Forgiveness is a conscious decision. Many people think that we should forgive others as a way to help them, but I would argue that forgiveness is much more important for the person who is forgiving.
I remember watching an episode of the Mentalist not that long ago. In case you don’t know much about the show, the main character is living with the guilt of putting his wife and child in harms way of a serial killer because of his pride. The wife and child were killed and he now spends his life in search of his killer. In the episode to which I’m referring, he is talking to his brother-in-law who obviously hates him for his sister’s death. He says to the BIL that he hopes one day he will forgive him. To paraphrase, “No, not for me, for you.” He realizes how much the anger and hurt is tormenting his brother-in-law, and though he does not believe himself worthy of forgiveness, he knows his BIL needs to forgive for his own sake.
I’m sure most people who are reading this can think of at least one person that they hold anger or hurt against. Each time you reflect on that person, those feelings well up in you again. Perhaps you are even doing so right now. How is that working for you? How does holding on to that pain help you? Does it convince you that you shouldn’t trust anyone again? Does it tell you that people will always hurt you and that the world is a dangerous place? That they will leave you or cause you harm? The more we hold onto that pain and anger the more it becomes ingrained inside us. It becomes not only a part of our self talk, but a part of our inner schema, part of who we are and how we think about the world. Do you really want that?
Forgive. Make a conscious decision that you are not going to let that hurt continue. You aren’t going to let that action or that person continue to hurt you anymore. You don’t have to understand the why (as in why did they do it?); you don’t have to see the person (sometimes it might be dangerous or undoable to do so). Decide for your sake that you are going to choose to move on, choose to live your life without that pain. You are going to choose to be as healthy as you can, mind, body, and spirit.
I’m not saying that it is easy. As I write this post, I’m speaking to myself as much as anyone else. It is hard work, but it is work worth doing. In my career field, I’ve seen too many people living the last stage of their life with years of anger and hurt. It does something to a person—it hardens them, closes them off, injures their spirit. The good thing is that it is never too late to change your life.
If you aren’t sure how to start the process of forgiveness here are some ideas:
- Pray about it.
- Talk with your pastor, rabbi, therapist, or a trusted friend about it.
- Write in your journal about the process of forgiveness.
- Post an affirmation that will remind you to forgive whenever that hurt pops up in your mind again. Just writing the word forgiveness and putting it on your refrigerator or mirror will suffice.
- Write the person a letter. When you are done, tear it up. Sometimes the act of expressing how we feel is more important than actually talking to the person who has hurt us.
- If you think it would help, tell the person you have forgiven them. Sometimes that action can be very powerful. Again, I reinforce that there are times when confronting someone who has hurt you may not be safe, as in cases of domestic violence or abuse.
I’m not offering therapeutic advice here. While tips and tidbits in blog posts can give you a place to start, I encourage you to seek the help of a professional counselor or therapist if help is needed.