Forgiveness is a tricky concept. Many people have had horrible things happen to them that feel beyond forgiveness.
Yet, this attitude provides a very limited mentality of what forgiveness entails - and what it doesn't.
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a decision to let go of all feelings of anger and revenge toward a person that has harmed you.
Forgiveness is not for the offender; it’s for you.
Carrying around anger and thoughts of revenge is certainly easier in the short term, especially if what was done to you was heinous. Yet, allowing anger to rule you and control your life and emotions will only make things worse. Anger is messy, and if you let it fester it tends to spill over into other areas of your life.
Forgiveness in itself doesn't mean that you forgive and forget, you kiss and make up and everything is okay. Forgiveness doesn’t wipe the slate clean. You don’t have to ever speak to the offender again. It doesn’t mean that you wish them well. It simply means that you no longer harbor anger towards the person.
Of course, in certain cases, forgiveness can and does lead to the rebuilding of relationships.
Do I Have To Forgive?
Forgiveness isn’t something you have to do if you don’t feel ready.
Does Forgiveness Only Apply to Others?
In fact, there may be a time in life when you actually must forgive yourself and treat yourself with grace.
When making a mistake, it might feel like the most important thing to do is craft an apology to the people you may have offended.
While it is important to apologize and own up to your mistakes, your harshest critic is often yourself. Carrying anger and shame with you throughout your life will cause a lot of problems mentally and emotional.
Holding in that anger toward yourself can even affect your health physically.
When you forgive yourself, you release the anger. You allow yourself to be human and give yourself the kindness that you deserve. Instead of being a critic, what would happen if everyone chose to become their own best friend?
Your relationship with yourself is the longest relationship you’ll ever have. Treat it with care.
What If The Person I Need to Forgive Cannot Apologize?
There may be times in life when the person who wronged you cannot apologize. They may be blocked from contacting you, or they may even have passed away. In such a situation where you can’t expect an apology at any point, it might seem hard or even impossible to forgive someone. Yet, the important thing to do is make peace with the situation, including the fact that you won’t get the apology that you crave.
The good news is that you don’t need a serious heart-to-heart conversation with someone in order to forgive them. Forgiveness comes from the heart. Your heart. Not theirs.
In such cases, it may be important to receive further help, whether it involves talking over the situation with a friend, therapist, or religious leader.
What Happens If I Don’t Forgive?
If you don’t forgive or if you choose to hold a grudge, you may find yourself giving that person or situation an incredible amount of power over you. That hold on you can leak onto other areas of your life. Holding a grudge causes anger that may bubble over at any time. In your life, this may show up as anger or distrust in situations that have nothing to do with the offense that occurred.
What Are The Benefits of Forgiveness?
The biggest thing that you will release yourself from when you forgive is the victim mentality.
Yet, beyond that, there are lots of physical benefits that you may experience when you release the pent-up emotions by forgiving.
Forgiveness can lead to lower levels of depression and anxiety, which in turn can lower blood pressure and give your immune system a good boost.
What If I’m Struggling to Forgive Someone?
Remember: You’re not a bad person for struggling to forgive someone who has wronged you. While there are significant benefits to choosing to forgive, there is no obligation to forgive anyone.
One thing that you can do is remember all of the times that you have been forgiven for your transgressions. No one’s perfect. Everyone has needed to be forgiven at one time or another. Yet, it’s very likely that people have given you grace and kindness and offered you forgiveness.
Forgiveness is often not a one-time thing. Sometimes feelings and memories will continually come up to the point that you need to forgive a certain person over and over again to protect your peace.
Forgiveness is a journey in itself, and it's okay to struggle along the way.