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Letting Go of the Past: The Healing Power of Forgiveness and Release
by Alexandra Windsong, April 29, 2008

Many of us, while wishing to move forward in our lives, are still unable to let go of the past and allow past wrongs, injuries, and injustices to continue to have a hold on us. By holding on to our anger and pain, we permit events from the past to continue to have a detrimental influence in many or all aspects of our lives. This serves no useful purpose other than to drain our energy and keep us from living the full lives each of us deserve. Unfortunately we are often unaware just how much these past experiences are still affecting our lives and the decisions and choices we make.

At some point in time, most of use have been in this position. We recognize some pattern of behavior 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 occurred over an extended period of time. However, understanding the source of the behavior isn't 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. It's okay to remember what happened. But you don't 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 it's not very productive is it? It's the same thing people. Learn from the 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.

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 actions. 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.

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© 2008, Alexandra Windsong