedback.
7. If it feels right, send the letter.