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Last Updated on May 18, 2018

How to Forgive and Live a Happy Life Again (A Step-By-Step Guide)

How to Forgive and Live a Happy Life Again (A Step-By-Step Guide)

We’ve all experienced unmet expectations and painful experiences. Though, when we hang onto them, we keep ourselves from soaring and enjoying our precious lives. Instead, we’re weighed down by pain and the burden of feeling betrayed. But it’s possible to let go, and I’m here to tell you that there is no better time than now for sacred personal healing.

In this article, I will share with you how by being forgiving, you can lead a happier life again. I’ll also show you the exact steps you can take to forgive someone who has hurt you.

Why it seems so difficult to forgive

I often see people stumble and get stuck on a loop because they believe that if they forgive, it will be as if the initial hurt or betrayal never happened. People that have been hurt feel that when someone has done something wrong, they should not be able to get away with it.

But that is simply not true. We don’t forgive someone else for their benefit, and we don’t try to pretend that nothing happened. Instead, we forgive for ourselves. We do it so that we can move beyond that hurt.

Another reason why it may feel hard to forgive is that we could perceive the act of forgiving as a betrayal to ourselves in some way, or we could feel that by forgiving we could be exposing ourselves to be vulnerable and get hurt again.

The hurt and wounds can leave feelings of bitterness, resentment, and anger for years. We can get to the point that we feel like victims because of what others did to us. When we feel like victims, our feelings are not protecting us, but are rather harming us. We find ourselves locked in emotional prisons filled with hurt. How can we live happy and expansive lives from that place?

The importance of learning to forgive

There are medical studies that show the link between forgiveness and health. Karen Swartz, a psychiatrist from Johns Hopkins Medicine shared that “There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed”. She also stated that chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions.

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Forgiveness, however, can lead to lower stress and anxiety levels, less depression, healthier and closer relationships, a healthier heart, lower levels of blood pressure, lower levels of physical pain, better sleep, better immune system function, and more. It’s very simple, by forgiving, we heal from the inside out!

Until we forgive, we are the ones paying the highest price. Our trapped emotions can become so overwhelming that they affect our current relationships and our ability to authentically and lovingly connect with ourselves and others. Only when we truly forgive will we be free of pain, hurt, and anger. If we hold onto them, we won’t be able to enjoy the present—and they will affect our health in many ways.

Here’s the thing: by forgiving, we won’t pretend that the initial hurt or betrayal never happened, we’re actually doing ourselves a favor. The person you forgive will still have their own karmic debt for all of their actions.

However, when we forgive, we’re becoming free. When we’re focused on resentments towards others or even ourselves, we won’t be able to listen to our soul’s messages. When we let go, we can tune in more deeply.

Forgiveness takes courage because beneath our personal story of pain and suffering, we always have the choice to access our wholeness, and to tap into our innate joy and compassion. Eventually, we will liberate our heart from the resentment prison, and we will be open to a new way of being and living that we might only dream of right now.

    How to forgive someone who has hurt you (Step-by-step guide)

    “Forgiveness is a conscious decision and a state of mind that we can cultivate through daily practice.” Here are some easy to follow steps that you can take to start your forgiveness journey:

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    1. Connect with your emotions

    Honor where you are in this moment, without judgement. Be gentle with yourself and take ownership of everything that comes up. Just be with the experience without blaming anyone. Something that you could do is to write down your thoughts and feelings on a piece of paper, so that you can get clear on what they are.

    Next, ask yourself what is it that you can do to find an outlet and work through those emotions: it could be going out for a walk, spending time in nature, doing something creative (paint, draw, color a mandala, sing, play music, etc), writing a Forgiveness Letter, getting help from a counselor or coach.

    2. Release the past

    In order to move forward in our lives, one of the key things we must do is release the past and live in the present moment. We often carry the past with us—and if we’re not aware of this, the past will weigh us down, and we will feel stuck. Without a regular practice of releasing, we develop a backlog of unprocessed emotions, and mental clutter. This clouds our vision, and can make it difficult to see the next steps towards a happier life.

