Forgiveness can be a tricky concept to understand. Most of us are taught “to forgive is to forget.” That when we no longer think about an upsetting event and forget the wrongs we’ve encountered, we have forgiven. But is that really true? In this blog post, we will explore what forgiveness is, what it isn’t, how it can help us, and how we can tell if we have truly forgiven someone or something. We’ll also look at how forgiveness can help you move forward and live your life free of the past.
What Is Forgiveness
According to the Oxford Dictionary to forgive means ‘to stop feeling angry with someone who has done something to harm, annoy, or upset you; to stop feeling angry with yourself.’
At its core, forgiveness is a decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward someone or a group who has wronged you or harmed you – whether intentionally or unintentionally – and release any feelings of bitterness, hurt, or anger you may have toward them. When you truly forgive, you are no longer tied down by the bad memories or negative emotions associated with the painful experience. Instead, you feel calm, peace and joy within your heart.
What Forgiveness Isn’t
When you start to think about forgiving someone who has hurt you, it can seem like an impossible task.
It’s natural to feel as though forgiveness requires some type of mutual understanding or agreement between you and the person who wronged you, but that isn’t actually what forgiveness is.
In fact, forgiveness isn’t even really about that person at all – it’s more about the journey you take to find closure and peace within yourself. Forgiveness isn’t a simple admission of guilt or an acknowledgement that a wrong was committed; nor does it have to involve any interaction with the other party if you’d rather not go down that route.
It isn’t about excusing someone for their actions or condoning the offenses they committed against you. You don’t have to take a perpetrator back into your life just because you forgive them, and forgiveness doesn’t mean that they won’t face any legal repercussions if applicable.
Forgiveness is not about denying that something happened or pretending that it didn’t matter. It’s about freeing yourself from the toxic grip of the negative emotions the event left behind and allowing yourself to heal.
It’s an essential step in being able to move forward from a difficult experience and no longer have this experience influence how you think, feel and act or who you want to become in the future.
How Can Forgiveness Help Me
Forgiving yourself or others can help you heal mentally and emotionally by restoring inner peace and reducing stress levels caused by negative emotions like guilt, shame, anger, fear, anxiety, etc., that often arise after experiencing harm or trauma.
Being able to forgive gives you freedom from your past and helps you reclaim your own power so you can move forward with your life in more meaningful ways because when you release yourself from the burden of resentment, anger, and hurt, you are able to put the past behind you.
Emotionally and psychologically unencumbered, you can now open up space in your heart for joy, peace, love, acceptance and understanding – all of which are essential elements of true happiness and well-being!
How Do I Know I’ve Forgiven
Most of my clients have answered this question by saying, “When I no longer think of the event/person and the hurt it/they caused me.” It’s a valid answer. However, that’s just part of the story when it comes to being forgiven. Truly forgiving is having no distressing thoughts nor negative feelings toward the event or person so that when you do happen to think about it again your emotions stay at a peaceful and calm level. That is when you have truly forgiven and let go – when even the thought of what happened does not cajole any negative feelings in you.
You see when we choose to forgive someone, it often feels like a mental process or activity. You say, “I forgive you.” to the person who wronged you (either in their physical presence or in your mind) and you think you have forgiven. Unfortunately, saying the words ‘I forgive you.’ that does not mean you have let go of the hurt or forgiven the wrong doer.
One example of this is illustrated by the story of one my clients who had a hard time forgiving her ex-husband for cheating during their 10-year marriage. When I asked her if she had forgiven her ex-husband, she replied with an angry tone ‘I have forgiven but I have not forgotten.’ Her strong emotional reaction indicated she had not been able to forgive yet…even though she genuinely thought she had forgiven him. (It also reveals how difficult it can be to genuinely forgive someone who has wronged us.)
Even though it may seem like a mental process, forgiveness is an emotional process. You may think you’ve forgiven someone for something that upset you, but forgiveness happens when you feel forgiveness. It’s like putting down a heavy weight that you’ve been carrying around. Instead of feeling weighed down by anger and other lingering negative emotions, you feel mentally and emotionally lighter.
It is important to remember that only when the emotions you felt during and after the hurtful event have been completely cleared away will you feel calmer, at peace and maybe even neutral towards the person who wronged you. This is when you have reached the point of forgiveness.
Though it isn’t necessary, but if you can feel empathy towards the person who wronged you – seeing them not as an enemy or a villain, but as another human who could have just made different decisions – that’s a huge indicator (in case you needed one) that your journey of forgiveness is (unquestionably) complete.
And if you’re wondering ‘Will I ever forget the event?’, from my experience of helping others forgive, I can confidently say, ‘Yes, most people who have truly forgiven no longer think of the event and are able to move on from the past. A few may still remember the experience, but they no longer feel hurt or anger or other feelings like guilt, shame, fear etc., related to the event(s) in question.’
Forgiveness is an important tool for healing after experiencing pain or trauma resulting from another person’s actions (or our own). It helps us let go of resentment, anger, and hurt so that we can move forward with hope instead of staying stuck in bitterness or regret over what has been done – and cannot be undone – in the past.
It may take some time before you are ready to forgive someone who has wronged you – and that’s okay. Taking your time to process your emotions is important for true healing to occur; only then will forgiveness come naturally.
True forgiveness involves acknowledging your pain while also making a conscious decision to release all lingering residual hurt, anger and resentment caused by whatever happened in the past. It helps you take back your power so that you can start to live your life again with increased confidence, inner strength and hope rather than anxiety, anger, and anguish.
With true forgiveness you feel calm, at ease and peace – and ultimately free!