08/18/2012 08:36 am ET Updated Oct 18, 2012

9 Steps to Family Forgiveness, Part 1

It's hard to believe that summer is coming to an end. It seems as though it flew by. My oldest nephew leaves for college in a week, which is stunning to me because it seems like just yesterday he was a baby. Much as I would like to, I don't get to see him very often, as he lives far from us. We talk about visiting, though it gets a bit complicated because of his parents' divorce years ago.

As you reflect on your summer, are your thoughts filled with cherished memories of special quality time spent with extended family? Or are your memories of family togetherness tinged with thoughts of emotionally-charged moments? Reuniting with family can feel warm and fuzzy and wonderful, or it can be like visiting a dangerous neighborhood that triggers hyper-vigilance as you watch your step and watch your back.

Unresolved and festering feelings can throw a serious wrench in family fun, especially when one feels injured by another person's words and behavior. And whatever the infraction may have been, if it is unresolved, it seems to grow with time. Do you ever find yourself having an imaginary conversation with the person you feel wronged you? Well, maybe you haven't, but I've sure done this. So, off we go to reunions and have a great time -- or we come back with more grudges. What sets the tone for a pleasant experience or a dreadful experience? Forgiveness.

Forgiveness is for YOU. It's your liberation from the relentless re-experiencing of a hurt. It releases you from the gnawing feeling of ick you feel inside each time you hear the person's name or see their face. In certain cases, not remaining in touch with a family member makes absolute sense. If you fear for your physical or emotional safety, distancing yourself may be wise. In other situations, when the idea of forgiveness is presented, many people balk. "But he, but she, but they," is a common refrain. Yet what is the most self-loving act to take? To forgive another and let go of harboring a new resentment or a longstanding one is a high act of self-liberation. Forgiveness is a simple choice to make but not always easy to do, especially when we feel we are right.

Forgiveness is not about condoning what occurred; it is about freeing up psychic energy that whirls inside of you so that your heart is more open. The truth is that when we nurse resentments and hold unforgiveness, the object of our disdain is usually doing fine, thank you very much. So, who's the one who's imprisoned? Buddha said, "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

I practice forgiveness on a daily basis because I want to feel good. I make a choice to live with an open heart. Here's what I do to help me free myself of resentment, which leads to unforgiveness, a grimace on my face, a closed heart and lots of noise in my head. It can take me a minute at times to feel the release or even recognize that the agada I'm feeling inside stems from unforgiveness. As I said, it's a practice. If I still feel upset about the person or situation, I repeat the process.

1. Write a Letter
I write a letter to the person, place or situation that I feel resentment toward. I let it rip, with no edits. But I don't send it, of course. When it's complete, I read it to a dear and trusted friend who knows that I've just lost my mind for a minute. And then I burn it.

2. Set an Intention
I do not do anything without first setting an intention for what I want to experience in any interaction or situation. These are the questions to ask yourself: What do I want to experience? What am I bringing to this interaction and/or situation? Change the focus so that it's not on what you're going to get. Be prepared before you step into the room with your family members. Consider what example you are setting for your children. Children remember what you do more than what you say.

3. Define Forgiveness
Many times there's a misconception that forgiving is condoning, and that's not the case. Forgiveness sets us free rather than keeping us in emotional bondage to the experience and to the person(s) involved. Keep in mind the old adage, "Would you rather be happy or right?"

4. Explore Your Expectations
I continually explore expectations of myself, other people and situations so that I am not blindsided by the subtle act of setting myself up for disappointment. What yardstick am I measuring myself against? Was there an unexpressed expectation? Are you expecting people to be who they're not? Expectations can be premeditated resentments.

5. Consider Your Personal Payoff for Holding a Grudge
Ooh, this one is a doozy to look at. Many times there can be a false sense of empowerment or self-righteous anger over something that occurred, and people can be reluctant to let go of this. The right use of anger is different than self-righteous anger.

6. Communicate
How do you communicate? When we're attached to being "right," it leaves little room for understanding each other's needs. If you communicate through the stink eye, smoldering silence, snide, biting comments, or slamming cabinets and doors, make the decision to practice compassionate communication so that resolution may be reached.

7. Self-love
Don't beat yourself up. Don't speak to yourself meanly. Be kind to yourself. And if that looks like removing yourself from negative conversation and behavior, do so. Do not fall prey to the false belief that it is noble to remain in situations that are unacceptable to get them right. Sometimes love says "enough is enough."

8. Be Willing to See Yourself, People and Situations Differently
Most people are doing the best they can in any given situation. Their best may not work for you, but your best may not work for them, either.

9. Remain Open to Miracles
Miracles are available to us at all times. Miracles are shifts in consciousness that occur all the time. Be open to something unexpected and magnificent happening right before your eyes.

For more by Wendy Silvers, click here.

For more on forgiveness, click here.