So often, we hear, “Oh, just forgive and forget already!”
That is a statement so easy to say but so hard to live by. Even when we do forgive, the forgetting part may be a bit of a stretch, and that’s okay.
When we feel we have been wronged in some way, where do we begin to understand the implications of forgiveness and the understanding that it is essential for our growth?
Perhaps you had a Grandparent, parent, or pastor who taught you to forgive others when they have done wrong by us or harmed us in some way. Maybe they even quoted Alexander Pope and told you, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”
But let’s get something straight. Forgiveness is not always for the person who did you wrong. It is often for you and you alone.
You may be asking, “But Stacey, how do I forgive things like physical abuse, infidelity, sexual misconduct, lies, secrets, or financial ruin?”
My answer would be the same way you eat an elephant; one bite at a time. No, seriously, forgiveness may feel like it comes in all shapes and sizes, but it is intrinsically the same, no matter the crime.
Let’s look at the types of forgiveness that can heal us in profound ways. There is asking for forgiveness, giving forgiveness to a living person, giving forgiveness to someone who has passed, and forgiving yourself.
“Forgiveness is a reflection of loving yourself enough to move on.” –Dr. Steve Maraboli
Asking for forgiveness is necessary when you were inappropriate or harmed someone emotionally, physically, or spiritually. It tends to be the easiest of the forms of forgiveness if you are willing to be big enough to see the error in your ways.
It will not be enough to give lip service to the person you mistreated. You will also have to stop the behavior in the future.
Giving forgiveness is when someone hurt or harmed you intentionally or even unintentionally. This is the one that is often the most difficult to do as you may still be immersed in fear and anger. There is fear that it may happen again and anger that it happened in the first place.
As in asking for forgiveness, giving forgiveness to others cannot be riddled with hypocrisy, or else you are just blindly checking a box off of a list of things that may still come back to haunt you.
When you forgive someone out of obligation, you are drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Louis B. Smedes (Christian author)
Forgiving someone who is no longer living can feel phony at times. I mean, unless you have a pipeline to the afterlife, how do you know they heard you? Well, when you forgive someone who has died, you forgive for your own closure. It is quite cathartic to visit the grave or simply get in a quiet place of reflection and feel the weight being lifted from your shoulders when you can let go of past hurts.
Forgiving yourself is an area where I often get theologians to contend with me. If you are of the Christian faith, being forgiven by God should mean you do not have to forgive yourself. But, in my experience, the clients who had the most success moving into their future selves were able to acknowledge that they had a part in a situation where they were not at their best.
As an example, my husband had an affair that lasted almost six months before I discovered it. Why would he do such a thing just months after we renewed our vows at our 25th wedding anniversary party?
I did some digging and snooping as we worked with our pastor and read a lot of self-help books. I realized that he and the other woman (who knew he was married) were not the only ones at fault. I had to look deep and discover that I had a small part in distancing my husband form me when I chose to work extra night jobs and became so obsessed with bills and finances that I lost sight of the need for us to just spend time with each other. It was a crazy period of our lives where we simply played tag with our schedules and never made the time to just enjoy the company of one another.
“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” – Robert Quillen.
If you are looking to become a complete person willing to grow and learn from every life experience (good or bad), then you are ready to forgive and be forgiven. If you do not know where to start, contact your favorite pastor, rabbi, or coach to worth through your intense feelings.
Know that you may be putting in some hard work that may not feel good in the beginning. Recognize this and keep taking the next step. Like a toddler learning to walk, you may have to fall a few times, get up, brush off the dust, but just keep moving forward.