The ability to forgive someone shows that we have inner strength. The statement, I forgive you, is simple but invokes powerful emotions from our egoic minds. We’ve all been hurt, and we’ve all hurt others. So, we have been on both sides. The need to ask another for forgiveness is just as hard as forgiving someone who hurts us. But when we do, when we forgive someone, it’s the most significant recognition that we are healing.
Showing compassion for another through forgiveness is a fight between getting justice for the ego and our ability to rise above the experience we’ve had. Exonerating someone is a conscious choice we make. But many don’t realize that the reason we absolve is for ourselves, not for the person who harmed us. Through the act of reconciliation, we are no longer drinking the poison of anger, tension, and despair. We no longer blame others for how we feel but take responsibility for our part, our reaction, so we can reclaim our power.
We think by withholding our forgiveness, we are harming the other person. We hope that we are punishing them, but this is a lie of the ego. The only person we harm by not reconciling is ourselves. Through compassion, we dissolve resentment and allows us to move past feeling wounded. Because when we are hurt, happiness and peace elude us.
They caused the first wound, but you are causing the rest; this is what not forgiving does. They got it started, but you keep it going. Forgive and let it go, or it will eat you alive. You think they made you feel this way, but when you won’t forgive, you are the one inflicting the pain on yourself. ~ Bryant McGill
What Forgiveness Isn’t
Forgiving someone isn’t about condoning their behavior. Being merciful to another isn’t about the other person or that they deserve our kindness. Reconciliation isn’t pretending the betrayal didn’t occur. Nor is it making excuses for the unacceptable behavior. It also isn’t about forgetting. We never deny our pain or our emotions.
Forgiveness is about our inherent goodness. It’s about us being willing to extend mercy to those that have wounded us. To absolve someone is a process that takes time. But the effort is priceless to our wellbeing.
Did you know forgiving others helps increase our self-esteem? It also gives us a sense of empowerment and security. Understanding can help reverse the lies of the ego that keep us small, like we aren’t worthy. Studies have shown that by forgiving others, we decrease depression, anxiety, and anger.
Forgiveness heals us by releasing tension and can lower blood pressure. It allows us to move forward with our life. Giving absolution to another helps us to change our inner world, to allow peace and happiness into our daily lives. It is the key to freedom and healing.
Choosing to forgive someone for past wrongdoings isn’t an act of weakness or an attempt to forget, but a courageous decision to channel our precious time into a more positive and rewarding direction. ~ David Cunliffe
How Unforgiveness Hurts Us
So, another hurts us. Then we allow the ego to repeat the event over and over in our mind. We replay the event and cause our own suffering. We have the ultimate choice to hold on to the anger, betrayal, and sadness. But when we truly see from the perspective of the heart, this is punishing us, not the betrayer. Even if they know that their behavior hurts us, they are probably not being tormented by their actions. Therefore, by choosing to hold the grudge, we continue to penalize ourselves while they go on unaffected by our misery.
By taking responsibility for our reaction to the offense, consciously choosing to forgive their harmful actions, we can release the negativity that weighs us down. We are now free from the sadness, guilt, or stress caused by the wrongdoing.
My childhood trauma was profound. Child sexual abuse and my mother abandoning me on the streets over 1600 miles away from my family are overwhelming to deal with at any age. Even though these events took place forty years ago, they can still affect me. But it was still my choice to forgive her. Not because of her but because I no longer wanted to extend my suffering. Holding onto my pain was making me physically sick. My body tried to get me to recognize my need to deal with my emotional pain, but I ignored it to my determent.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. ~ Lewis B. Smedes
Why is Forgiving so Difficult?
When I was twenty-seven, I had someone tell me I should be over my childhood trauma because it had occurred over fifteen years prior. I wanted to be past the fear and pain that the experience caused, but I wasn’t. I wanted to forgive, but I couldn’t pretend it didn’t happen.
We’ve talked about what forgiveness isn’t. But being compassionate doesn’t mean we reconcile with the party that injured us. True reconciliation involves understanding by both parties. It’s about settling and resolving conflict. Both participants are aware and agree to work on the relationship. Although I wanted reconciliation with my mother, she was never in a place where she could fully take part.
Personal boundaries need to be put in place to keep us from being injured again until we rebuild trust. These are the limits we create to identify reasonable and permissible ways for the offender to behave towards us. Also, it’s about how we respond when they step over those boundaries and the consequences of the actions we impose. But setting up these safeguards can be difficult, especially since others see these as punishment. Although they are in response to their unacceptable behavior, they are there for our protection, not penalties to the wrongdoer.
