The definition of forgiveness is the act of forgiving, or the state of being forgiven; it is also the disposition or willingness to forgive (dictionary.com). Now looking at what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not becoming a doormat, nor is it allowing the person or persons to continue hurting you, especially if there is a pattern of certain behaviour. Forgiveness is not permitting those involved to do it again, and it’s not putting yourself in harm’s way. Forgiveness is not denying your feelings and saying it didn’t hurt, nor is it pretending that it has ever happened. Perhaps forgiveness has been mistaken with reconciliation which is when former enemies agree to a civil truce.
It has been reported that people with higher levels of forgiveness tended to have better health habits and decreased anxiety, depression and anger levels. On the other hand, unforgiveness can affect our health. In the long term, it can make us more vulnerable to disease and raise our blood pressure putting a strain on our heart. Unforgiveness can affect our relationships and how we relate to our nearest and dearest.
I wonder if the first step towards forgiveness is validation that what happened actually hurt. What if forgiveness is viewed as a process rather than a destination? Is it unfair to ourselves if we place the expectancy that forgiveness is a onetime event that magically removes our memory and feelings associated with what has happened? What happens if forgiveness is a choice to no longer carry the burden of the offence even if we still experience feelings of hurt and the like are present?
If you feel you are ready to start the journey towards forgiveness here are some tools that can help you on your way:
- Identify your feelings and validate them. For example, I feel (fill in the blank) because (fill in the blank)
- Using words or pictures
- Speak to someone you trust about your experience
- Letter writing. The letter doesn’t need to be sent to the person that hurt you, but it can be helpful to get things off your chest
Depending on your story and experience, it may take some time to unpack the feelings that are associated with the event. It may be helpful to speak to someone you trust or find a counsellor to walk alongside you if you are feeling stuck. Going back and visiting past or even present hurts can sometimes be traumatic, and it may not be wise to do so alone or before you are ready to do so.
On a finishing note, forgiveness is about you rather than the person that hurt you, and I wonder if you owe yourself the freedom to heal. I would love to hear from you and what your experience around forgiveness has been up to this point. You can contact me by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org