Forgiveness was a critical tool during my recovery and growth. Years later, it is obvious to me it was a tool for my healing, not something for those who had wronged me. I was also surprised to learn that not only is it primarily for the victim, but it can be done completely alone. Hearing it is not about the abuser might be a difficult pill to swallow, but at the end I will share why this also helped me.
Before I could effectively use the wonderful tool of forgiveness, I had to let go of a critical myth – that when I forgive someone it is does not mean their actions are moral, legal, or in any way acceptable. It also does not mean I am granting them permission to do it again. It does not mean they will not suffer the consequences of their actions as enforced by me, a 3rd party, or whatever karmic law you believe. I forgave an employee that stole from my company; however, per our company policy, I still fired him, but not for revenge. Revenge is a tool I have not found useful.
So what was forgiveness for me? Forgiveness is about ME taking my POWER back and ceasing to be a victim. If I am hurt by the actions of another, each day I hold on to that hurt is another day I grant them permission to hurt me. I don’t know the origin of this but I love the analogy “lack of forgiveness is like taking poison in an effort to make your abuser ill”. Of course, the only one that gets ill is the one taking the poison. Later, when I learned how harmful the negative emotion I was storing in my body was to my health I realized this is reality, not an analogy. Holding onto negative emotions about being wronged can actually make me sick. At the very least it will weigh me down in the form of negative emotional baggage.
This knowledge was wonderful, but it is easier said than done. I could not skip the original hurt caused by the wrongdoing. Not only that, I had to fully experience the hurt since that is the only way I am aware of to release the negative energy. I can’t stuff the feeling, or fixate and ruminate on it where you repetitively go over the event never allowing release or completion.
So forgiveness is a last step in the process. First I have to own, acknowledge and feel the effects of the wrongdoing. This can be painful and even hellish but I use a simple and critical tool for going through hell which is don’t stop! At this point forgiveness is just the end goal I keep moving towards.
Since forgiveness is all about me I can do it alone. It does not matter if I can contact the wrongdoer, or even if they alive. If I can contact the wrongdoer and share my forgiveness with them that can lead to changed relationships, but I have to be careful. I have found there are two critical things to keep in mind when sharing forgiveness with the one I feel wronged me:
1. No expectations. I have no control over others. All I can control are my own thoughts and actions. The other person may not be aware or even believe they hurt me, or possibly feel it was justified.
2. No justifications or exceptions. If say I will grant you forgiveness as long as you do X, then I am only taking back my power when and if they do X. If I need or expect anything in return, it is not real forgiveness and I am not reclaiming my power.
In the beginning, I mentioned an advantage to forgiveness not being about the abuser. How might this be? How about when the abuser is a loved one? Or worse, how about when the abuser is yourself? This was a huge benefit since I turned out to be my greatest abuser!
As I said, forgiveness was a great tool in my recovery, but I have moved on to other tools I hope to discuss in future posts.
Photo by Mark Elliott Rogers