The act of forgiveness takes place in our own mind. It really has nothing to do with the other person. ~ Louise Hay
How do we Forgive the Unforgiveable?
Again, forgiveness is a conscious decision we make, so there are no rules. Each event has to be dealt with separately based on the infraction and the relationship we have with the perpetrator. Forgiving abuse of any kind takes additional time. It requires a more thoughtful approach for ourselves to act compassionately towards our abuser. However, all forgiveness comes from the heart, not the mind.
After my abuse, my relationship with my mother fell apart and never was repaired. I saw her three times since the abuse took place over thirty years. We spoke sparingly during that time. I wanted two things from her, an acknowledgment of what she did and the answer to the ultimate question, why. I thought if I had these two things, I would have closure and be able to forgive.
What I discovered was my suffering didn’t affect her. She’d moved on. She still was an addict, and even when I saw her, she wouldn’t admit her betrayal. So, for me to have peace, I forgave her anyway.
By forgiving my mother, the resentment, unworthiness, and disempowering feelings I had were released. Slowly I felt better physically as my body was no longer holding on to all the emotional pain. I realized that my worthiness had nothing to do with my mother. And I empowered myself by setting personal boundaries.
The only way out of the labyrinth of suffering is to forgive. ~ John Green
Closure is an Excuse of the Ego
After I forgave my mother, closure still eluded me. But through the exonerating process, I could hope for reconciliation. Until the day I found out she died, I hoped for closure. After she passed, I realized my ego used the idea of closure to hold me back.
We all want an official end to whatever the story we tell ourselves. I wanted a happy ending to the tale about my mother. She died all alone in a state hospital. It took the coroner two months to find my sister because my mother said she had no next of kin. Not the ending I wanted. So, do I let my egoic mind wreak havoc and plague me with internal suffering? Or do I reframe the ending into something I can use to help me grow?
The ending of my story is one of growth and love. My mother, in her own way, acknowledged the pain she caused me. We had one phone conversation where she admitted to her part in my trauma. As for the why question, she was an addict. Not an excuse for her behavior, but the answer to the question. Addicts do what they do to get their next fix, no matter who it hurts.
So, through my compassion for my mother, I forgave her. And the end of the story is not how I hoped. But I accept it for what it is—her ending, my loving response, so I can grow and move forward.
Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different. ~ Oprah Winfrey
How to Move from Forgiveness to Healing
We all have stories about our pain. Our egoic minds replay these scenes, which perpetuates our suffering. For us to move past the discomfort and grow, we need to dig deep and feel all the emotions so we can get to the root of the agony. The anger, loneliness, unworthiness, and grief need to arise from within us. We need to deal with our uncomfortable feelings. We need to allow the tears to flow so we can empty out all the pent-up emotions to allow space for peace to enter our lives.
We can journal or write a letter (but don’t send it) as a way to express our negative feelings safely. By transferring these viewpoints from our minds onto the page, we can release them from our bodies as well. This act of letting go allows compassion to fill our hearts.
Be patient through the process. Forgiving abuse in any form can take a while. With my mother, it came in stages. But over time and my willingness to be free from the suffering, I was able to feel genuine compassion towards her. This benevolence was the most significant sign that I was healing from the trauma she caused.
Forgiveness is, above all, a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil. ~ Pope John Paul II
Develop Empathy Helps the Healing Process
Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another. Let’s be clear it’s not about understanding why someone did something, only that we can understand how they feel.
My compassion for my mother allowed me to see that she was more than her actions towards me.
By looking at the details of her life, I can comprehend her better. She was an Athabascan Indian from Fort Yukon, Alaska—eight miles inside the Arctic Circle. She spent the first sixteen years of her life as the eldest daughter in this very harsh environment before her mom, a widow with 16 children, gave the three oldest girls up for adoption. She left everything she had known and entered what she called the “white man’s world.” She and her sisters hadn’t ever seen running water or electricity. She told me they spent their first night watching the toilet water go down when it was flushed and playing with the light switch.
But it gets worse. My mother’s adoptive parents physically abused her. She was an alcoholic before she married my father. She divorced him to be in a physically abusive relationship. Then she was raped while visiting a friend in NYC. Anyone can empathize with her story. Although it doesn’t excuse her from the harm she caused me, I can sympathize with her suffering and her wounds.
