Life is messy. Oh it would be nice if it were all “Leave it to Beaver” polite and “Norman Rockwell” portraits. But it’s not. We screw up. We do things we regret. And others do some pretty nasty stuff to us. People can be unconscionable, rude, calculating, controlling, hurtful and shaming. People can cause wounds that will never heal. And people (including us) need to be forgiven.
Sometimes forgiveness is just a choice. I was sexually abused as a toddler. The man who abused me filled me with shame and colored my childhood and adolescence with chronic low self-worth without my even knowing it.
But surprisingly, forgiving him was easy. I simply recognized he must have been in deep pain himself, to do such a thing. Then I chose to forgive him.
But another person in my life was not so easy to forgive. She was passive-aggressive in her hurtfulness—covering over her true motivation with sugary sweetness. Perhaps it was this two-facedness that filled me with anger—or perhaps it was the fact that she pulled the wool over the eyes of mutual friends. For whatever reason, my blood boiled when even thinking of her.
Yet I knew, I had to forgive her. Not for her, but for me. Holding onto old anger, hurt and resentment just doesn’t create good realities. Each one of us has only so much energy to “spend” in a day. Spending any of that towards licking old wounds or dreaming of revenge cuts back on the amount that could be spent creating our dreams.
At the same time, another part of me never wanted to forgive her. That part wanted to hold her accountable. That part wanted to make her pay. And as unattractive as that part of me was, I had to admit it was there.
So, no—forgiveness does not always come easily. However, there are some things that are important to remember, when forgiving the “unforgivable”:
1. You don’t have to know how to do it (you don’t even have to fully want to do it). Just intending to forgive someone will open the doors and call upon ample assistance to allow you to (eventually) forgive. It may take a while, it may not—but it will happen.
2. You don’t have to forgive the thing they did—but forgive the reason they did it. As my my friend Lazaris says, “Forgive the ‘why’, if not the ‘what’”. People lash out, hurt, betray and dishonor others because they themselves are in pain. Sometimes you may never be able to forgive what someone did. But you can forgive the reason “why” they did it.
3. Forgiving doesn’t mean condoning. Just because you forgive someone doesn’t mean what they did was OK. It does not mean you accept it, like it or allow it. It only means you have forgiven the person for doing it (or at least for why they did it).
4. You don’t have to let that person back into your life—ever. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you trust them. And it doesn’t mean the door is open for them to walk through it and hurt you again. It only means you harbor no anger, blame or vindictiveness towards them.
5. Forgiveness may require healing a past “you”. Sometimes remembering the pain of the incident will keep the wounds open and derail forgiveness indefinitely. You may need to go back to the person you were when the “incident” happened and change the past—re-imagine that time and create it never happening. Now this is not to try to convince yourself that it didn’t happen, but to remove the “sting” of it happening emotionally—which will free you to move forward and forgive.
Forgiveness isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s not quick. But it is always a new lease on life, for you, and sometimes for the other person. Forgiveness frees you to move on with your life and to create a reality filled with light and love—something harboring ill feelings can never do.
And when you really let it in, that we are, indeed, all connected—all one, you realize that forgiveness is essential. Because even if another did you wrong, it is ultimately you whom you are forgiving, in your forgiveness of them.
Eventually I was able to forgive this woman for her actions, after holding the intention to forgive her for quite some time. And miraculously, letting go of that issue opened more doors of success and joy than I’d ever dreamed possible.
But it took strength. It took perseverance. It took determination. As Gandhi once said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”