How and why to forgive, how to journal for forgiveness
Journaling for empaths

A gentle journaling exercise to help you find your way to forgiveness when you’re highly sensitive10 min read

Whether by the words or actions of someone else, we’ve all been hurt at some point.

And probably (let’s face it: most likely) will be again.

Maybe you have a parent who’s overly critical of every πŸ‘ little πŸ‘ thing πŸ‘ you do, a partner who broke your trust or a vindictive coworker who sabotaged the project you were in charge of.

Or it could be worse; physical, sexual or emotional abuse, grief or trauma.

I get it, there’s a lot to be angry and bitter about.

Life just isn’t fair.

And it rarely goes the way you planned it. That sucker just has a mind of its own at the worst of times.

These wounds you get from life can really do a number on you too, especially when they leave you with a lasting feeling of anger and bitterness, even vengeance.

The worst thing about it is that you’re always the one who’s going to suffer the most if you can’t figure out how to let it go.

Especially highly sensitive people, like empaths and introverts, have a tendency to repeat events an conversations over and over in their mind, trying to discern some new meaning or missed cue.

That’s the expressway to hell.

Becuase you get stuck in a loop, hung up on finding meaning in random things people say and do. While you’re still running over that thing that your friend said three years ago, she’s completely forgotten about it.

It’s all too easy to get stuck on the details of things when you’re in that hypervigilant state.

Hypervigilance is an increased state of alertness.

It makes you extremely sensitive to your surroundings, and it makes you feel like you’re alert to hidden dangers in your environment.

Jumpy reflexes, knee-jerk reactions, overreacting to a loud bang – it can even cause you to translate a coworker’s statement as aggressive, even when it’s not.

And the emotional toll of hypervigilance is severe.

Maintaining your body and mind constantly on the knife’s edge ramps up your anxiety, fear and panic.

It floods our body with stress hormones and you can end up with worrying that becomes persistent and permeates everything in your life.

If you get stuck in it, you may judge other people extremely harshly, as a way of lashing out and bracing yourself against being judged by them.

The reasoning behind it being that if you strike first, you’re in control, and they can’t hurt you.

This can lead to the kind of black-and-white thinking in which you find the exremes in everything, and determine things as absolutely right or absolutely wrong.

At it’s worst, it’ll make you paranoid.

And you’ll rationalise to justify your hypervigilance. If you experience hypervigilance frequently or constantly, such as in the case of having PTSD, you may find it difficult to fall asleep or get a good night’s sleep.

If it gets that far, you’ll also start developing behaviours to calm your anxiety and counteract the threats you see everywhere.

Becoming reliant on daydreaming or non-participation events will make you socially isolated and damage your relationships and social connections.

As an empath an introvert, you may not have many social connections, which makes it all the more important that the ones you do have are deep and rewarding.

There is a time and a place when being extremely alert is good and useful.

When you’re fighting to stay alive and are in danger, your mind and body focus on survival.

It’s when you’re trapped in a state of hypervigilance for longer that it starts to bleed out into the rest of your life.

Past trauma can all too easily keep you stuck in the past, reliving that pain over and over again, bringing it with you to the present moment and allowing it to tint everything good in your life with pain, anger or sorrow.

The natural thing is to return to a state of rest after every triggering or stressful event.

I want to point out that being highly sensitive is not the same as hypervigilance, though they may seem to be the same thing for someone who doesn’t understand or personally experience hightened sensitivity.

Being highly sensitive may make you more susceptible to getting stuck in a state of hypervigilance, but being highly sensitive isn’t something you should try to get rid of in yourself.

Being highly sensitive is simply how you are and when you know how to take care of yourself, that sensitivity becomes your source of strength and a way of life.

And forgiveness can help you release the negative thoughts and emotions.

Beause first and foremost, forgiveness frees the forgiver.

Though forgiveness means different things in different situations, it’s generally a decision to let go of resentment, hurt feelings and thoughts of revenge.

The act that offended or hurt you may always stay with you.

But forgiveness is your key to freedom from its burden.

Forgiveness will allow you to reclaim agency over your experience going forward, and it frees you from the vice-like grip the person who hurt you can have over you.

It does NOT excuse the person who hurt or harmed you.

And it does NOT condone what was done to you.

Forgiveness is the path to being able to embrace the good stuff again – hope, peace, gratitude – wholeheartedly.

And it will heal you physically, emotionally and spiritually. The gift that forgiveness bestows upon you is the kind of peace that helps you move on with your life.

It’s surprisingly easy to hold on to past grievances.

Maybe you’re carrying around a hurt that happened a week, a month or a decade ago.

Even the things you think you’ve gotten over can rear their ugly heads and sting you like a fresh rattle-snake bite.

Holding onto the anger, mistrust and bitterness left behind by the hurt is easy.

Forgiving is harder.

If you allow your negative feelings to crowd out your positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.

