What Is and Isn’t Forgiveness?

Tree and SkyWe are all wounded on some level. Whether it was the mean girls in middle school or high school who made fun of our hair, clothes, or acne or an alcoholic father who did unspeakable things when he had too much to drink and no one else was around, we have scars.

Each one of those scars carries with it a story. A story chalk full of emotions that have helped to indelibly burn those experiences into our hearts and minds. An old cliché states, “Time can heal all wounds.” While time if often helpful, this adage is not completely true. There is much more involved in healing than the simple passage of time.

Healing involves forgiveness. The concept of forgiveness is tough for us to stomach at times. It is especially difficult when the person who wronged us does not ask for forgiveness or show remorse for their offense toward us. For some, the idea of forgiveness brings to mind another adage, “Forgive and forget.” That seems like an impossible response to the deep hurt we feel. Part of the reason many people struggle with the idea of forgiveness is that they do not really know what real forgiveness is and isn’t.

Forgiveness is:

  1. Active. Being able to think about how we’ve been hurt and give up the ideas of getting even or wishing ill on the person who wronged us. If you think about someone who has hurt you and you can feel the anger or desire for revenge rising up inside, it’s a sign that you haven’t yet gone through the process of forgiveness.
  2. A process. There are no magic formulas for forgiving someone. A certain amount of time is not guaranteed to lead to forgiveness. There are many difficult emotions wrapped up in our woundedness. At times, we might need to talk with pastoral counselor or mental health counselor in an individual counseling or group counseling setting in order to process our hurts and get to the place where we can begin to forgive.
  3. Freeing. Harboring ill feelings toward someone else doesn’t do anything to them. However, the research shows that the negative feelings we hold on to when we do not forgive can eat us alive. Those feelings are linked to gastrointestinal issues, high blood pressure, ulcers, and other stress-related health issues. To truly be whole and move forward, forgiveness is a must. It is an absolute necessity for healing.

Forgiveness isn’t:

  1. Forgetting. We humans will never forget. We may be able to work through the issues so it doesn’t hurt so badly when we remember, but thinking true forgiveness must include forgetting
  2. Allowing someone to continue to hurt you. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you automatically give them the same place in your life. If someone has proven that his/her apologies don’t lead to behavior change, you do not have to let that person continue to hurt you in the name of forgiveness. For example, if your husband hits you when he is angry, forgiveness doesn’t mean that you stay in that relationship and allow him to continue to hit you. Will you ever be able to forgive him? It is possible. But you do not have to allow him to have the same place in your life that puts you at risk for more hurt or abuse.
  3. Easy. Often, the person who wronged us will never apologize. It is hard to forgive someone who doesn’t feel he/she did anything wrong. When someone doesn’t show remorse, it is tough to be the bigger person, put aside our pain, and in essence, let him/her off the hook. We want justice. When we don’t get justice, we feel gypped. It’s troublesome because we like everything to be in balance. Someone not being held accountable for hurting someone else is unfair, which is tough for us to swallow.

One more thing forgiveness is-possible. While it may seem unattainable based on the deep level of hurt we’ve experience, forgiveness is always possible if we are willing. It may require the help of a professional counselor or the support of your family or faith community, but it is possible. Take whatever steps you need to take start on the path of healing.

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