    Practice living in the present moment by sitting quietly and observing your breathing, or simply going outside and appreciating the beauty around you now.

    You could also use journaling as another resource to be more present. You could ask yourself these questions as journaling prompts to help you release your trapped emotions: Who would I be without the anger, hurt, and resentment? How would my life be different?

    3. Take your power back

    Start writing a new story for yourself. You were not born a victim and forgiveness is not a one-time experience; you have to commit to keep choosing it over and over again. No one has the power to make you feel uneasy without your consent.

    When the familiar hurtful feelings come back, remind yourself that you are choosing to forgive; you choose to take your power back, and you are choosing love. I have used this affirmation myself, and it has been very helpful:

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    “Today is the perfect time for me to take my power back, because I love myself enough to let go of those old memories and emotions. I choose to be free and happier NOW”

    The willingness to change needs to come from deep inside of us. We find it when we begin to believe that having joyful, purposeful lives, full of loving and meaningful relationships is our birthright.

    4. Embrace the lesson

    Every experience we have is a learning experience. Sometimes we go through fire, but I can tell you that we come out stronger than before.

    Even if we think that what happened to us is unfair, those experiences are part of our spiritual growth here on the planet. If we’re open to see it, those dark times transform us and help us see new perspectives and insights. I have seen many people experience hard times, which have been the catalyst to creating a new and inspiring story for themselves.

    5. Send love and light

    Once you’ve gone through the steps above, you’ll be able to start sending love to the people that hurt you. I know it is hard at the beginning, but this is a game changer! Instead of sending bad vibes to the people that hurt you, send them love and light. When you do this, there is no emotional debt between you and them, and you can celebrate your own freedom with a grateful heart!

    As part of the forgiveness process, you also need to forgive yourself. We may have judgments about our own expectations. We may think about what should have or could have been.

    However, when we forgive, we have to give up the idea that the past should have or could have been different or better. We can’t change the past, so we should not let the past hold us prisoners. Instead, we need to see the hidden value of what happened, there’s always a lesson. As we develop that clarity, we free ourselves from the past and begin to look forward.

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    Start forgiving now

    Forgiving helps us to keep our energy clear.

    When we embrace forgiveness, we also embrace peace, hope, gratitude, joy, and general well-being. As we embrace it, we also embrace who we are—love. When we forgive, we are retaking power and control over our own lives.

    Forgiveness gives us freedom. Otherwise, we live carrying that emotional debt with us.

    Start forgiving with the steps I mentioned above and you will also start living a happier life.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    More by this author

    Patricia Young

    Certified Professional & Holistic Coach, bestselling author, host of the Awakening to Life podcast

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    Last Updated on June 12, 2018

    Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

    Can a Dysfunctional Family Become Functional?

    A dysfunctional family is more than disagreement or constant arguments. Anything from plain neglect, to abuse and even verbal and physical violence is the everyday experience of those who are part of a dysfunctional family.

    You know how this looks:

    • Parents constantly comparing children.
    • Siblings in conflict because of tolerated bullying.
    • Domestic violence.
    • Adultery…
    • And many others.

    For all the members, this will mean emotional pain and even trauma; which, in case it doesn’t get resolved, will have a detrimental effect on the individual’s personality and development.

    Needless to say, the younger members are the most vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean the parents are out of danger, as most commonly the parents play the roles of abuser-codependent, and in some cases, both parts inflicting pain on one another.

    Most like to think these problems stem from deep-seated issues, and that therefore it’s pretty much impossible to deal with them.

    This is only true for families not willing to do what it takes, for if only a single member is determined and knows how to do it, the whole family can do a lot of progress.

    In this article, I’ll break down for you the basic steps of fixing a dysfunctional family. Although it may seem hopeless, it is possible to turn things around.

    If you have ever felt in this position, or if you know somebody who is, this article is for you.

    How to fix a dysfunctional family

    In a few words the solution for a dysfunctional family lies in dropping the ego, focusing on the solution, switching blame for responsibility and doing the work as a unity, for the good of the whole family.

    And this will accomplish things you once only saw as a dream.

    Dropping the ego? Switching blame for responsibility? Doing the work? What does all this mean?

