Forgiveness or the ability to let go of pain, is something we all struggle with. It honestly doesn’t matter how old you are, how many painful experiences you’ve endured (**see below, if this describes you**) forgiving others is hard to do. Ruth Graham Bell is quoted as saying, “A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” The truth is, this does not just apply to marriage; it apply’s to all relationships. Part of the struggle with this topic is that there are many experts who believe forgiveness is not necessary, and they would be correct. Forgiveness is not necessary. Life will continue if you choose to not forgive. It’s not a primal need to survive or get through life. Forgiveness is only necessary for those who choose to thrive in life.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that when we forgive someone we are letting the other person off the hook of responsibility or excusing what happened. Consequences still exist when you choose to forgive someone. Boundaries still exist when you choose to forgive someone. Forgiveness does not equal reconciliation, forgiveness paves the way towards reconciliation. True, the deeper the wound, the harder it is to forgive. It does not mean that the offense or hurt did not happen. It is not minimizing someone’s hurt or pain. It has nothing to do with the other person…. We do not forgive someone because they deserve it. We forgive others because we want to thrive. Forgiveness is not a magic pill that once we take it, the pain we are experiencing is over.
What Forgiveness Is
What makes this quality so difficult is that it encompasses both the thinking and feeling part of our brains. The left side (or thinking part) of our brain needs to take all our thoughts captive. The right side (or feeling part) of our brain needs to understand and learn from our emotions. Healthy forgiveness is an intentional activity where we are willing to work on both of these parts at the same time. This is no small feat. This is an Everest size task that can only, truly be done in stages and because you believe that YOU are worth it…..did you catch that? YOU are worth forgiving those who have hurt, wounded, destroyed a piece of you. Forgiveness is a process that helps us strengthen and develop our character in immeasurable ways. The deeper the wound, the more often we may be triggered back into bitterness instead of forgiveness. The process of forgiving weaves us through life, allowing us to heal a little piece at a time. Within the context of healing, the moments of forgiveness, while they may feel huge, are actually small. It’s the courage to take these moment-by-moment steps….that’s how a climber summit’s Everest. Not in one large leap, but in several small moments.
The Anatomy of True Forgiveness
- Recognize that this is a process. Meaning, you may go through this a few times before you have completed it. That’s ok…in fact, it’s good! It’s better to heal slowly than quickly. True, authentic healing occurs slowly.
- Boundaries help define who we are and who we are not. When someone has been hurt, it takes insight into the self to see whether a boundary needs to be established or whether a boundary has been violated.
- Being real, heartfelt, earnest, genuine is being sincere. While not complicated, being sincere is often harder than being flippant or counterfeit or insincere. The level of vulnerability that comes with being sincere can make this trait seem difficult to master (just as a quick side note on vulnerability, we often avoid this out of fear of criticism and judgement, so if you want to master being sincere, first, look at whether fear keeps you from being vulnerable).
- Probably the most important foundation of true forgiveness is our ability to (1) become more self-aware and (2) become more compassionate with ourself. Self-awareness is our own ability to look inside our self, evaluate (sincerely) our own thoughts, behaviors and feelings and make the appropriate adjustments. In order to do this, we need to be compassionate as well. Our natural instincts kick in when we are self-critical and will keep us from feeling beat-up. When we are compassionate with our self and become more aware of our self (our thoughts, feelings, behaviors), we are able to set appropriate boundaries and work through the hurt in our lives.
Maybe, as you read this, you realize that the person you need to forgive the most is yourself. It does not matter what you did or how you got to where you are at. YOU deserve to be forgiven!
**For those who have endured years of painful experiences or trauma, forgiveness is something all~together difficult. The difficulty does not come in a different process but by recognizing the impact past events play in your present life. If you have worked and struggled with forgiveness and feel as if you are completely stuck, please locate a therapist in your community to talk through each situation. Therapy is an investment in your self….& one you deserve to make! Here are a few websites where you can look for therapist in your local area:
Therapist Locator through the American Association of Marriage & Family Therapist
Counseling Referrals through Focus on the Family
Therapist through Good Therapy
Christian Counselors through the American Association of Christian Counselors
Therapist trained in the Gottman Method of Therapy