Last year at this time, I wrote a piece about forgiveness, which deals with an everyday human experience that can improve your life.
The possibility and difficulty of forgiving others, yourself, your parents or even your God, are not to be minimized. Yet, forgiveness is an awesome human power and it's worth understanding. With the new season in mind, I thought I'd offer a reflection that can lead each of us to a new start.
Why Forgive? Religious teachings and psychological insight are practically one and the same when it comes to forgiveness. When we hold on to our pain or resentment, we are burdened by them. We forgive because we need to lighten our load, and not carry pain forward relentlessly. Whether it's the Yom Kippur service in Judaism, the redemptive message of Easter or a recovering alcoholic’s commitment to a fearless moral inventory, forgiving and asking for forgiveness is a human blessing.
Anyone reading this has been hurt or has hurt someone. We are all in need of forgiveness. Perhaps you let your anger hurt others; or someone just scammed you, or you were abused as a child. The need for forgiveness is everywhere. In my expertise, divorce, hurt and blame abound. Even in good marriages, places of pain persist. Where there are relationships, there will be a need for forgiveness.
Forgive Does Not Mean Forget: We are told over and over again, that we should forgive and forget. In my opinion, forgiving is sufficient, forgetting may be asking too much, or simply be stupid. After all, if someone hurt you, it’s a good idea to be aware that it could happen again. And if you learned something wise from forgiving someone, it is a good thing to remember how you came to learn the lesson that has proved so valuable.
While forgiveness is essential for overcoming a divorce, it has a place of everyone, regardless of age, or level of hurt. It should be differentiated from its close cousin acceptance, which while important, is essentially passive. Everyone has something that they can be forgiven for and that they must forgive.
Ten Sides to Forgiveness:
Will You Forgive? Some people never forgive and never forget. It’s just asking too much. The trauma was too great, the wound too deep, the injustice too profound. But there may be a price. The cost of never consider the possibility of forgiving is that you risk remaining a victim forever – and if you’re not careful, you can assume a victim persona that can impact future relationships and even your children.
Try forgiving yourself first. Do a fearless moral inventory. You may discover that you’re holding onto many hurts. You may also discover that there are people you love who suffer as a consequence of your anger, judgment or your tendency to withdraw. The fact that you’re just trying to protect yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t hurt others. Do the good therapy required, forgive yourself, love yourself — and work on improving. That's a healing for the world.
Have you been traumatized? If so, it will require a specialized treatment, but it's worth it. Trauma can affect your most dear relationships and mess up those going forward. There's good help out there; take advantage of it.
Finally, address the ways that you’re victimized in current relationships; forgive what can be forgiven, but keep realistic. You don’t have to forget. It will actually make you stronger. If you see that he won’t change, you can get up and leave. A victim often feels like a child. A realistic person, who has been hurt, is still an adult and can take steps if required. On the other hand, if he has some health, he may let go of his own hurt with you and fight for the relationship. I have seen relationships reignite when both sides own the truth. It can be a great entry way to couple counseling.
Conclusion: The ability to truly forgive is a gift. It is not as simple as wanting to forgive or saying that you’re sorry to someone you’ve hurt. We all wish life was that simple.
If you do the work of forgiveness, you actually mature. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Life is not fair. You can be traumatized, you can be bitter, you can be angry – but you’re better off being realistic and dealing with those you love from a place of emotional clarity.
The past does not have to dictate your future. But, the choice, when possible, is yours. There is a power to being human. And, forgiveness may be one of our greatest strengths.