Forgiveness is just a word until you actually do it.
It can also cover a wide range of degrees. “I’m sorry” is as much a part of our vernacular as “Good morning” and “How are you,” but we apply it to so many different types of situations. We can go from, “I’m sorry I spilled the milk,” to “I’m sorry I crashed the car,” to “I’m sorry I destroyed your life.” Within each of these situations, forgiveness asks something very different from us. Forgiveness is often a very misunderstood concept, too.
So what does it actually mean to forgive?
According to at the dictionary, the word “forgive” means to “stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or a mistake.” Based on that definition, it seems that forgiveness has a lot more to do with yourself than it has to with the other person.
I’ve often heard people say, “I’ll never be able to forgive so and so for what they’ve done.” Without realizing it, what they’re actually saying is that they’ll never free themselves from the anger, bitterness or resentfulness they are harboring, they’re unwilling to let go of the pain and the story that goes with it (intentionally or unintentionally), and that somehow, holding onto the pain is impacting the person who hurt them. Let’s be very clear about something – forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, letting the person who hurt you “off the hook,” or somehow making something so wrong be okay. What it means is that YOU will not carry the anger and resentment of the action.
It is a conscious decision to love yourself enough to free yourself no matter what was done to you.
Now, I get it. All of this can sound really nice until we actually put it into practice. I’m speaking from experience here. It can be THE hardest thing to do because everything in your logical, rational mind is screaming for justice, fairness, payback and the need for the person to realize how damaging their actions were. Forgiveness however, speaks an entirely different language. It has nothing to do with logic or reasoning and that’s exactly why it can be so hard to do. Your logical self is reeling from the impact, while your soul is trying to cut your ties to the pain and show you how forgiving something or someone sets you free, and can put you on a path you’d never have access to had that situation not happened.
So, how do you start the process of forgiving?
First, you have to recognize and acknowledge the hurt, pain, or offense that was inflicted upon you. This can be very difficult as our egos tend to shield us from our own vulnerability. In many situations it’s difficult to understand our hurt and why we feel the way we do. We may be dealing with the pain by numbing or distracting ourselves through food, work, TV, alcohol, keeping busy, etc. We may be reacting to the pain by lashing out or keeping it buried deep inside. Yet, all this numbing, blocking and lashing out only hurts us more. It never gets to the root cause of the hurt, and only compounds it by adding self-soothing techniques that hurt us further.
A strategy you can use is “the 5 whys.” You begin with, “ Why am I angry?” and continue asking yourself “Why?” until you hit an emotion. That emotion will help you to understand where the pain came in, so you can better understand the blow and what you need to to to heal.
Second, you need to find the life lesson in the experience. Taking a negative experience and being able to learn or grow from it will allow you to reclaim your power and help you to no longer be the victim in the situation. In many instances, people who’ve been hurt have been able to help others who have been hurt in the same way. They’re healing others as they heal themselves.
Finally, it’s important to realize that you are not responsible to teach the other person a lesson. Letting go of payback and trusting that each person walks their own path for a reason we may or may not understand is the final step to freeing yourself from the hurt, the pain, and the experience. Just because we don’t easily understand the lesson, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Maybe the reason was to teach you to honor your boundaries, learn acceptance, or realize you deserve so much better, and that person was there to provide you with a powerful lesson so that it’s crystal clear to you – where if they didn’t hurt you as they did, the lesson may never have been learned.
I get it. As we’re reeling from the pain, it’s hard to look at it as if something hurtful could have one single benefit at all – but having been in enough situations to write the book on bouncing back after various life crises… it’s true.
Forgiveness is not an easy thing to do – especially when we aren’t talking about spilled milk. Forgiveness is about setting you free, and only by doing it, do you see the gifts forgiveness can give; it can catapult you to a path you may never have been placed on had the hurt not happened. It allows you to grow from the experience, make lemonade out of lemons, and live a life free of anger and pain.
Forgiveness is all about you and you are so worth it!
Photo from here, with thanks.