It’s safe to say that there is no one among us who has never been wronged. We were raised by imperfect parents, had unsuccessful relationships and have had to work with all sorts of incompetent people. Our children grow up and make contrary decisions. So many opportunities for us to feel hurt, anger and regret.
No matter the size or severity of the harm – We all carry many layers that, over time, can weigh us down. Some people may not even realize how crippled they are because of it. It takes up room in our hearts that could otherwise be filled with joy. It blocks our path to mutually loving relationships. It colors our outlook every single day and influences our decisions.
But there is hope. Because we have made a choice – consciously or not – to harbor and nurture these feelings, we can also resolve to let go of them. Depending on the magnitude of the harmful deed, it might be difficult. It may even be impossible, but still worth the insight and peace you’ll gain by trying.
First, there are some misnomers or things we believe that need to be looked at in a different light. I used to believe that forgiveness meant that the offender was sorry and desired pardon. I was wrong. Forgiveness is not about them. It’s something you do for yourself – the first step toward healing. This is especially helpful if the person who hurt you is no longer living or has been out of your life for a long time.
I always thought that forgiveness meant that the hurtful act is erased and the offender no longer bears any responsibility for it. Also false. It still happened and he or she owns their behavior. But it no longer has to own you. Forgiveness releases you from the past but it doesn’t change it.
Forgiveness does not equal reconciliation. You can decide to move forward without the resentment and anger. That doesn’t guarantee your relationship will return to its previous state. It’s only natural to want to protect ourselves from being hurt again. We might not want to re-engage with the person, on any level, and that’s okay. But what if it’s someone in our immediate family or a current coworker? Perhaps we can be at the same holiday celebration or business meeting now, without the emotional upheaval. But, you don’t have to be friends.
Some harmful acts are so egregious that forgiveness is just not possible. Even for small hurts, forgiveness requires inner strength and resolve. It might take time. Start by choosing a less significant act. Remember that you are doing this for yourself. Examine the damaging episode carefully. If you discover that you bear some responsibility, begin by forgiving yourself. That might be hardest – but it’s a great place to start.