You’ve heard that forgiveness isn’t about the person who hurt you and that it’s about you. It’s true, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Forgiveness is just about the hardest thing you can do because it often goes against everything we know to be right, just, and true. If someone did something cruel, hurtful, or selfish and we forgive them, does it mean that by forgiving them we’re somehow making what they did okay? Are we setting ourselves up for it to happen again? Does forgiving someone mean we’re weak or a pushover? No, no, and no. Forgiveness means we’re letting ourselves off the hook, letting go of the tight grip the pain of someone else’s actions has on us. It allows us to move forward, put the pain to rest, and finally heal.
So, why is it so hard? Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to do because it speaks a language the logical and rational mind doesn’t speak or understand. It defies all logic and reasoning. Your rules are that someone shouldn’t have done/said/behaved a certain way. Then they did, and that’s simply not okay. We don’t understand it, we don’t know where to put it, we can’t make sense of it, and because of that, we struggle. Besides, there’s a small part of ourselves that, even though it hurts, gets some satisfaction out of being right, of justifying why our life is on hold, and that benefits from being in the role of victim. Think about it: being in that role gave you lots of attention and pity from others, and gave you a reason to keep the story going because of the benefits you received, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Here’s just one problem with it, and there are many more. Often, when we carry around all that hurt, we’re secretly hoping the other person is hurting. The truth is, they have probably moved on and may even be completely unaware they even hurt you. So, hanging on to the hurt, even if it’s completely justified and satisfies that need to be right, is only hurting you. Have you heard that saying, “You can be right or you can be happy?” It’s true. In addition to that, the small benefit you may be receiving, that’s satisfying the small self, is miniscule compared to the real benefit you’ll feel when you’ve let it go, you’ve forgiven, and you’re truly free.
Now, I get it, and I’m sure the pain is deep. In fact, I’m sure you’re 100 percent justified in feeling the way you do, and if you told anyone your story, they’d agree. This is a huge part of why forgiveness can be so challenging. There isn’t any place to put all that injustice, so we harbor it within.
What do we do with that feeling of being so wronged? That anguish is eating at you and taking its toll. That’s what forgiveness is for. Forgiveness gives you back your power. It removes the shackles that person’s actions had over you so you can live a happy and full life. Forgiveness sets you free instead of living in a self-righteous prison filled with hurt, resentment, and bitterness. I lived there for years, and here’s what I gained from holding on to all that pain.
I had a list of stress-related illnesses, diseases, chronic pain, accelerated aging, and so much more. I stayed closed, removed, aloof, and depressed. My bitterness caused so much anguish and grief that I felt as if I were suffocating. I couldn’t find relief, couldn’t sleep or escape the unrelenting pain. It was only when I had that “dark night of the soul” experience (which I talk about in The Unshakable Woman) that I surrendered, let go, and started to understand how liberating forgiveness can be. I’m sure you’ve lived there long enough, too, so it’s time to forgive and set yourself free.
Forgiveness can also be about self-forgiveness when you’ve been punishing yourself for something you did or said. As a result of whatever you did, you may feel guilty or have been making poor decisions to punish yourself because of your actions and the damage they caused. That’s not helping you or the person you hurt. Doing what you can to make it right and learning from the experience so you never do or say anything like that again is the way you grow. It’s the way you make good on something your awakened self never would have done. When you do this, you’re doing something positive with a negative experience, and you’ll begin to heal, move on, and benefit others because of what you now see so clearly. Then at least that pain you caused in someone else was somehow used for good.
Blame and forgiveness often go together. When we blame others for something that happened (which may be completely justified), we hand over our power on a silver platter. Giving the responsibility to someone else prevents us from seeing if or how we played a role in the challenge and prevents our growth. This is where the book Radical Forgiveness (which I recommend at the end of this chapter) really helped me. It’s called “radical” for a reason, but with a newly opened mind, I was open to the idea, and it made perfect sense. I hope it makes sense for you, too.
Let’s say that many times throughout your life, your boundaries got crossed. You accepted behavior from the people in your life that others would find unacceptable. Yet somehow you kept finding yourself in situations where this type of behavior kept happening. Then someone came along who crossed the boundary in such a big way that you couldn’t believe what you’d just experienced. You hit your limit. Because of that situation, you vowed to change, you realized you deserved to be treated better, and you’d never allow that behavior into your life from anyone again.
With radical forgiveness, that person who crossed your boundary came into your life to teach you something you hadn’t learned before. They taught you an incredibly valuable lesson, and they served as a great teacher for you. When the blame and anger eventually subside, you can at some point see how this person played an important role in your life, and maybe you can even be grateful for the lesson you finally learned because of what they allowed you to see. (I can just picture you rolling your eyes at me on that one, but it’s true.)
Now, I’m not saying this happens immediately, but when I embraced this idea, it was the only way I was able to truly forgive things my rational and logical mind was simply unwilling to accept. I see that I’ve had some incredibly powerful teachers in my life who’ve actually taught me my most valuable life lessons . . . even if it’s what not to do. I hope it helps you, too.