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Forgiveness–A Gift To Yourself

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Forgiveness—A Gift To Yourself

Have you ever heard anyone say these words—or have you said them yourself?

“I’ll never forgive him for that!”

Anyone who expresses this sentiment generally doesn’t understand what forgiveness is.

What Forgiveness Isn’t

            It’s just as important to understand what forgiveness isn’t as it is to understand what forgiveness is.

First and foremost, forgiveness never, ever means, “What you did to me is okay.” For example, consider abuse. Abuse is never okay. Neither are a lot of other things that people do to each other.

Furthermore, the person who offended you may never be sorry for hurting you. Does that stop you from forgiving?

Let’s say that all through high school there was a classmate who bullied you relentlessly and used to call you a particularly offensive nickname. Several years after you graduate, you run into her. She greets you with the nickname—loudly, to make sure others can hear her, just like she did in high school. You smile and say you’d hoped that was all in the past. She retorts, “Not on your life! You deserved it then, and you deserve it now!”

Obviously, the bully doesn’t regret her actions—so how can you forgive her?

What Forgiveness Is

Here’s what many people don’t understand: Forgiveness is not for the person who hurt you. Forgiveness is for you.

Forgiving someone doesn’t say, “I don’t care that you hurt me.” Of course you care.

The beauty of forgiveness is what it does say: “What you did to me is not okay, and I refuse to allow what you did to me to affect me the rest of my life!”

It’s a Process

            Forgiveness isn’t always automatic, but it is always a matter of choice.

            Some things are easy to let go of. The person ahead of you in the checkout line at the grocery store steps on your toe, and immediately says they’re sorry. And even if the person doesn’t apologize or otherwise acknowledge what they did, you’ll probably forget all about the incident by the time you get home.

But some things that happen to you take longer to get over. And here’s the secret: How long it takes to get over something is entirely up to you! Moreover, it’s perfectly okay if it takes a while. You’ll get there—if you want to.

The Key to Forgiveness

            You are not responsible for what someone does to you, but you are responsible for how you respond to it.

Imagine for a moment that your partner has left you. You’re going to experience a lot of feelings, such as hurt, anger, resentment, fear, and bitterness, to name just a few. Those are natural, understandable emotional reactions, and there is nothing wrong with any feeling that you feel. As you go through the grieving process and move forward with your life, though, the sting of these uncomfortable emotions will lessen and eventually pass altogether.

But let’s say you choose to hang on to those feelings. You keep reminding yourself how you’ve been victimized, how unfairly you’ve been treated, how hurt you are, and how much you hate your ex-partner. You tell to anyone who will listen the details of how your partner ruined your life. You want people to hate your ex as much as you do, and to extend their sympathy and support to you.

By choosing to hang on to the hatred and anger, you are choosing not to heal and move forward.

You have made yourself into a victim—and the victimizer is you!

Your ex’s treatment of you was wrong and will never, ever be okay—no doubt about it. But you have a life to live, and how you live it is your choice. You can choose to spend it stuck in the muck of bitterness and resentment. Or you can acknowledge that it hurt when your partner left you, you can grieve appropriately, and move on.

Letting go; moving forward; making the best of bad situations; refusing to allow other people’s words or actions to negatively affect your life—that’s forgiveness.

Question: How has forgiveness affected your life?

Written by: Lisa J. Bjornstad, PsyD., LMFT, CADC