Let us now explore what forgiveness is and what it is not. Let me try to convince you a bit more why you need for forgive. You might find it offensive for someone to ask you to forgive or you might find it too hard to forgive. Probably because you do not understand what forgiveness is.
Forgiveness does not mean pretending nothing happened. It does not mean putting yourself again in the same situation or relationship that you got hurt in in the first place. It does not mean letting the person who hurt you to get away with it. And it absolutely does not mean that you forget.
Forgiveness starts with understanding that you are a person who has a right to be treated with respect. Do not deny that you are hurt. If you actually do not admit that you are hurt, then you will not be in a position to forgive! Remember, feelings and attitude follow repeated actions.
Christianity is clear on that God expects us to forgive as He has forgiven us. Jesus is clear says that God’s forgiveness of our sins is completely dependent on our forgiving others. God gives Grace to carry out His commands. Most other religions encourage forgiveness too in a variety of way.
True forgiveness has three steps:
- Accepting that we were truly unfairly and wrongly treated.
- Accepting that we have a right to feel angry and that others do not have a right to hurt us.
- Giving up the right to hold onto our anger which we have a right to feel. This simply means that we choose to stop being angry even though we have a right to feel so and having a positive attitude towards the person who hurt you.
Forgiveness is an act of mercy to the offender who does not deserve it. Forgiveness is a gift to ourselves and the offender which helps to change the relationship and change us. Forgiveness helps us to reclaim our power and right to be happy and peaceful and enjoy healthy relationships. Refusing to forgive gives away that power to the person who hurt us. We constantly have the power to reclaim that power. Many times, we do not want to. Do you want to?
Forgiveness is a paradox. Only when you give do you become enriched. It is a gift to another person who does not deserve it. It is trying as much as you can to treat the offender, even just by thoughts, with respect simply for being human despite everything. Simply acknowledging that the offender is worthy of respect even though he/she/they never gave it.
Therefore, forgiveness is more than
- Accepting what happened or simply moving on
- Ceasing to be angry; forgiveness should lead to a change of attitude towards the offender
- Being neutral towards the offender; this may be part of the process but not the destination. The destination is experiencing positive feelings towards the offender. This may be hard at this stage to imagine but it gives you an awareness of the depth of forgiving
- Making yourself feel good; just because you are tired of feeling bad and want to feel good is not motivation enough and should not be the final destination. Forgiving finally shifts the focus from ‘myself’ to the other who hurt me
Forgiveness is NOT:
Condoning or excusing
This is putting up with the abuse in silence or convincing yourself that you deserved the abuse. Don’t pretend that you were not injured or that the offender did not really mean to hurt you. Forgiveness means admitting that something wrong was done to you and should not be repeated.
We cannot forget painful experiences and do not allow anyone to convince you otherwise. In a similar vein, just because you remember does not mean you have not forgiven. Remember the three steps in forgiving.
Sometimes the person who hurt us was acting justly and in this case forgiveness is not necessary. We need to be honest whether indeed the person was malicious or had the right to exercise certain punitive measures on us.
True forgiveness is not simply re-evaluating the hurtful incident and concluding that you had over-reacted and now you need to calm down. Forgiveness positively alters how you view those who hurt you.
Pretending you have forgiven in order to look good or make the person who hurt you feel terrible. Such pretend-forgivers treat their offenders with contempt and want revenge. Others pretend this because they want the world to believe they cannot be hurt by people; that they are very strong. Others are fake-forgivers because they do not want to change their own weaknesses and therefore always blame someone else when something wrong happened; “had you not talked to me that way, I would not have reacted this way but I forgive you.” What kind of forgiver are you?
Forgiveness is related to but different from reconciliation
One may forgive but not reconcile. Forgiving is a personal choice. Reconciliation is dependent on both parties. It is not always possible and that does not mean forgiveness has not happened.
(Summarized and Developed from: Robert Enright’s Forgiveness is a Choice Manual)