As Matt and I were taking a walk up our driveway to the mailbox I said to him lightheartedly, “Hey, do you remember that time when we were dating and I didn’t straighten my hair like usual and you said that you liked my hair better straight?” I laughed a little as I said it.
He said, “you know, you bring that up a lot, you really need to let it go.”
I thought for a moment do I really bring this up a lot? Have I not forgiven him?
That conversation got me thinking about forgiveness. I thought that I had forgiven him for that (tiny and insignificant) lapse in judgment but clearly I had not. I was just hiding my resentment in a joke.
What is forgiveness?
One thing about forgiveness that took me a long time to figure out is that forgiveness is NOT excusing or justifying the wrongdoing. It is NOT minimizing the hurt feelings that were caused.
Forgiving is simply (or not so simply) choosing to let go of anger, resentment and hatred.
Forgiveness is a choice. It is a decision to no longer hold an act against the other person as a means of punishment. The other person almost always suffers in one way or another, whether it is from guilt or from the consequences of their actions.
But forgiveness is only a little about the other person and a lot about ourselves. Therefore, true forgiveness cannot be conditional. We can’t decide to forgive only if. Only if you apologize. Only if you say you’ll never do it again.
We can’t control what other people do, nor should we try. If we can’t release our feelings of anger and resentment unless the other person does XYZ we may never be able to. What if the person is no longer alive? What if what we are angry at is not a person at all (a disease, a circumstance, etc)?
How can forgiveness benefit me?
People who practice forgiveness have seen fewer episodes of depression, higher self-esteem, more friends, longer marriages, and closer relationships. They are also much more likely to engage in prosocial behavior and volunteerism. Choosing forgiveness can lead to feelings of empathy and compassion for the offender that easily spills over into other parts of life.
Forgivenness also has a positive impact on physical health. Lower blood pressure, less stress, better immune system function, less pain, lower rates of heart disease and longer life are some benefits.
Forgiveness is powerful. By choosing to let go and release the anger that holds us back we can open ourselves to many beautiful things.
Forgiveness can allow us to become who we want to be. Without the anger to stop us we can love freely and fully.
We can become more present in our lives without having resentments from the past constantly sucking us in.
We can be happy. Like attracts like. If we learn to let go of negative feelings and embrace positive ones then we will attract more positive energy.
It gives us the chance to look deep inside ourselves and connect with our thoughts and emotions.
How can I learn to Forgive?
Recognize that forgiveness is a choice not an emotion. Choose to forgive so that you can heal. Know that forgiveness benefits you much more than the other person. Stop reliving the pain. Remind yourself that you have forgiven (or are trying to forgive if that feels more true).
Empathize with the other person. He is probably not a bad person just a person who made a bad choice (and we all do at times). Did he know that he hurt you? Did she act out of jealousy or pain? Understanding where the other person is coming from can help you to heal by learning that it had little or nothing to do with you and was because of the other person’s own issues.
Accept responsibility for your part and recognize how this has helped you grow. Most negative events help us grow in one way or another. What have you learned? How have you benefited?
Focus on positive thoughts. When a negative thought about the incident enters your mind take a deep breathe and remind yourself that you are learning to forgive. By replacing negative thoughts with positive ones you will develop a sense of peace.
What have I missed? How have you learned to forgive?
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