All my life I’ve been hearing about how important forgiveness is. My high school friend Sue said I should forgive my mother. A therapist said that you can’t forgive another person, though it was important for me to forgive myself – for allowing myself to be hurt, I think. I still haven’t figured that one out.
People throw the word forgiveness around, but generally don’t define the term. I know that some people use it very differently than others. That’s why I tend to shy away from the word. I generally interpret forgiveness as letting someone else know that you think what they did to you was okay, or at least you’re willing to pretend it was okay. I just don’t see that as being very powerful.
So, what does it really mean to “forgive?” Turning to the Oxford English Dictionary I found the following:
To give up, cease to harbour (resentment, wrath).
To give up resentment against, pardon (an offender). Also (now rarely) to abandon one’s claim against (a debtor).
I like this definition – sort of. Harboring resentment and wrath is somewhat akin to harboring a felon. It can get you into trouble – and more often than not, the truth will out. So, giving it up is a good thing. An interesting thing about this first definition is that it has nothing to do with an offender being pardoned. The second one involves pardoning, which implies judging on the part of the pardoner. That’s the piece that bothers me.
My Take on Forgiveness
Now, I may not have read the dictionary, but I have read a lot about forgiveness and here is what I think:
- Releasing the pain of feelings such as anger and resentment is extremely healing, and leaves you feeling better. It also shifts your energy, and people around you inevitably respond favorably to that.
- Pardoning offenders should be left to the justice system, and not the man or woman on the street.
- Releasing the pain of feelings such as anger and resentment is a separate issue from dealing with the ‘offender.’ Forgiveness has nothing to do with anyone other than you.
- The key is to refrain from blaming someone or something else for your pain, and to take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings.
Please Release Me; Let Me Go
When you feel resentment or anger because you feel that someone or something has wronged you, you are hurting yourself. The pain is already inside of you. Another person or thing has triggered those feelings, thereby presenting you with an opportunity to process that and let it go (and you have probably returned the favor). The process of forgiveness can be aided by the so-called offender – or not. The bulk, if not all of the work, is yours to perform.
I Beg Your Pardon
I agree with my therapist who said that you can’t forgive anyone else. When I stop and think about this, it makes sense. I don’t have the power to forgive another human. What I do have power to do is to let that person know what is acceptable to me, and what is not. That’s where the conversation begins.
On the flip side, no one can forgive you, either. That’s your job.
Win-Win or Walk Away
The issue of how you deal with the other person is a separate issue and usually involves boundary issues.
As I see it, you basically have three choices:
- Work it out with each other. Honestly express your feelings and listen to the other person’s point of view.
- Walk away.
- Decide to let the person off of the hook, or somehow smooth things over.
If the other person is up for the task, you can actually work together to help each of you release your respective pain. Understanding each other’s point of view can go a long way towards healing. Compassion and love are the ultimate tools for doing so. This may be the ideal choice, but sadly, is not always possible.
Sometimes you just have to walk away.
In some cases, you can’t walk away, either. You may have to be around this person when you would rather not. You may need to find a way to smooth things over in a way that is in alignment with who you are. Either way, once you have released your pain, your energy has shifted, and the other person will respond to your shift in a favorable way. Congratulations! Not only do you feel better, but you’ve reached a higher state of consciousness, and the other is forced to respond in kind or fade away.
Notice that none of these choices involve judge the offender; deciding whether this person is right or wrong; whether this person acted wrongfully or not. Personally, I don’t feel it’s my place to judge another person. Whenever I find myself doing that, I back away from that judgment and look at what is going on with me.
Keys to Forgiveness
The next time you feel offended, consider turning your attention away from blaming someone or something outside of yourself. Instead, assume that you are responsible for all of your thoughts and feelings, and release those that are causing you pain.
That is no small trick. There are effective ways to doing so, and that is a post for another day. So, stay tuned. And if you have any suggestions, please share them with us.