What Forgiveness Is (and What it is Not)
The dictionary defines forgiveness as:
(to) stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.
But that doesn’t even come close to capturing the strong emotion and indignant protest that the term often evokes.
For forgiveness to even be a concern, it means that you have been hurt. Perhaps badly. Wronged. Perhaps repeatedly and intentionally. And it feels erroneous to forgive. Unfair. As though we were victimized once and are now being asked to do it again as we offer an olive branch of amnesty instead of sticking that branch where the sun don’t shine.
But don’t worry.
I’m not asking you to forgive.
I’m simply asking you to reconsider what it means to forgive.
And what you do with that is up to you.
Forgiveness is … freedom.
When we hold on to anger or resentment, it binds us to the past. It allows what happened to us to define us and limits our future. Forgiveness is freedom; it is the release from the shackles that anchor you. It is a lightness. A sense of peace.
Forgiveness is not … a pardon.
Forgiveness does not mean that you give someone a free pass. The choices that your assailant made are his or her own burden. When you forgive, you do not relieve them of their liability; you release your encumbrance.
Forgiveness is … acceptance.
It’s natural to turn away from pain. It’s normal to try to rationalize and minimize the bad that has happened to us. Forgiveness requires facing the truth. Seeing the truth. And accepting the truth.
Forgiveness is not … approval.
Accepting what happened does not come with a stamp of approval. You can forgive even while you renounce the choices that were made and the actions that were carried out.
Forgiveness is … acknowledgement.
Forgiveness means that you recognize what happened. You face the reality and address the fallout. You don’t deny the impact and you acknowledge the suffering.
Forgiveness is not … allowance.
You do not have to allow the suffering to continue in order to forgive. You can forgive someone and still remove them your life. You do not have to allow the pain to continue.
Forgiveness is … independent.
Forgiveness requires no one other than yourself. You possess everything you need to forgive the one who wronged you.
Forgiveness is not … dependent upon apology.
Your abuser may never offer condolences. Don’t make the mistake of attaching your well-being to something you cannot control. You can forgive even if the desired apology never comes. Here’s how.
Forgiveness is … letting go.
Quitting is out of fear. Letting go is born from acceptance. Forgiveness is choosing to let go of the anger. Of the resentment. Of the need for retribution and revenge.
Forgiveness is not … letting them off the hook.
Letting go of the anger does not mean you relieve them of any consequence. You can forgive and still file a police report. You can forgive and still allow bad decisions to catch up. You can forgive and let karma take care of the rest.
Forgiveness is … taking responsibility.
Forgiveness is taking responsibility for your own happiness. It is refusing to stay a victim and making the effort to regain confidence and control in your own life.
Forgiveness is not … assuming culpability.
There is a difference between taking responsibility for your own actions and taking the blame for someone else’s. When you forgive, you are not assuming the culpability for your assailant’s actions. That’s on them. And how you choose to respond is on you.
Forgiveness is … reached when you are ready.
Forgiveness comes in slowly. It seems impossible until one day, it’s not. It is a process, not a switch.
Forgiveness is not … performed upon demand.
“Will you forgive me?” never works. It comes from a place of assuaging guilt whereas forgiveness comes from within as a means of releasing anguish.
Forgiveness is … quiet agreement.
You can forgive and never tell a soul. Forgiveness is for you. It is an agreement you make with yourself and chose to carry out in your thoughts and actions.
Forgiveness is not … a public announcement.
Forgiveness can exist in silence. It can be found in avoidance. You have no obligation to tell the person who wronged you that you have found peace.
Forgiveness is … a personal choice.
Forgiveness is a option. One choice of many. You may decide to take that route now. Or maybe it waits until later or later never comes. It’s one of the few things you can control about what happened to you.
Forgiveness is not … a requirement.
You do not have to forgive. Many never do and find another way to continue on. Shrug off the “shoulds” and listen to what you want for you.
Forgiveness is … transforming the future.
Forgiveness is not … changing the past.
Forgiveness is a gift to yourself rather than an offering to your assailant.
And it’s a gift you have to procure for yourself.
Want to forgive and not sure how? Read Forgiveness 101.
Want another perspective? Read When You Shouldn’t Forgive.