What Is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is often talked about, sometimes practiced and seldom truly understood. Perhaps it is because it is misunderstood that many of us struggle to grasp it and make it work for us. Certainly, we are given plenty of reasons why we should forgive; many of them seem to centre on the offender. But what is it really? And what does it mean to me, the one who has been hurt?

“But If I Forgive Him, He Gets Away With It!”

This is one of the most common misunderstandings that surround forgiveness. It appears that an offender gets to escape, leaving a trail of devastation behind and never has to pay. In the meantime, the victim of the wrongdoing has to pay every day. It seems very unfair.

But hanging onto anger and holding a grudge is not actually making an offender pay. The person who’s paying is you! The offender is often long gone from the scene of the crime and may have no idea whether you have forgiven the offence or not. In the meantime you are allowing the offender and the offence to live on in your mind, controlling your thought life and emotions and making you miserable.

Letting Go of the Desire for What Should Have Been

According to Valarie Harper, American actress, “forgiveness is giving up the wish that things could be different.” In other words, letting go of the desire for what should have been. You SHOULD have been treated well; with honesty, integrity, kindness or whatever it happens to be. Acknowledge the reality that you weren’t treated the way you should have been. Then give yourself permission to accept it as part of the imperfect world we live in.

Forgiveness Is the Best Revenge

Forget revenge. You’re better than that! Make a deliberate choice instead: evict the offender from your mind and emotions through forgiveness. Being free is far better than revenge, no matter how satisfying that might be at the time. Revenge only leads to more of the same negative emotions and habits. Forgiveness sets you free to begin a new phase of life.

Tips for Practicing Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not usually a one-time event. For most people it’s a process: a daily choice to practice the attitudes and behavior of forgiveness. Try these tips to help you through your journey of forgiveness.

  • Acknowledge the harm done to you: You will never be free if it stays hidden. Try writing it down or acknowledging it to a trusted friend or counselor.
  • Avoid rehearsing the same scenarios over and over. If you are stuck in this habit make a deliberate choice to step out of the cycle. Try to find something positive you can do or think about when you catch yourself falling into the same old trap.
  • Acknowledge the negative emotions you are experiencing then make a choice to set them free. Speak them out loud and in the present tense. “I am releasing my anger. I am no longer controlled by it.” This tells your brain what you want it to do and it will begin to carry out your instructions.
  • Replace negative or critical self-talk with positive affirmations. There are enough critics in the world without us beating ourselves up. Become your own cheer squad.
  • Remind yourself why you are choosing to forgive: because you want a future that is different from what your past has been. You want to make the best of your life, live meaningfully, and be happy. Practicing forgiveness will be hard at first but it will get easier with time. Keep the big picture in mind.
  • Forgive yourself. Acknowledge anything you need to forgive yourself for and seek the forgiveness of others if you need to.
  • Try to see the other person with empathy and remember that we are all human and all need to be forgiven sometimes.

Forgiveness and Future Happiness

While no one can guarantee that only good things will come their way in the future, one thing is certain: If you don’t forgive, your future will be no different from your present. And if you want a future that is different from the past, the key to moving on is forgiveness. The best chance you have at living a healthy, happy, and meaningful life is to let go of grudges and be ready to embrace the good things life brings your way.

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