Holding on to a grudge and refusing to forgive can have negative consequences, and you may:

  • more easily bring bitterness and mistrust into every relationship and new experience,
  • become so wrapped up in the wrong that was done to you that it robs you of enjoying the present,
  • start feeling like your life is devoid of meaning or purpose and that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs,
  • lose your valuable and enriching connections to others,
  • become anxious or depressed.

The best you can do for yourself is to make the choice to forgive a practice.

Show yourself the mercy and generosity inherent in forgiveness, even if you don’t share it with the person who hurt you.

And, trust me, I know that’s easier said than done.

To err is human, to forgive divine.

– Alexander Pope

If forgiveness is divine, do you have to be a saint before you can forgive?

Not at all.

Because forgiveness is the stuff of everyday heroes.

It’s an ultimate measure of your internal peace.

It can become like a form of emotional martial arts, where you disarm your opponent with patience and calm, exacting your “revenge” on them by declaring peace – even if it’s only internally.

A growing body of research is finding that people who make forgiveness a practice, are more likely to be happy and healty.

These everyday heroes suffer fewer episodes of depression, have more friends, higher self-esteem and longer relationships. Their blood presure is lower, their immune system works better and they have lower rates of heart disease.

So, how to reach a state of forgiveness?

Above all, it’s a commitment to yourself.

It’s you investing in your personal growth and process of changing and learning.

As you let go of your hurt and bitterness, you’ll notice that you’ve ceased defining your life by how you were hurt.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you found compassion and understanding.

And don’t be too hard on yourself either. If you’re not feeling ready to forgive, working towards forgiveness can be a hard and painful process.

Journaling allows you to process what happened and to put roiling emotions into words.

Putting down your thoughts into words on paper puts everything into perspective, and puts you back into yourself.

Journaling prompts for forgiveness:

  1. Begin by freewriting about the thing that’s bothering you.
    • What happened to you? Who is the other person that hurt you? What thoughts and feelings are swirling inside you?
  2. Write about what has prevented you from forgiveness so far.
    • Is there something you want from the other person – an apology, a confession, or for them to try to make amends?
    • How could you forgive even if you don’t receive what you want from them?
    • What do you have control over? And what do you not have control over?
  3. What would it feel like to move past it?
    • If you woke up tomorrow with your anger and hurt having evaporated, how would that feel?
    • How would it change you?
    • What would you do differently?
  4. Describe the kind of person you want to be in your relationships.
    • Do you want to be generous, kind and compassionate?
    • Do you want to hold on to grudges?
    • How can you be the strongest version of yourself in the most challenging times?

Write a list of forgiveness.

Begin your list with, “[Name of the other person] I forgive you.”

And start listing your grievances.

Just let it flow out. The big things and the small things.

I forgive you for not liking red even though it’s my favourite colour.

I forgive you for making me so angry that I’m shaking.

I forgive you for not taking my side when you should have.

I forgive you for breaking my trust, which I thought you held sacred.

I forgive you for being a stuck-up turd who always thinks first of you.

I forgive you for not knowing any better.

I forgive you for leaving and abandoning me here all alone.

I forgive you for always slurping your coffee in that loud and obnoxious way that makes your whole mouth vibrate.

True forgivenenss doesn’t stop at a few magic words

But they’re a beginning.

Like all healing, forgiveness is a process, and it’s results are not instant.

To forgive takes compassion, strength of character and a whole bunch of self-awareness – and instilling those qualities in yourself takes time. And practice.

You also have to allow yourself time to heal, and give yourself time to put yourself back together.

Because wisdom is earned.

A token of your growth.

It would be easy if forgiveness was something you could just do in one fell swoop, but it’s a choice that needs to be made anew every time, every day.

You can forgive others, forgive yourself, forgive life.

You can go back and dig up things that you’ve been neglecting for years and forgive those.

Listing and writing down your forgiveness will make visible for you just how far you’ve come.

It’ll also show you how much further you’d like to grow.

β€œAnger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.”

– Cherie Carter-Scott

You don’t have to shed your past in order to live better right now.

And you don’t have to go cutting out people out of your life, if you don’t want to.

You don’t even have to tell them that you’re forgiving them or what for. Forgiveness is for you.

Forgiveness will give you a new way of remembering past hurts.

The true reward for genuine forgiveness is that it releases you from resentment and that it weaves itself into the very fabric of your life when you make it a practice.

And once the dust has settled, it’ll allow you to treat your memories gently.

I have included the practice of forgiveness in my journaling course Thankful.

Thankful gratitude email course

Thankful is a free journaling course that I created for you when you want to feel happier and more grateful in life.

It’s a daily journaling email course where I send you a new email every day for twenty-one days with journaling prompts and knowledge about the science of gratitude and happiness.

When you’re ready to be guided through twenty-one days of journaling, you can sign up here.

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