The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” -Mahatma Gandhi
Freedom and forgiveness–two powerful words that are critical to living our most positive lives possible.
While I don’t expect much of an argument about the importance of freedom, I don’t expect as many people to embrace the life-saving positivity of forgiveness.
Because it’s hard. Really hard. In fact, I don’t know if there is an act in the world that requires more inner strength than the act of forgiveness.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s say that your significant other cheated on you and gave you an incurable STD, or your babysitter severely burned your toddler because she left him unattended while she was messing around on Facebook, or your coworker spread a vicious lie about you that was believed by your boss and it ended up getting you fired and destroying your career.
Would it be easy for you to show forgiveness in any of those situations? If so, you’re officially a better person than I am.
Extreme examples? Okay, fair enough. But many of us struggle with forgiving much lesser acts than the ones mentioned above, don’t we?
When someone deeply hurts us (or someone we love), one of the easiest and most natural things to do is to hold on to that bitterness, anger and hatred for as long as possible. In extreme cases, we use all of our power and strength to direct our negative energy toward the person/people who hurt us.
I’ve been there and it’s still something that I struggle with often.
In order to make the forgiveness process a little easier for all of us, let’s start by blowing up some of the myths about what real forgiveness is all about.
Real Forgiveness: Healing Ourselves
Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” -Buddha
Forgiveness is a conscious decision to release feelings of resentment and vengeance toward the person/people who have hurt you.
Just to clear up the most common misconceptions, forgiveness is not about:
- Condoning the behavior.
- Forgetting that it ever happened (if you forget, how could you remember the lesson?)
- Giving the other person a “free pass” and becoming best friends again.
- Getting to a point where you’re fine with what happened.
The biggest misconception of all is that forgiveness is about extending kindness to the person who hurt you. That is not the case at all.
Forgiveness is about extending kindness to yourself by starting the healing process.
As a person who has had to practice forgiveness in my life more often than I would like to admit, I realized that when I was consumed by those deep feelings of hatred and vengeance, it was like I was being victimized twice.
As the famous quote above said, I kept drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Predictably, the other person didn’t die, but the poison was slowly killing every meaningful area of my life: My relationships with my family and friends, my career, my health, my sanity and happiness…you name it, and it was slowly dying due to my anger and bitterness.
As strange as this may sound, in order to truly heal, I had to start by forgiving myself.
I kept beating myself up for allowing someone/something to hurt me so deeply, and the last thing that I needed during this time was for me to keep figuratively punching myself in the face, or to become numb to the world by putting up a wall to save me from being hurt again.
I needed to give myself kindness. I needed to develop resilience. I needed to give myself some love.
Once I was able to do those things, I was finally in a place where I could release the pain of the terrible situation, while still retaining the lesson from it.
The Decision to be Free
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that prisoner was you.” -Lewis B. Smedes
If you’re reading these words and you’re in a place where you need to forgive someone who has deeply hurt you, just remember this:
It’s okay to be pissed off. It’s okay to still be sad. It’s okay to wish that the person who hurt you will someday experience the same amount of pain, if not worse, than what you’re feeling right now (yeah, I said it.)
What’s not okay is choosing to live in this state indefinitely.
In the end, holding onto resentment, vengeance and anger will destroy your life.
Trust me on this.
Choosing forgiveness means to make the life-changing decision to not allow your past pain to control your present happiness any longer.
Will you be able to reach this state overnight? Probably not.
In some extreme cases, it could take years to release the bitterness of the past in order to reclaim the possibilities of the present–and that’s okay. This is not a process that needs to be rushed.
It does need to happen, though.
As the famous quote goes, “he who angers you, controls you.” And in order to set yourself free (when you’re ready, of course), it can only happen when you’re willing to release the negativity of the past pain and focus on creating a better present and future.
In case you’re wondering, there is no magic, foolproof, 3-step formula to do this. Anyone who is trying to sell you one is officially the biggest B.S. artist alive. Forgiveness is an intensely personal and complicated process that varies wildly from situation to situation.
Here’s what I have personally tried that has worked for me (some of these things were much more successful than others):
- I prayed for the other person and silently wished him/her well.
- I wrote down all of my angry and hateful thoughts toward the other person in a journal, and then set the journal on fire.
- I meditated and said to myself, “I consciously and purposely release you and the pain that you’ve caused me.”
- I committed to stop staying in “victim mode” by continuing to share my story over and over again with anyone who would listen.
- I got very rational and thought about the cost on my loved ones and me if I allowed this person to have continued power over my happiness and peace of mind.
- I saw a therapist.
Either way, no matter what you try, one thing is for sure:
There is nothing easy or simple about this process at all.
Most importantly, I can safely say that the process begins with the decision to no longer be a prisoner of your resentment, vengeance and pain.
After you make that decision, you officially become the person with the power to define how that relationship (and the rest of your life) will continue from that point forward. Speaking from personal experience, it is no exaggeration to say that making this decision has the power to save your life.
Fair warning, though–it’s going to require you to tap into some serious inner strength to make the decision to escape from the prison that your anger and resentment have created for you.
The good news is that once you’re finally ready to escape, you’ll discover that you’re the one holding the key.
It’s time to use it to set yourself free.
Is there an area of your life where you need to show forgiveness? Have you experienced the positive effects of forgiving someone who has hurt you? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!