Forgiveness is the choice to see people as they are now. When we’re mad at people, we’re angry because of something they said or did before this moment. By letting go of the past, we make room for miracles to replace our grievances. ~ Marianne Williamson
Choosing to Do No Harm
When others injury us, we have to make a conscious choice not to gossip about them. We don’t have to say pleasant things, but we can’t talk negatively about them. We want to keep the ego from enacting its own form of justice, which causes us to become less of our authentic selves. We don’t want to harm another because we are reacting from a place of pain and fear. We want to choose to live from our compassionate heart, not our egoic mind.
We can do this by remembering who we really are, by recognizing our differences and accepting them. We are each uniquely and wonderfully made. Let’s celebrate our common humanity and see everyone as worthy of love because we are. Choose to respond with love in all situations. By doing so, we allow compassion to be expressed to everyone, even those who hurt us.
Extend kindness and courtesy to others, even those we think are undeserving. By showing minor acts of mercy, we build our heart muscle and our ability to forgive others more easily.
Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a commitment. It is a choice to show mercy, not to hold the offense up against the offender. Forgiveness is an expression of love. ~ Gary Chapman
As we Heal, we See Meaning in Our Suffering
When we look for the lesson we are to learn from any experience; we can derive purpose from the incident. This lesson allows us to overcome any despair because we see the meaning. We can see how our suffering has positively changed us.
Even during my suffering, I could see that I was learning to take responsibility and find a way out of the circumstances I found myself. I learned to cope under challenging conditions. Looking back, I can see the resilience in myself. Although I didn’t see it for a long time, I was courageous for an eleven-year-old.
The injustice of my trauma doesn’t get diminished by my forgiving my mother. It shows that despite the harrowing experience, I can take the pain and the fear and transform it. I did so by choosing to use my story to help others overcome.
We all can find meaning in our pain. And in doing so, we allow our resilience to rise from within ourselves. We empower ourselves to speak our truth. We can show the world that despite our pain, we choose to forgive, and by doing so, we show others how to choose love.
Instead of getting even or teaching someone a lesson when they do you wrong, consider teaching yourself a lesson instead. Revenge keeps you psychically connected to another in a negative way. Release yourself through the liberating act of forgiveness, and learn a truly valuable spiritual lesson. ~ Sri Gawn Tu Fahr
Forgiving Ourselves as a Part of the Healing Process
We all are hardest on ourselves. But being compassionate is a part of our self-care. Self-forgiveness is the ability to honor ourselves for the person we’re becoming. We all need to soften our hearts towards ourselves.
Although I had forgiven my mother, it took me longer to forgive myself for allowing the fear to be so controlling in my life. But I had to see that my reactions were just that, reactions based on my fear. Once I awoke to the awareness of my reactions, I could change them.
Guilt is also a massive factor in our inability to forgive ourselves. But guilt is a burden we choose to carry. Somewhere along our journey, we accidentally picked it up, but we can throw it away right now. Self-forgiveness increases our self-love, self-acceptance as well as compassion for humanity. When we can see ourselves in others, and vice a verse, we can forgive more readily.
Forgive yourself. The supreme act of forgiveness is when you can forgive yourself for all the wounds you’ve created in your own life. Forgiveness is an act of self-love. When you forgive yourself, self-acceptance begins, and self-love grows. — Miguel Ángel Ruiz Macías
Moving Forward by Developing a Forgiving Heart
Some people never forgive and never forget. They remain victims. They continually identify with their pain, which affects all aspects of their lives. By letting go and forgiving, we reclaim our power.
As we overcome our suffering, we learn and grow. We become more understanding and gain humility, courage, and love towards others.
Many people find it hard to believe that I forgave my mother for the trauma she caused. I was able to open my heart and shed the pain by putting love in its place. I had to repeat this process with her many times over, but I was able to do it. And by doing so transform my trauma into love for her.
Forgiving others is a skill that we can all learn. It requires building the heart muscle of compassion and empathy. Through the process, we restore peace and happiness into our lives.
The healing balm of forgiving another is a gift we can give ourselves. We all move at our own pace, and there are many paths to the same destination. But the journey of forgiveness is one of hope. And through compassion for others and ourselves, we can change how the past affects our future. Choose to forgive and allow peace and happiness into our lives.
To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness. ~ Robert Muller
As we become more conscious of our pain, we can learn to forgive others and make space for peace and happiness in our lives.