"How Do I Forgive Them? Should I?"
Forgiveness can be a lightning rod concept.
It can elicit feelings and judgments from yourself and others on if you should, or should not, forgive someone who has hurt you. Further complicating things, hurtful interactions exist along a wide spectrum of damage done, from minor to life-altering and everything in between. Here are some challenges and important points when thinking about forgiveness in the context of smaller to medium infractions:
A common challenge is sorting through conflicting advice you may receive. Friends and family may tell you forgiveness is the only way forward out of the pain or that it's not a big deal and you need to get over it. Other people in your circle might share that if they were you, they could never forgive him or her, and by doing so, you are somehow letting them off the hook. Confusing! Ultimately, it comes down to what you need and how you feel about the situation (read this post if you're looking for more guidance on advocating for yourself).
A second challenge of moving towards forgiveness is that forgiveness happens independently of what the other person is doing to repair the harm. This is counter to common wisdom of forgiving if the person is sorry or is asking for forgiveness.
It's also important to consider that forgiveness is not synonymous with condoning the behavior or putting yourself in the position for it to happen again. In other words, just because you forgive someone, it does not mean you agree with what they did or are "asking for" it to happen again. It is, instead, about accepting that the action occurred and understanding that your well being is no longer linked to what they are (or are not) currently doing or asking from you.
And of course, forgiveness can become challenging because you may need time to heal. Meanwhile, the other person may want to be forgiven to be alleviated of the burden of guilt as soon as possible. Again, you may be told you need to just get over it. In reality though, when rushed into forgiveness it won’t heal anything. Instead, rushing forgiveness has a counterproductive effect and causes even more resentment or pain. It can be challenging to give yourself time to move to forgiveness without getting stuck in the hurt.
In conclusion, I'll say that interactions in our social and personal circles are complicated. Forgiveness may mean forgiving yourself. It may mean accepting what happened as a reality, or not becoming stuck in wishing it was different.
What forgiveness ultimately allows is for you to release the negative connection to that individual. It puts you in charge of what you want that connection to be.
Often, even if the harm was seemingly minor in scope, it is still impactful and is a journey of emotional momentum forward and back. Authentic forgiveness can only happen when you are the one who has decided you are ready to take the first step.
Jenn P.S. If you're on the other side of the interaction (you're the one looking for forgiveness) and are trying to figure out how to apologize, check-out this post on what makes a good apology!
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[This article does not create a client-counselor relationship. This article is general counseling information and is not to be considered legal or medical advice. Please consult with your mental health professional before you rely on this information.]