Like many of you, I’ve had my share of bad experiences over the course of my short life. I’ve dealt with lies, abuse, rejection and family dysfunction. I’ve gone through painful breakups and the death of loved ones, discovering that those events often bring out the worst in people (including me).
Along the way though, I’ve also learned how important it is to forgive. And I used to be the best grudge-holder you’ve ever met. I could give friends and family the “silent treatment” for weeks. I could be so cold when I wanted to be, just to “punish” someone for treating me badly. I was vehemently opposed to forgiving anyone who dared hurt me.
Until I realized that holding on to all that resentment was doing me more harm than the people who did me wrong.
Good ol’ Wikipedia offers this definition of forgiveness:
Forgiveness is the renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.
To forgive, we have to be willing to give something up. But what we gain is so much better.
Here are some truths about forgiveness that we often forget when we’re in the thick of pain and resentment. May they serve as useful reminders for your own journey.
- People don’t have to apologize to you before you can forgive them. You are free to forgive whenever you are ready. “I’m sorry” may be nice to hear, but forgiveness can happen without those words being spoken.
- Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to forget what they did to you. You can keep the memory of the nasty way they treated you or the hurtful things they said. But you don’t have to stay there, in the replay of the pain. You can move on.
- Forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the person being forgiven. Most of the time, the person who hurt or offended you is now off living their own life. They’ve moved on. And forgiving them will finally allow YOU to do the same.
- You don’t have to tell the person you’ve forgiven them. Unless you want to, there’s no need to inform them in any way. Silent forgiveness still counts as forgiveness.
- You can forgive someone without ever speaking to them again. Just because you release the pain of them hurting you, doesn’t mean you want to be BFFs again. And that’s OK. You can choose to keep your distance.
- Forgiveness can open up the possibility of a whole new relationship with a family member or an old friend. Once you forgive them, the door is open for you to create new memories that might lead to stronger bonds.
- You can show people you’ve forgiven them with your actions, not your words. If you’ve been giving someone the cold shoulder out of resentment, you can show your forgiveness by speaking to them again.
- Forgiveness doesn’t give people license to repeat the same offense. But it does give them the opportunity to move forward and become better if they choose to.
- You will have to forgive some people over and over. It’s not that they never learn, but that we are all human and we continue to make mistakes. See: 10 Reminders to Be More Compassionate
- Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you condone their behavior. It may just mean that you are making the decision to release your attachment to what they did or are choosing to love them in spite of it.
- True forgiveness is unconditional. It does not require the person being forgiven to jump through hoops to win back your love and trust.
- Forgiveness is the highest form of love. Being able to forgive reminds us that we are here for a larger purpose. And loving people doesn’t mean you necessarily have to like them, it just means you understand that life is bigger than our grudges and suffering.
- You don’t have to be religious to forgive. Although most organized religions promote forgiveness in some form, you can still practice it even if you don’t consider yourself a member of any religion.
- Forgiveness can be the turning point for a new outlook on life. Once you let go of the burden of resentment, you may be able to move on to better days. See: How to Rewrite the Story of Your Life
- If you still want revenge or retribution, you have not yet forgiven. Letting go means letting go. Not accepting someone’s apology publicly and then privately wishing them death and dismemberment.
- The most important person to forgive is yourself. Stop beating yourself up about things that you did or didn’t do in the past. You deserve your own grace. See: There Is Nothing Wrong With You