Forgiveness is one of those tricky little topics where there is no wrong or right. There is only what’s best for you.
First, I just want to make it clear that you do not have to offer anyone forgiveness.
You can decide to forgive the people who have hurt you but you absolutely do not have to. Ultimately, I do find it helpful if your goal is to move on, but I don’t think it’s necessary. You have the right to feel however you want to feel. If you’re feeling hurt or angry or sad- that’s all okay. Your feelings are valid and you can feel those things for as long as you need to. But personally, I find those feelings exhausting, and I’ve found that it’s easier to let go of them if you try to forgive.
I’ve heard a lot about forgiveness during my lifetime, but one thing that I wasn’t really told was how hard it is. You can’t just decide to forgive someone and then move on. Sometimes, it takes a LOT of work and effort to offer someone forgiveness. Especially if you’re letting that person stay in your life. Which brings me to my next point:
There are different types of forgiveness.
- There’s the type of forgiveness that wipes the slate clean. This means you pretty much go back to the way things were before the hurt and in a way, it’s like it never happened.
- Then there’s a sort of conditional forgiveness. You forgive the person and let go of the pain, but you don’t forget or pretend it didn’t happen. Your relationship is forever altered and you might always find that you’ve got your guard up. Maybe you don’t completely trust this person anymore. While your relationship is restored, it isn’t renewed. Like a small crack in the foundation, it isn’t as strong as it used to be.
- And then there is the type of forgiveness that involves letting go. The relationship is terminated all together, and you let go of the negative feelings that you’re holding onto.
When it was first suggested to me by my therapist to forgive my abusers, I remember being shocked and angry. It was my right to be mad and full of hatred. I was a wronged and they didn’t deserve my forgiveness! You see, I had never heard of the different types of forgiveness and I thought that forgiving someone was the same thing as saying that what they did was okay. That is a very common misconception.
Forgiving is not the same as saying that what happened was okay.
This was such a revelation to me, that I’m going to say it again. Forgiving someone is not the same as saying that what happened was okay. This floored me and it honestly took me months to wrap my head around. But you can forgive someone while still hating what they did. You can forgive someone and still not want anything to do with them. Forgiveness is a gift that you can offer others, but really, it’s a gift to yourself.
When you forgive someone, you’re saying that you’re not going to let whatever they did live in the front of your mind anymore. There’s an old saying that holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Forgiveness is sort of the opposite of that, or rather, the remedy. If being hurt or angry is drinking poison, than forgiving is taking the antidote. It’s saying that you’re moving on. By letting go of the anger and pain, you’re making room in your head and in your heart for bigger and better things.
A lot of people say to forgive and forget. I am not one of those people.
While I do believe in forgiveness, I don’t believe in forgetting. I used to, but it resulted in the people who hurt me being given multiple chances to hurt me again. Now, I try to forgive but on some level, I remember everything (though there are definitely some parts I wish I could forget). I think forgiving and forgetting leaves you too vulnerable. Remembering helps me to keep my boundaries in place and to stand up for myself. It helps me to protect myself from ending up as a victim again.
For me, forgiving is like keeping the memories, but letting go of the pain that’s associated with them.
I will admit, I find forgiveness to be pretty difficult, but it’s something I try very hard to do. In fact, there are only a handful of people that I’m still struggling to forgive. Some of them are still in my life and some of them aren’t. Either way, it’s a conscious decision that I have to make every day. I still feel the pain from their actions very deeply, and it makes it hard to let go. It’s sort of ironic, because being able to forgive would make it less painful, but it’s the pain that stops me from forgiving. I am still trying though, because I really believe that in the end, I’d be better off. I believe that if I could forgive all of the wrongs against me, my mind would be at peace and I would be happier.
There’s a quote I found a few years ago that really helped me to want to forgive:
“Forgiving is not for others. It is for you. Forgiving is not forgetting. It is remembering without anger. It frees up your power, heals your body, mind and spirit. Forgiveness opens up a pathway to a new place of peace where you can persist despite what happened to you.”
That place of peace mentioned in the quote- that’s what I want, and I fully believe that it is attainable. I still have a long road ahead of me, but I know that the forgiveness that I’ve been able to offer so far has made me feel a lot lighter. It’s helped me to heal and take back my power. As long as I’m holding onto the pain, it’s like I’m allowing the people who hurt me to permanently live in my head. When it comes down to it, I don’t want them there. Offering forgiveness is like handing out eviction notices.
You don’t have to tell someone that you forgive them.
If you’re trying to repair a relationship, then it might be helpful to have a conversation about forgiveness. You can choose to tell the person that they’re forgiven (or that you’re working on it), the same way you can make sure that they really understand how much they hurt you.
If the person who hurt you is no longer going to be a part of your life, you can make the quiet decision to forgive and move on without ever letting them know. Remember, forgiveness is for you, not for the person you’re forgiving. For example, for the last few years, I’ve been working on forgiving my father for all of the ways he hurt me. I’ve even prayed for him. But that doesn’t mean that I will ever reach out to him to tell him that once it finally happens. It isn’t out of spite or fear; it just isn’t a line of communication that I ever want to reopen. And I’ve learned that that’s okay. It doesn’t take away from the healing power of forgiveness if he doesn’t know about it.
To sum up, forgiveness is a gift that you give to yourself.
It’s taking back your power and saying that you aren’t going to let your anger or hurt or fear control your thoughts anymore. Forgiving is moving on and leaving the past where it belongs: in the past. It’s also a personal choice and you are not wrong if you decide that it isn’t something you want to do. Only you can know what is the right choice for you.
Here are some other quotes about forgiveness that helped me to decide that it was the right choice for me:
(My favorite one is big and bold and pink.)
- Forgive not because they deserve forgiveness but because you deserve peace.
- Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. It is a gift to yourself.
- Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does change the future.
- Forgiveness isn’t approving what happened. It is choosing to rise above it. It is an act of self love.
- To heal a wound, you have to stop touching it.
- When you choose to forgive those who have hurt you, you take away their power.
Regardless of whether or not you decide to forgive, I wish you healing and hope you give yourself patience and grace while you deal with your pain. Again, however you feel is completely valid. You and your feelings matter.