To err is human; to forgive, is divine
~ Alexander Pope ~
How do you react when you hear that word? How do you feel in your body? Do you tense up or open up? Is there a particular person or incident that comes straight to mind?
If there is one theme in my life that stands out from the sheer volume of it repeating itself, its forgiveness. This doesn’t mean I am an innocent victim constantly having terrible things happen to me. What it does mean is that there are always two sides to every story and that quite often, the person that I need to forgive is myself. And that is no easy task.
When we get hurt or betrayed by someone we love and trust, it feels like our world is falling down around us. We wonder how someone could do that to a person they cared about. There’s no getting around the fact that for a while it’s going to feel like shit. It hurts. And it’s so important to acknowledge that and allow yourself to feel what it is you are feeling. If you suppress it and block it out, it will not magically disappear. It will quietly simmer away and then pop up in the future – usually at an extremely inconvenient time – and most likely with even more vengeance.
There are stages to dealing with hurt and betrayal, just as there are stages when grieving the loss of a loved one, because quite often, as the result, a relationship is lost. Even if this person stays in your life, such as family members, the relationship has altered and the energy between you forever changed. What matters is how you process the situation and how you move forward.
To forgive someone who has hurt you is one of the most difficult, yet transformative things you will ever do. Trust me, the day that person no longer affects how you feel and act is a beautiful day, because that is the day you take back control of your life and make it your own.
I have grown a lot from my own experiences around forgiveness, but these are the 6 most important lessons’ I have learned along the way…
- 1. To forgive someone does not mean what they did was okay.
For a long while, I truly believed that if you forgave someone, it equaled ‘what they did was okay’. In truth, it’s more about realising that you can’t ever fully understand why someone acted the way they did. Perhaps they thought what they did was okay? Perhaps there were other reasons / factors at play you couldn’t see, that influenced their behaviour. More importantly, chances are, what they did had absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with them and you just happened to be the one to cop the fallout. Either way, number one take home: to forgive is not to condone.
- 2. They don’t have to be sorry for you to forgive and they don’t have to know you have forgiven them.
This belief comes from childhood. Child A says something mean to child B. Child A is told to apologise and child B is then told to forgive them. As a result I thought that the person had to be sorry so I could be given the chance to be the bigger person and forgive them. Of course, this often meant I would go out of my way to point out everything they did wrong (just in case they weren’t aware of the full list) just so they could apologise and therefore I could forgive. Problem is, most of the time, this just caused more fighting and often they wouldn’t accept my version because, as I now know, there are two sides to every story. FYI: Trying to force an apology by pointing out where they went wrong usually just results in you getting your own faults listed back to you! Yep. Also, if the person has not asked you to forgive them, there is no rule saying you have to let them know it’s done. Forgiving someone is more about you and less about them, which leads perfectly onto my next point.
- 3. To forgive someone is for your benefit – NOT theirs.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself
~Tony Robbins ~
On the occasion someone actively seeks your forgiveness, then know that they are doing this because they are not able to forgive themselves. They are feeling guilt and regret and hope that through you forgiving them, they can alleviate those feelings. If someone has asked for your forgiveness, please, whatever you do, do not rush this. It is not your responsibility to make that person feel better. It is each individual’s job to do their own inner work. Telling someone you forgive them when you haven’t won’t serve anyone in the long run. By all means tell them you will work on it and hope to be able to forgive them, but do not put a time limit on it. Forgiveness is about you. To carry around the hurt in your heart affects you, not them. Think about people who hold grudges. Do they seem happy and carefree? In love with life and full of wonder and possibility? The short answer is no. They are, knowingly or not, holding onto this low energy and allowing another person to dictate their happiness. That is no way to live a joyful life. If you can forgive someone, you can be free to live life on your terms. There is no victory in holding a grudge. If anything, you are giving that person the knowledge that they still have influence over you. However, I must stress, allow yourself time for this process. Do not force it.
- 4. To forgive yourself is just as important, if not more important, than forgiving the other person.
After the initial shock of a situation has calmed often we start pointing the finger at ourselves. Do any of these phrases seem familiar? “How could I have been so stupid?” “I should have seen it coming.” “Why didn’t I listen to any of them?” “If only I had gone about things differently.” I know I am guilty of this, especially if you have ignored others friendly (or very blunt and to the point) advice, or if you find yourself in a similar situation as last time, but with another person. Blaming yourself gets you nowhere and achieves nothing. Although it is extremely important to take any lessons you can from the situation and learn and grow as a person, simply firing abuse at yourself is not constructive. Going over and over the situation in your head, playing out different ways it could have gone, is extremely tempting, but ultimately only going to increase the pain and lengthen the time it takes to heal. Go easy on yourself. You are only human after all. Accept, love and forgive yourself.
- 5. To be truly happy and move on in life is not possible if you cannot forgive.
We all know when we have reached the point of forgiveness. We can see that person or hear about them and it doesn’t send us on an emotional roller-coaster ride. The real test is when you hear they have some happy news and you aren’t immediately a crying mess, or thinking of ways you can sabotage their happiness, or trying make your life look even better so that you are definitely ‘winning’. To forgive is to be free. To forgive is to not compare. To forgive is to let go with love, wish them well and then focus on your own life. Remember, everyone makes mistakes. Some are more significant than others. Some leave a greater mark, but without forgiveness you will remain stuck in the past and stuck in the pain.
Forgiveness is the final form of love
~ Reinhold Niebuhr ~
- 6. Forgive and forget are two different things.
To forgive does not equal to forget. It would be insane to forget because then we are all doomed to repeat our mistakes. To forgive is to be free of the emotional attachment, but to remember means you are able to grow and move forward with more wisdom and understanding in your heart.
So, there you have it. Six, not so easily learned, lessons on what it means to forgive and why it is so important. At the end of the day, the main thing I want you to take from this is that the act of forgiveness is all about you and helping you to heal and move forward in life.
As to how to forgive? Well, that’s another whole post, or two, or three. There are so many ways to approach this and each person will have a way that works for them. Time helps. Being gentle with yourself helps. Talking or writing things out helps. Being compassionate and understanding, helps.
And remember, be kind to yourself.