    It’s simple. In a nutshell, it’s that which will allow you to turn a dysfunctional family into a functional one.

    Let’s take a look at how exactly this can be done. And near the end we will also talk about what you can do in a dysfunctional family with cynical traits.

    Dysfunctional families where not only problems are well-known, but also nobody seems to want a fix or openly decide to perpetuate the harmful behaviors. Such as the case of abuse and physical violence.

    There is also a solution for these, it’s just not what you are expecting…

    Dysfunctional… Or just average?

    Most families are dysfunctional, though at varying degrees of dysfunctionality.

    The milder cases, are just marked by “typical” comically-shrouded bullying or lack of interest in other members’ development or wellbeing.

    You can know a family is dysfunctional if their interactions are anything different than cooperation, solidarity, care and support. But let’s get more specific…

    A dysfunctional family is one in which members directly or indirectly suffer emotional and/or physical harm inflicted by other members of their family. Most commonly, perpetrated by the parents.

    Even harmful actions as “passive” as neglect, which is inflicted by inaction rather than action, signifies a dysfunction within the family.

    Dysfunctional families have conflicts such as:

    • Unrealistic expectations
    • Lack of interest and time spent together
    • Sexism
    • Utilitarianism
    • Lack of empathy
    • Unequal or unfair treatment
    • Disrespect towards boundaries
    • Control Issues
    • Jealousy
    • Verbal and physical abuse
    • Violence and even sexual misconduct or abuse

    You may think a dysfunctional family has very little or nothing to do with personal productivity, but you would be wrong in thinking this way…

    If a person is not emotionally well, she will not be able to perform as desired, as the emotional harm that has been inflicted will hinder everyday performance in the way of inability to concentrate, lack of mental clarity and low levels of inspiration, motivation and discipline.

    Having a functional family does exactly the opposite: It creates productive members with no emotional baggage.

    How to turn it around

    When you’re part of a dysfunctional family you know it. You can quickly identify in other members the behaviors and conflicts that create the dysfunction.

    But just in case you’re having trouble telling functional from dysfunctional I will tell you the following:

    One of the easiest ways you can recognize if you are in a dysfunctional family is to survey your won feelings.

    We often overlook this, but have you stopped to ask yourself how you feel?

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    As cheesy as it may sound it really sheds a lot of light on the subject.

    What behaviors, actions and attitudes in your family you wish were better?

    Do you think certain behaviors and actions from your family marked you in the past?

    Sadly, we cannot go back to the past to correct it. But we can do a lot in the present…

    Correction is possible

    In order to fix a dysfunctional family, you must start by putting an end to the behaviors and actions that are affecting you.

    Verbalize it.

    All members of the dysfunctional family have one issue in common: They don’t put a stop to the harm.

    Whenever you feel your boundaries being overstepped there is just one single word you have to remember: STOP.

    This is the door to a better, more functional family, because after this, comes the fix.

    But first you have to identify and make others know where exactly lies the problem.

    So go ahead and fearlessly start with “Stop”, followed by your expression of dissatisfaction.

    Putting it to work in real life

    In real life it would be something like this:

    “OK, stop! Every time you belittle me I feel you don’t care. I need attention and respect, and it is your responsibility as my family to provide them to me”

    Or:

    “Stop. When you compare me with my cousin it hurts, I feel like I don’t matter and that’s not ok. I ask you to stop doing it.

    Or:

    “Please stop. When you start yelling all respect is lost and it turns into a battle of who can do it louder. Don’t raise your voice and let’s work this out the way humans do”.

    As you can see, here you start by putting a stop to the toxic behavior when it arises. And afterwards you verbalize why it’s wrong and what needs of you need to be fulfilled.

    This is what you have to remember:

    1-Stop.

    2-Why it’s wrong?

    3-What you need.

    And this will also work well in case you need to do it for another family member.

    It’s a family thing

    A dysfunctional family cannot be fixed by one member alone.

    Yes, a single member can initiate progress and be the leader of the change. But in order to completely become functional all members must contribute to the solution.

