Forgiveness is an eleven-letter word – a word longer than most in the English language – but even despite its length, its meaning is far, far more than the collection of letters on paper, or syllables in the air. Forgiving is one of the most wonderful things you can do for yourself – no matter who you need to forgive and for what. Holding a grudge or dwelling on a past offense against you is not healthy for your mind, soul, or even your physical state. Whether you need to forgive someone for something they have done to you, or if you need to forgive yourself for past behaviors, forgiveness is an extremely powerful force, and it can be an essential piece in the mental quilt you assemble and keep close at hand to help support your ongoing recovery.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is, in part, a willingness to drop the narrative of a particular injustice against you, or, in the case of forgiving oneself, a mistake you made when you were younger, less wise, clouded, or otherwise impaired. In order to forgive others, and ourselves, we need to stop telling ourselves the same terrible, upsetting, or regretful stories over and over again. The practice and process of holding a grudge simply puts us through the hurt time and time again, and serves no positive purpose. We imagine that not forgiving someone (or ourselves) is a form of punishment for the guilty, but the person who does not forgive is only causing more suffering for himself or herself.
When we forgive, we are not saying our pain is gone, or that we were not hurt by the past action. We are not implying that we are whole again, or that we are the same as we were before the offense occurred, nor are we saying that life can simply go on from here as normal, or as things were in the past. We are not letting the other person – or in the case of self-forgiveness – entirely off the hook for the injustice. Of course, the transgression still happened. In many cases, we are still hurt. What happened is still important, and depending on the level of the wrongdoing, it is very likely we will never completely forget that it happened.
However, when we forgive, we allow ourselves to stop repeating the story to ourselves over and over. By forgiving ourselves or someone else, it is, in a way, agreeing to leave the past in the past, fully knowing we cannot change things now, and that we must move forward from here. We are not “forgiving and forgetting,” as the saying goes, as we likely will not forget, but if we forgive, we can go on with our lives, live in the moment, and let bygones be bygones as we go on living our lives.
Why is Forgiveness Important?
Forgiveness is not just important – it is vital. However, with that said, it can be extremely difficult. If we first realize how important it truly is, though, then we can begin to work towards this state and begin to heal. Forgiveness is not just a demonstration of strength, it is also a manifestation of it, and it provides us with even more strength to move forward. It helps us to come to terms with an event or experience to the point where we can set much of the anger and hurt free and let it go. Although at first or in some ways, it may seem that forgiveness is a weakness, but it is truly the complete opposite.
There are many reasons forgiveness is important for us. It is actually far more important for the person doing the forgiving than for the person being forgiven, although it may not logically appear that way. Although forgiveness certainly can take a weight off the shoulders of the offender, it is the victim that will experience even greater feelings of freedom. Forgiveness allows the victim to feel more at peace; the mental energy required to hold a grudge is draining, and just makes one feel more depressed and stressed. In fact, continuing to be angry about something in the long term can lead to depression, anger, self-loathing, lowered self-esteem, and even heart and blood pressure issues.
Secondly, it gives the forgiver permission to be happy again. When this weight is released, to some degree, so is the pain that was caused. It allows the individual to feel happy again. He or she can once again relax, let go, de-stress, and experience feelings of optimism.
When we forgive ourselves or others, we can feel empowered over our feelings. We can feel hope and happiness again, and move forward from there.
Although forgiving others may feel like a favor to them, it is really a favor to ourselves. There are many aspects and steps to working towards forgiveness, and not everyone will go through all of them, each of them are worth mentioning. First of all, it is most important to remember that the past is the past, and it cannot be changed, no matter how hard we wish it could be. When trying to forgive someone else for wrongdoing against you, first take time to reconnect with yourself. Although you likely have been feeling the pain for some time, really take time to dive in deep and feel it fully before moving on. Don’t waver in your desire to forgive, though – this is all part of the process.
You need to switch the focus from blaming others to understanding yourself. You must really deeply evaluate your feelings and the way you were hurt more than you need to evaluate the actions of the other person. When you do approach the person about it, remember, it is not your job to tell him or her what to do. Perhaps he or she has not even asked for forgiveness or does not want it from you, but that does not matter.
Further, you need to take responsibility for your part in what happened. Every problem between two people is two sided, and you may see the situation far differently from one another. It is most important to let go of your resentments, and to “be kind instead of right.” Forgiveness is not about who was right and who was wrong, it is about letting go of the pain of the past.
Most importantly, refrain from judging the other person and send him or her love. Be present in the now and practice giving, and stop looking for more reasons to continue to be angry about what happened in the past. This is how you become free.
If you are in recovery, it is likely that you did things in the past that do not make you proud, and as a result, you may need to forgive yourself. Just as you must remember that the past is the past when forgiving someone else, that is even more important to remember when it is yourself you are forgiving. When you were an active drug or alcohol abuser, you were not the true, full evolution of your current self. You did the best you could at the time under the circumstances, and perhaps the drugs and alcohol made some decisions for you without your full consent. Now that you are on the healthy and rational path to recovery, you are surely acting according to your morals and values more consistently, and that is something wonderful.
Looking back on your past, identify your biggest regrets. If it is possible to apologize for your mistakes to another person, do so. If it is not, tackle them in some other way and try to work through them. Then forgive yourself, turn the page, and move on. There is nothing more you can do. There is no reason to continue to dwell upon these things. Cut yourself some slack and move forward with self love.
Although there will be days where you return to self directed anger and regret, remember these steps and remind yourself you have moved beyond the pain and are moving forward in the spirit of forgiveness. This difficult process but simple act will change your life, and your views and experience of it.
Forgiveness is a powerful action that we have the power to create. It can be a very challenging thing to do, depending on how much we have been hurt and whom we need to forgive. However, it is also extremely important and vital to our lives as happy humans. If we do not forgive others for their wrongdoings, we are only punishing ourselves. We will find ourselves trapped in a vicious cycle of anger and pain if we do not let the negative things of the past go and move above and beyond them. However, if we do forgive – even if we do not forget – we can grow and live and be free moving forward, and experience all the beauty of life once again.
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