Do you understand what forgiveness is — and isn’t?
Let me share an article written by my friend, Liberty, about this matter:
We’ve all heard it countless times. Forgive and forget. Simple enough words. It should be simple to do, right? So why is it that sometimes we have such trouble with one or the other — or both?
Well, before going any further, let’s clear up a few misconceptions about various parts of this old adage.
The first stumbling block that many people encounter is in the meaning of forgiveness. We think that if we forgive, we’re saying, “What you did to me is okay.” You may decide that it was okay, but that is not what forgiveness is. That is about a change in your perspective or understanding of the incident.
Put another way: Your being “okay” with it probably includes your forgiveness. But forgiveness does not have anything to do with it being “okay.”
So What Does Forgiveness Mean?
To forgive simply means that you’re no longer willing to carry the pain of the incident that was so hurtful to you. It means you understand that as long as you hold onto that grief, anger, indignation, betrayal, breach of trust, you are hurting yourself — and in many cases, the other person isn’t even bothered, isn’t aware, and sure as heck isn’t hurting right along with you just because you’re holding a grudge.
In fact, they may have been out of the picture for years, perhaps moved on a long time ago, not giving it another thought, and there you are, chewing on it still.
The very notion of letting go of that pain can leave you feeling like you’re betraying yourself, like you’re saying, “It was okay that this person did this terrible thing to me.”
But really, all you’re doing is holding yourself hostage and perpetuating the pain, every single unpleasant thought and memory about the incident being another log thrown on the fire that destroys your peace, your happiness, and your life as it burns its way through your soul.
As long as you hold onto that pain, you’re immersing yourself in negative feelings every time the memory comes up.
This will only cause further suffering. With every thought about it, you are willingly bringing that negativity into your life and your energy. No good can ever come from such a choice.
In fact, according to Marque Medical, negativity could well be the reason for your tired body or prolonged aches and pains.
Pessimism affects more than just your emotional health. In fact, doctors have found that people with high levels of negativity are more likely to suffer from degenerative brain diseases, cardiovascular problems, digestive issues, and recover from sickness much slower than those with a positive mindset.
The same article says that negative thoughts and emotions are a natural response to disaster and heartache.
The problem lies in long-term negativity, which can result in significant health problems because it induces the “fight-or-flight” response designed to keep us safe.
During fight-or-flight, our bodies release cortisol into the bloodstream, which helps us to be more alert and focused so we can deal with that sabertooth tiger (or these days, the grumpy, demanding boss, the clients, partner, heavy traffic, or anything else that produces stress in our lives).
They add that:
…though some stress is good for us, too much can be detrimental to our health. Extended periods of negativity slow digestion, and decreases the immune system’s ability to fight inflammation. This is also why negative people are more likely to get more sick than optimists.
It sounds like many common problems, and many people are suffering from some combination of these ailments.
Worryingly, prolonged negativity also adversely affects health by increasing the likelihood that individuals will turn to smoke or substance abuse as a way of coping. These have a long list of health hazards all by themselves.
The Truth About Apologies
Another misconception that people sometimes have about forgiveness is that it can’t be done without apologizing for the offending incident. You might indeed feel better after people say they’re sorry. You might feel as though their apologies validate your pain.
But the truth is, to validate your feelings does not require anyone else’s involvement. Your feelings are valid because they exist. They’re already real because you’ve experienced them.
Or you might think an apology will give you hope that the same types of incidents won’t happen again if those people understand how to hurt you felt. But really, that’s quite a reach.
I mean, it would be great if it always worked that way. But it doesn’t.
Whatever caused those people’s offending behaviors in the first place may well be tied to their emotional wounds, which will not go away just because you happened to be on the receiving end of the fallout.
On top of that, even if people say they’re sorry, you might still feel hurt. No matter how much remorse or regret other people say they feel about their actions, you can go ahead and keep licking your wounds and feeling just as miserable as you like. Whether or not you choose to let go of that pain is entirely up to you.
And then, of course, there’s another scenario. They can say they’re sorry, but what if they don’t really mean it? What if the words come out of their mouths, and you think they mean it, but they don’t? You’ve heard the words, you believe they are sincere, and you’re now ready to let go of the pain, and it feels so good.
But unbeknownst to you, those people aren’t sorry. So, in reality, the remorse of other people has nothing to do with your ability to forgive.
Once again, I will tell you that it’s entirely your choice to let go of that pain — or not. You can decide — at any point you choose — to let go of the incident and put it in the past. You can decide that you just don’t want to be hurt about it anymore.
What About the Forgetting in “Forgive and Forget”?
What does this really mean? Do you actually have to forget that the incident ever happened?
Of course, you don’t. Although sometimes it happens naturally, there are bound to be incidents that are just too huge to escape the memory completely, especially when they’ve resulted in life-altering consequences.
When we say, “forgive and forget,” usually the “forget” part is just a byproduct of forgiving. It’s what happens to the incident that you’ve forgiven; it gets left behind, hoping to be buried in the past.
Whether it’s disappeared from your consciousness, or you’ve released yourself from the prison of its pain, you’re prepared to move on and leave it where it belongs.
If you don’t, you keep yourself locked in a prison within your own mind until you’re ready to open the door, walk out, and never look back.
The Most Important Point of All
There is another aspect of this old adage that needs to be addressed. We’ve established that forgiveness is wonderful. It comes from our compassion for ourselves and others, and is very healing, powerful — and empowering.
And we’ve established that forgetting about an incident once you’ve resolved it in your heart and mind is also essential to your long-term happiness and wellbeing. So to “forgive and forget” is a great plan. Summed up: Don’t carry the pain anymore; let it go and move on.
But there is a catch. A little trap that can keep us stuck in the past, even though we think we’ve moved forward by forgiving and forgetting. It is in thinking that forgetting means “going back for more.”
If you keep forgiving and forgetting the same incidents, the same behaviors, the same words, and meaningless apologies over and over again from the same person or people, then you keep yourself imprisoned and stuck, unable to make any progress in your life.
When you’ve learned all you can from your interactions with someone else, and there is clearly no further forward movement, it is time to stop going back for more. Otherwise, you’re simply standing in your own way.
Forgive and forget as long as you’re able to continue in your own progress, your own development in your spiritual journey. But when doing so becomes a roadblock on that path and you are unable to move forward, remember that there is such a thing as “forgive, forget, and don’t go back for more.”
Only you can decide when you’ve reached that point.
This article was reprinted with permission from Angel RIBO’s LinkedIn page.