    In other words, you will need cooperation…

    So don’t be afraid of asking for it!

    Approach your family member and ask to be listened.

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    We sometimes feel our needs are “not that important” or we simply believe they won’t listen. But thinking like this would be like being defeated at an unfought battle.

    You will be amazed by how much people listen when you voice your needs, especially if it implies showing yourself open, vulnerable and in need.

    It’s not a free-for-all battle

    In order to get your family to cooperate, first you must fix your individual relationships with every member of the family. Remember: Relationships are always between two people, and two people only.

    No matter how complex, the quality of a multi-member relationship (like a family) will always depend on the quality of the individual relationships.

    Once you have straightened the relationship with every member of the dysfunctional family you will be able to better communicate with other members and help in the betterment of their individual relationship.

    And this is where we will talk about the fix itself. The one I mentioned in the introduction…

    The method

    1. Drop the ego

    Wherever there is conflict there is ego.

    You cannot fix a relationship where there is ego, because the ego will want to win. Always. Yours and the other person.

    Ego craves control and satisfaction, and in many cases, to establish dominance.

    What does this have to do with a dysfunctional family? Everything. Ego will interfere with every plan you have to fix it.

    It will make people suborn and defensive. And it will also make them drop responsibility. This is why, the first step is to drop the ego.

    After you make sure you are not going to allow your ego to interfere you must work to make the other person do the same. How? By speaking from the heart…

    Tell the other person how important all this is to you.

    Tell the other person that it’s not a matter of arguing, but just working things out together.

    Point out how it is not possible for you to do it alone.

    And ask for sincere attention without any desire of opposition, because what you are doing is by no means in the hopes of harming the other person, but just to better the relationship and stop the damage being dealt to you.

    You will have to point out the mistakes you need corrected, that’s for sure. And that leads me to the next point…

    2. Not blame, but responsibility

    When talking about others’ mistakes we often use an accusatory tone. And that’s natural, it’s what things should be like if ego was not present.

    But since we are all creatures of ego, this immediately brings the shields up. And then unsheathes the swords…

    When we blame others they automatically enter a defensive state, and this only leads to a failed negotiation.

    What you need to do is to shift from blame to responsibility. And even that will have to be done carefully!

    Instead of telling them off or demanding change or complaining, calmly point what the problem with their behavior is.

    As much as this feels contradictory, also make them feel understood. You know how difficult it is to accept a mistake, so just make them feel it’s no big fuzz… which does not mean it’s ok, but it takes tension off.

    You will do something like this:

    “Hello dad. Can I talk with you for a minute? I really need to tell you something.

    I have been feeling pretty sad lately and I know this is something you do care about.

    You see, whenever I talk about my accomplishments you mention something else that makes my achievement pale in comparison.

    I know you don’t do this intentionally and I know you might have not realized this until now, but I want to let you know this really brings me down.

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    It would mean a lot to me if you could stop doing it, and it would help better our relationship, because this has already forced me to distance myself from you. And I don’t want that, I want a good, healthy relationship with you”

    What happened here?

    We started off with making it something important, something that needs both time and attention. Then we openly show ourselves vulnerable, just as we are.

    We also mention why he should listen, and shove our feelings there again, because they are important.

    We describe the issue with no attachment and with no hostile intention. It’s just a description.

    And then we take the blame off. Just before we assign responsibility without actually saying it.

    You are not blaming him directly, but you are pointing out the inevitable fact that his actions are causing a dysfunctionality. He is now responsible for changing.

    This is what “switching blame for responsibility” means. What comes next? Doing the work!

    3. Doing the work

    What would any of this mean if, in the end, nothing changes? Exactly, nothing!

    This is why you must follow up with every change that needs to be done.

    Do so in a manner that is not hostile. Bring it up in a casual manner, and emphasizing how you both reached an agreement and how that is important to the family.

    If the person doesn’t follow up don’t hesitate to bring it up again, and tell them you feel disappointed that your honest try at it was not listened.

    It may even be a subject in itself, and therefore the need for another conversation.

    “When you go back to old habits it shows that you didn’t really care about what I said. But back in real life you just reinforce how much contempt you show towards me and my feelings.

