There’s a lot of talk about forgiveness. No doubt you’ve heard someone say at some point in their lives that you have to forgive in order to move on. Forgiveness is necessary for healing. Maybe this is true for you and maybe it’s not. If holding yourself or someone else on the hook for past wrong-doings or atrocities is blocking you from living the meaning filled life you want to live, then forgiveness might be a place to take pause.
What does forgiveness mean to you? Think about it for a moment. How would you know you have forgiven? Are you thinking about how you would feel?
- You wouldn’t feel angry anymore, or maybe your grief, pain, or hurt would be gone
- When your thoughts drifted to the wrongdoing you would be unaffected
- You would feel peace and happiness
- You would feel completely relieved of the pain from the wrongdoing
That’s a pleasant idea. Have you ever forgiven someone and felt great about it and then a week later thought about the violation and then felt pissed of all over again? Of course you have. That’s because forgiveness is an action, not an emotion. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what happened was ever “okay” or permissible. Forgiveness doesn’t mean not being angered, saddened, or hurt by what happened anymore. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you get a magic eraser that wipes away your experience and the emotions that go along with it.
What does being unwilling to forgive mean to you? How do you continue to punish the person(s) at fault? How do you punish yourself? Do you drink or use drugs? Do you isolate or avoid relationships? Do you engage in self harm? Do you stay depressed and fail to thrive? What is the cost is being unwilling to forgive? Is it worth sacrificing your life for?
What would it mean if you chose to live a meaningful and fulfilling life after such trauma, loss, grief, abandonment, or pain? What would it mean about what happened? Have you ever thought to yourself: If I am living my best life then it would mean…
- what happened wasn’t that bad
- what happened didn’t matter
- people will think it’s all okay
- the person who hurt me will think what they did wasn’t a big deal
What if forgiving is NOT about feeling a certain way about a person, yourself, or what happened? What if forgiveness is NOT saying what happened was okay or permissible? What if forgiving IS about the way you choose to live your life today, tomorrow, and the next day. Forgiveness means “to give what went before the harm was done” (Hayes et al, 1999).
If you were to give yourself the life that went before the trauma, hurt, or wrongdoing, what would that life look like? Would you be taking care of yourself? Would you show yourself love? Would you be living a connected and vital life? Can you imagine being willing to take forgiving action in your own life even if the “feelings of forgiveness” come and go?
Consider these questions and consider the cost of fighting with forgiveness. As soon as we let go of the struggle we are free to take our lives in whatever direction we choose. It’s not uncommon for individuals not to even know what direction they want their life because they have been turned around, staring backwards, battling and struggling with this monster behind them. Allow yourself the space to imagine the possibilities of what life lies in front of you.