If you bristle at the sound of this word, you’re not alone. The word forgiveness has a negative connotation for many. This image is not helped by phrases such as “forgive and forget.” I don’t think it’s realistic for us to ever completely forget painful situations. Forgetting would require that little gadget from the movie Men in Black. Trying to forget is also a form of denial which prevents us from dealing with the issue. It is possible to remember, but not dwell on the past.
Our memories, if we don’t try to stifle them, can actually serve us well in not repeating painful mistakes. I have a scar on my knee that’s been there for 30 years. It’s very faint now, but if I look at it my memory is easily taken back to the day when I busted my knee open as a kid (the time I thought it would be fun to run across a bed of rocks). Do certain visuals, surroundings or conversations easily trigger your memory? Are you taken back to the past hurt and feel stuck there?
Some of my readers might be hearing this for the first time: It is possible to release the person who offended you. Notice that I did not say condone the behavior, or pretend it didn’t happen. Acknowledge that she can’t take back what she did. He cannot repay you for what he did. When you forgive, you are actively choosing to let go. You are saying to that person, either out loud or in your mind, “You no longer owe me anything.” This is not easy.
Forgiveness is a process. We often want things to be wrapped up, finished and restored. So we quickly utter the words, “I forgive you,” while the pain, anger and confusion are still present. Sometimes we have to work through these feelings before authentic forgiveness can take place. Working through is defined as the process by which we accept the reality of our pain and loss. This process also involves expression of feelings and setting healthy boundaries which will in turn strengthen you and protect you from future unhealthy relationships.
Perhaps you’ve said (or heard someone around you say), “I’ve forgiven the other person; I just can’t forgive myself.” The process of self-forgiveness is similar to forgiving others. You might need to acknowledge the role you played in a particular problem. The purpose is not self-blame but accepting responsibility for those things that are yours. Just as it’s healthy for you to identify and express emotions stemming from pain caused by someone else, the same can be done regarding pain you might have inflicted on yourself. Boundary setting again becomes necessary as you consider past self-destructive habits.
Forgiveness should not be confused with reconciliation, an entirely separate task should both parties involved choose it. I might write about it in a future post. For now, consider where you might be on the journey of forgiveness.
What have you read or been told about forgiveness? Do you have a positive story about forgiveness you wish to share from your own experience?