“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
To forgive is one of the hardest things we do. The process can be so misunderstood and yet it is so necessary.
Why should I be forgiving when the other person is the one who has inflicted pain on me?
A really good question! But first, let’s look at what it is and what forgiveness means.
Webster’s Definition of Forgiveness
- To give up resentment
- Stop being angry with
- Give up all claim to punish
- Cancel a debt
Another way to look at forgiveness is to see it as a step toward re-establishing an intimate relationship!! The Greek word for forgiveness, Luo, means to “untie the knot!” Exactly what couples need to do when their conflict turns to negative and gets heated. Many times forgiveness and reconciliation go together, “to reconcile” means literally, “to exchange, or to bring into a changed relationship.”
However, forgiveness and reconciliation don’t always go together. Anne Bercht says, “to truly forgive we must be aware of an important distinction: Forgiveness is not reconciliation with the person. Reconciliation is different. Forgiveness is one person’s moral response to another person’s injustice.”
What Forgiveness is not!
Forgiveness is not condoning the wrong or hurtful act. We do not approve, excuse, or justify what has happened. It is not denying it happened or pretending it never happened, nor just forgetting about it. “Forgive and forget” is not a reality. We may not let it affect us or control us anymore, but we don’t just forget. It also does not mean the pain has gone away. We don’t have to pretend we are not hurt or that we are not taking the offense seriously.
- “If we want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” – Mother Theresa
- Our pain, rejection, and hurt will only begin to heal when we begin to forgive.
- Peace of mind and forgiveness go together!
- We do it for ourselves, not necessarily the other person.
- It frees us to live a fulfilled, unrestricted life!
- Unforgiveness leads to emotions of anger, resentment, bitterness, hatred, fear, and hostility.
- Not forgiving only hurts me. (And who wants to live like that!?)
- It puts us in the position to choose to control our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- “Not forgiving someone is like taking poison ourselves (continuing to suffer for what they did or did not do to you) and expecting them to die!” – Larry James
In Forgiving the Devil, by Terry Hargrave, he says that pain comes from a violation of love and trust, and that forgiveness is about reestablishing that love and trust in a relationship. He describes two important elements of forgiveness:
Salvage What You Can
Salvage is using forgiveness to gain insight into how to keep the damage done in the past from continuing to affect you, now and in the future. It means understanding the circumstances of the abused, and abuser so that one does not carry the burden of pain alone. Salvaging can also help us to learn how to make future relationships more loving and trustworthy. Salvage does not restore love and trust to a damaged relationship but helps us to recognize the interactions that were causing damage and prevent them from happening again.
Restoring the Relationship
Restoration, as opposed to salvage, requires the person who has been wronged in the relationship to put themselves in a position where love and trust can be rebuilt again by the person who perpetuated the hurt. Restoration is more closely related to reconciliation. The relationship can be reconciled and restored.
Forgiveness can certainly be a difficult thing to do. Many times feelings play a huge part in how we go about forgiving, or if we even believe we can forgive. But forgiveness is very much like love; it has many feelings surrounding it, but it is a choice! The first step is that you must decide to forgive, and then move your emotions toward that forgiveness.
Stages of forgiveness:
Decisional Forgiveness is where a person simply chooses to forgive. Forgiveness involves declaring that we are not going to seek revenge or avoid the other person, but we will do our best to get along in the future.
Emotional Forgiveness means we move positive emotions toward the offender such as empathy, sympathy, compassion, love, etc. It involves a change of heart in which we replace negative emotions of resentment, bitterness, hostility, anger, hatred, and fear with more positive emotions toward the person.
Practical Steps to Forgiving
- Try writing down the person’s name that has hurt you; then describe the experience, the pain, and emotions you have gone through or are currently experiencing.
- Sometimes revealing the extent of the hurt and emotional feelings to the person who has offended you and verbalizing aloud that you forgive them can have a healing effect.
- Remove barriers in your thoughts and emotions.
- Deal with your emotions. Figure out what you feel about the pain and how it affects you.
- Try to trust again. Trust gets earned over time but you can start the process. See How to Build Trust Again
- Don’t let shame, guilt, or fear get in the way.
- Don’t deny or minimize pain, but accept it and commit to dealing with it.
- Remember the goal (usually) is to restore the relationship.
- Try to empathize with the other person.
- Reflect on your capability to inflict hurt, we all make mistakes and hurt others.
- Recall times when you have been forgiven.
- Take responsibility for your contributions to the problems in the relationship
Make it Safe to Forgive
Forgiving someone who has hurt you can feel unsafe. Like you’re letting them off the hook and they may not even regret or feel any remorse about what they did. You want to see them “pay” for the hurt they’ve caused and the damage to the relationship.
The reality is, holding on to bitterness and resentment is only causing YOU PAIN. It’s not doing anything to them. So why not let go of the bitterness and resentment that’s costing you a ton of mental and emotional energy? There’s no real advantage in holding tightly to this, it just isn’t going to do you any good in the long run.
“Forgiveness is for you more than the person who hurt you.”
Taking the steps to forgive can be hard, emotional, and difficult. But the value to YOU is relief. It’s letting yourself release the baggage of the hurt and now allowing it to continually drag you down. Other benefits can be peace, and living a life free of resentment and bitterness and possibly reconciliation with your loved one. I hope you will do the work to forgive and reconcile the relationships you need to.