Anger shapes our bitter responses to insults, hurts, injustices, rejection, pain, etc., and the bitterness is repeatedly rehearsed and remembered. Hatred is a memory that we are unwilling to let go, to dismiss, to forgive. If we could forgive the person who offended us, we would no longer be so angry and stressed and be less inclined to negative feelings. For many of us, however, forgiveness is especially hard because we confuse it with other reactions. Making these distinctions may help you become forgiving:

  • Forgiveness is not forgetting nor is it a promise to forget. You can never forget being hurt. In fact, if you had forgotten, you couldn’t forgive.
  • Forgiveness is not promising to believe the other person was not guilty or not responsible for the wrong things he/she did. If he/she were blameless, there would be nothing to forgive.
  • Forgiveness is not praise or a reward; no reward was earned, none is given.
  • Forgiveness is not approval of what was done. You are not conceding that the wrong he/she committed is viewed as any less serious than it has been before.
  • Forgiveness is not permission to repeat the offense. It does not mean that your values or society’s rules have changed. It is not based on an assumption that the hurt will never be repeated on anyone but it implies such a hope.

Forgiveness, as defined here, is your decision to no longer hate the person who hurt you.  It is getting rid of your venom, your hatred; it is your attempt to heal yourself, to give yourself some peace. Research has found evidence of a positive relationship between forgiveness and self-acceptance, i.e. the more you accept others, the more you like yourself, and the reverse.

Forgiveness is not easy.  First there are all the misconceptions that we discussed above about whether we are just telling the person that it was ok to hurt us and will be ok if they hurt us again, which is completely untrue.  However, apart from that, it can be difficult to let go of the anger which can give us feelings of power and self-righteousness.

Often people say that they do not feel very forgiving.  If we always needed to feel like forgiving, few people would forgive or be forgiving.  No forgiveness starts with a decision.  It is a decision to stop hurting, to stop blaming or hating; a decision to set ourselves free from the burden of negative feeling that is eating away at our peace of mind.  It is a decision that we may need to make again and again as it is unlikely that we will be successful in forgiving and letting go of the hurt in a single session.

Forgiveness is rarely an event, it tends to be a process.  That is, we may start the process by making the decision today, but it may be days, weeks or months before we are completely peaceful.  But don’t let that discourage you, you will feel some benefit immediately if you make the decision to forgive.  Have a look at this video on the topic.