In part 1 of Apology, Forgiveness & Reconciliation, we talked about “apologies,” the acceptance of blame and responsibility for wrongdoing, injury or offense— and the assurance that none was intended.
When I have caused offense or harm to another person, a genuine apology is not difficult for me to make. Forgiveness, however, has been much harder. As a child, two people who were important in my life inflicted grievous emotional and psychological damage to me. For years, I carried a heavy burden of hatred for both because, when confronted, neither acknowledged or took any responsibility for their actions. Feeling trapped and victimized, recurrent feelings of rage and pain went unabated for many years. Joy and positive relationships seemed impossible until one bright sunny day when I had an epiphany!
I let go of my overwhelmingly negative feelings. No longer would I allow many cruel and humiliating experiences to define me. I released myself from that awful history!
Apologies are the first step in moving toward reconciliation. It takes strength of character to admit a wrongdoing. Forgiveness is the second step.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness seeks to resolve blame, anger and hurt by making peace with the past. By forgiving, we can interrupt the course of things and begin anew. We are making a choice to see things differently—to change perspective. Forgiving another person does not mean that we are condoning bad behavior, negating accountability or compromising boundaries. It is a release, a letting go. Often, the offending person does not or, will not, ask for forgiveness.
Why should we forgive?
By releasing a negative energy, forgiving offers us the freedom to thrive and create. Consider the cost of how the situation impacted you — mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and the result of holding on to negative feelings.. If revenge is what we seek, we hurt ourselves more. Forgiveness recognizes the difference between the person and their behavior. More importantly, forgiveness opens the door to collaboration, reconciliation and trust. It is about letting go of your own resentment, pain and anger in order to heal and free yourself.
Are there obstacles to forgiving?
Forgiving is not always easy. It requires letting go of something painful and forgiving the person who may or may not have realized what they did. Also, some people are invested in being right or winning, even at the expense of the relationship. A frequent concern is that forgiveness may seem to give permission for the offense to continue or recur.
How can we learn to forgive?
Genuine forgiveness requires three critical steps: 1) grieving, 2) resisting dwelling on the drama and circumstances of the situation, and 3) acknowledging your thoughts and feelings, and then letting them go. To do otherwise does more harm than good over time. Here are some tips to help you forgive:
•First reflect on your own feelings and actions. How have you been harmed? How did you feel? What has the experience taught you?
•Imagine what the other person experienced and how they must feel. Have you harmed them in any way?
•Identify all the reasons you can think of for not forgiving the person. If you are not ready to let go, identify what it will cost you to cling to your thoughts and feelings.
• Learn to view the situation less personally and change the story so you do not see yourself as a victim.
• Adopt a forgiving attitude. This is not easy and it takes courage.
• Declare that you are releasing your resentment and wish the other person well.
• Forgiveness is usually an ongoing process that occurs in stages. Consider acknowledging each plateau of completion with a ritual to commemorate your experience and imagine what closure would look like for you. Commit to taking specific steps.
Forgiveness is really a gift you give to yourself.
“A human being .. is graced with the power of self definition.” — Viktor Frankl
For someone who has been traumatized and is ready to be made whole, the trauma must be healed and released thoroughly before forgiveness can take place. The severity of the offense will dictate the timing, process and role of forgiveness. What do we do with the memory of what happened? When we let go of the pain of the memory, we can have the memory, but it doesn’t control us.”
“Without forgiveness, there is no future.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Take the Quiz: How Forgiving are You? The Stanford Forgiveness Project at www.ThePowerOfForgiveness.com