    I talk with you because I care. Because although it would be easier for me to just distance myself from you I rather do my part in nurturing this relationship.

    But there is just so much I can do, if you refuse to do your part I can do nothing else.”

    You need very clear and positive communication in order to make this work.

    Love is all you need

    You must remember that in order for a dysfunctional family to become functional, all the work needs to stem from love.

    That is the single one requirement for all this to work: Love.

    And what happens if it simply is not there?

    What happens if, nobody is willing to do what it takes?

    What happens if a member of the family refuses to change and is happy with the harm he or she is dealing?

    There is only one thing you can do:

    To break away.

    Let’s be honest, people, especially adults, are very difficult to change.

    There is a Jewish proverb that I love, which sums it up like this:

    “We spend the rest of our lives trying to unlearn what we learned before we were 7”

    If you find it very hard to change the very traits that make your family dysfunctional or if it’s simply impossible, you still have a card up your sleeve…

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    Although nobody likes to beak away from family members, we must remember we have a responsibility with ourselves as individuals, before any relationship with anyone.

    You have the responsibility of making yourself happy and free. Because you matter as an individual, regardless of any relationships you have, be it family, friendship or romantic.

    Putting distance

    So in case you are dealing with a family member who is simply unwilling to change take both physical and emotional distance.

    What do I mean?

    Learn, first, to take their damage in a detached manner.

    Don’t let it hurt you further. Instead take a deep breath and distance yourself emotionally.

    Don’t be attached to feelings such as “Why doesn’t she love me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” or “If he wasn’t like that my life would be perfect”.

    Simply refuse to keep participating in the emotional downward spiral and accept, even if it’s painful” that there is nothing you can do. Accept that even without that relationship you are whole, you are worthy of love and respect.

    They are their responsibility and you are yours. So decide what is best for you.

    Realize it only comes down to two possibilities:

    I keep the relationship and therefore accept the abuse. Or…

    I choose my peace of mind.

    And don’t let your mind fool you. We often think that since we all are imperfect, we must take the good and the bad behaviors of people. And we are especially forgiving towards our family…

    Well, guess what? We are also responsible adults who are aware and must own to their acts. Never excuse abuse or violence or transgression towards you or anybody else.

    Choose your happiness and if possible, also distance yourself physically, as it will increase your peace of mind tenfold.

    How to prevent it

    There are two key concepts you must bear in mind in order to prevent the dysfunctionality of a family:

    • To be completely aware of one’s own mistakes and not allow them to impact others and…
    • To make sure our SO’s are also on the same channel before creating a family (i.e. having children)

    Dysfunctional families are the product of irresponsible paternity, for the decades-long unresolved emotional conflict ends up surfacing in the family inevitably, and it will for sure harm those who least deserve it: Innocent children.

    You may notice we went from talking about family, to talking about individual relationships, to talking about you. We went from “them” to “us” to “me”.

    Why? Because in the end you have the power to fix a dysfunctional family. To correct the mistakes you have in yours and to prevent dysfunctionalities if you don’t have a family but plan to create one.

    Priorities and clear thought

    You may be part of a dysfunctional family, but that does not mean you are powerless or that you have to suffer the consequences.

    You learned today how it’s all a matter of priorities and thinking clearly.

    You learned that, if love exists, everything is possible. You learned that even when there is no love and no fix for your dysfunctional family, there are still things you can do. It’s a matter of choosing your peace, because you deserve it.

    Everything will be better if you apply this knowledge. If you talk to that problematic family member. If you help them see the harm they are doing. If you make sure they do change and treat you the way you need to be treated…

    If you choose yourself over that toxic family member. If you refuse to justify the harm that others can do to yourself. If you realize the most important relationship you have is with yourself.

    And lastly, that you also have to be aware of your actions and be open to criticism. Because we might be unknowingly harming others. And that would be us creating a dysfunctionality. Don’t allow it to happen.

    Dysfunctional families are not impossible to fix. It just takes love, cooperation and responsibility.

    But if you tried and those elements are not present, just choose yourself instead.

    Featured photo credit: Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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