Forgiving is a power you and I have. Yet when we are at the receiving end of a painful wrong, we feel the victim and not powerful at all. How can we turn things around and connect with our power? And why should we choose forgiveness to make it happen?
Throughout our life time we all experience injustice, wrongs committed against us and disappointments. Ultimately this will lead to mental and emotional pain, which we all deal with in our own ways. And what we choose today may not what we do tomorrow. It might depend on who is involved, the act itself, and where we are at in our lives when things happen.
Forgiveness is complex and as individual as you, the act that has been carried out against you, and the person who has done it.
And let’s not forgot, we (you and I) can be both – victim and perpetrator or person who does wrong.
There’re at least 3 types of forgiveness situations:
- Forgiving others (or not)
- Forgiving ourselves (or not)
- Not being forgiven
And in each of those scenarios we hold the power, independent of what the other person does or does not do as a result of their actions. Let me explain.
1. Forgiving others (or not)
Some acts are more easy to forgive, forget or brush off. Others take more effort. And then there are times, when we don’t want to forgive at all.
How can I forgive, when the other does not see the wrong of their ways?
If I forgive without an apology, then the other will get off lightly.
Forgiving another who does not repent will leave me the victim all over again.
I have forgiven you before (again and again), but this time it’s too much. No!
These are just some of the reasons why we may not want to forgive.
But when it all turns into a sour and bitter grudge, then we end up suffering over and over again. How can we stop it and free ourselves?
I struggle with forgiving, just like the next person. And there is a whole group of people where forgiveness does not come easily, or at all. Some are dead, others are totally out of my life, yet others still remain part of my life, even close up.
Would it be possible that deep, very deep inside my anger, frustration and all the other feelings I hold, eat away at me? Personally, I believe this is perfectly possible, for all of us. Sometimes I can feel it, and sometimes I don’t.
But when I feel it, then I re-live the past. And that can be a powerfully seductive moment. When that happens to us, we have the power to stop it. Not always easy, I grant you that. But what do we do? We bring it all back, and poke around in “it” – our wounds.
Where we cannot forgive we may try to forget. But that only works for so long. It’s not the solution.
I put it to you: we cannot carry this heavy weight forever. If we do, toxic resentment and bitterness will poison us. We are the losers.
Here are some things that might help you to forgive, or edge your way closer to forgiving:
=> To get in the forgiving zone and mood I try and see whether I can apply at least 3 ways of looking at the situation:
- Feeling empathy for the other – what drove them to it?
- Realising that this is a sad state of affairs for them – without feeling judgemental or morally superior;
- Where it applies, understand I might have played a part in what has happened and accept my responsibility;
Depending on the circumstances this works well, just a bit, or not at all.
But at least it’s a way of separating out the forgiveness weight we carry around with us.
If you can forgive, you might want to think about whether it is worth saying it to the other. Might there be a benefit (mutually or just for you)?
=> Whatever you do, “getting it out of your system” is important. You need to hear yourself say it out loud. Imagine the person and say it out loud: “I forgive you.”
=> Come up with a ritual or practice that works for you to help let it go. Be creative, like write something on a piece of paper and burn it. Hold a pebble in the palm of your hand, put your feelings into it and then throw it into flowing water, a river or stream.
If you cannot or won’t forgive
That’s your prerogative. The choice is always yours. Forgiveness is a process. It might not be time for you now, but that can change in the future. Whatever we do, there are consequences for us.
If you cannot forgive but would like to
Keep entertaining the possibility of forgiving. Don’t dwell too much on it, but don’t ignore it either. Be open to the possibility. In time something will shift. It always does when we remain open.
Recently I read someone suggesting to say privately “I forgive you” to those we can’t or won’t forgive. I tried it.
I said “I forgive you” to people where I am not yet ready “to feel forgiveness”, and with others where I don’t (yet) want to forgive at all.
But I do want to let go. Because it is a heavy burden to carry, for all of us. And when I think of that burden, then again quite frankly I rather get rid of that, then wait for an apology, which in most if not all cases I will never get.
So many choices and decisions are in our own hands. Why do we make them dependant on others?!
The next day, I did notice a lightness in me. I did feel better for what I did. I have repeated this little ritual since, with the genuine wish of letting go. And I have even included a wish (for some) that they can sort themselves out, for their own sake.
2. Forgiving yourself (or not)
We all have done and will probably do again things in our live time that are wrong, that we are not proud of, that we should have known better. We might have been careless, selfish, angry and a lot else besides.
The consequences of our actions may have been minor or significant. Others might have got hurt – badly, or worse. We might have damaged a future we once had.
Having done wrong can make us labour with shame, guilt, remorse, anger, hopelessness to mention just some of the feelings. What a life is that?
I put it to you, to learn from your mistakes, take responsibility, walk on, and live your life to the best of your abilities – now.
Say “I forgive myself”, even if you cannot yet feel it. Say it, and continue saying it and you will start feeling and believing it.
3. When we are not forgiven
It could be that you have apologised, shown remorse, have repented. Yet the other you have hurt will not forgive, or they can no longer forgive. They may be dead.
To be forgiven is a beautiful and healing experience. Yet the real value of change will lie in your own attitude and actions. The forgiveness of another cannot save or excuse us from doing what we need to do to take responsibility for our actions.
In that way we don’t need forgiveness from another.
There is a lot more to say on forgiveness and you may have your own views and experiences.
Bottom line for me is that forgiving is a very personal and private action and attitude. It is the power we have to free ourselves from the burden of resentment and blame. It can help us let go and move on.
“Forgiveness does not right a wrong.
Forgiving goes deeper than hearing another’s apology.
Showing forgiveness to another who does not repent does not make us a fool.
Forgiving is one important path towards inner peace.”
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Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer. All rights reserved © Copyright Karin Sieger. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Article do not substitute medical advice.