A Personal Take On Forgiveness

Not being able to forgive is dangerous. Your health suffers and your relationships suffer. YOU suffer.

But I get it. Because for many people forgiveness means that you are “allowing” yourself to be mistreated or “cosigning” that what the other person did to you was okay. It feels like an invalidation of the pain you endured.

Yet in the end, the old cliche is true: forgiveness is not about them; it is about you. Lack of forgiveness breeds all kinds of negativity. Turning the offense over and over in your head hardens your heart and weakens your ability to empathize. You walk around bitter, and each new hurt (however mild) builds on it and makes it harder to forgive.

So how do you forgive–and not only forgive, but make the forgiveness stick?

For me, it has been letting go of the feelings that surround the offense and rewriting the story that I have been rehearsing in my head. I put off the role of victim, not making it about what they did to me but about the issues and problems that they have which have nothing to do with me. The thing I have found over and over is that the bullied become the bullies. People act out their pain on others without respect of persons. And when I get down to it, I always see how the person who has hurt me is reliving their own problems on me. So, I forgive them even as I move myself out of harm’s way.

I also separate the person from the action. Short of a psychopath, we all mess up–both accidentally and deliberately hurting those around us. It doesn’t make us less human or less deserving of love and grace and mercy (though it may place us in a space of being untrustworthy). When I do not forgive, I am saying that a person is beyond rehabilitation and recovery. Where would I be if everyone that I had misused, disabused, and broken treated me that way? It is a fate worse than death.

And finally, I am a human being trying to unpack my own bags in this life. How will I ever reach wholeness if I keep taking on other people’s baggage too? When I forgive, I put the weight back in it’s proper place: on the person to whom it belongs. They need to unpack it to discover the lesson in their pain–not me. I have my own lessons to learn and mistakes to correct.

Forgiving others does not make you weak. It does not diminish you. It gives you the opportunity to take back control of your own growth. Embrace it.

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