Forgiveness is a topic I find myself talking with a lot of people about due to a lot of misconceptions. We hold onto a lot of beliefs about forgiveness that lead to us feeling not ready to forgive someone who has wronged us. It can lead to us holding onto a lot of anger that isn’t productive.
If we let go of some of those misconceptions, it can be a first step in letting go of the anger as well.
MYTH: Forgiveness means what the person did was not wrong.
FACT: Often we hold onto anger about someone wronging us due to feeling that forgiving them would mean letting them off the hook for what they did. The reality, you don’t forgive someone to let them off the hook, you forgive them to let yourself off the hook of holding onto that anger and resentment.
Forgiving someone is a powerful message to yourself that you deserve to move forward and let go of those negative feelings.
MYTH: Forgiving someone means you trust them again.
FACT: Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It does not mean that you trust the person or even treat them any differently than prior to forgiving them. It simply means that you let go of the anger. You may not confide in a person who has broken your confidence, or lend money to someone who stole from you.
You may not even let someone back in your life that you have determined has not earned the right to be there. You can do all of that without anger by simply acknowledging that this is a response to their actions and not a response to your emotions.
MYTH: A person has to be sorry in order to forgive them.
FACT: This is one that a lot of people have trouble accepting, but you can in fact forgive someone who is not sorry. Remembering the basic idea that forgiveness isn’t about them, it’s about you.
You don’t have control over if they are sorry or if they will ever be sorry. You only have control over how you feel and act. So you can forgive someone who is not sorry. And you can be sorry and not be forgiven.
MYTH: Forgiveness needs to be spoken or told to the person we forgive.
FACT: We often think about forgiveness as an action and even an event where we sit down and say to someone’s face that we have forgiven them. While stating forgiveness can be a therapeutic part of the process, it is not essential to let go of the anger.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel safe to tell someone that they are forgiven. Sometimes that person is not willing or not available to hear the message of forgiveness. None of these have to be barriers to let go of the anger and resentment.
You can tell a different person. You can stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself. You can write it down in a letter or journal entry. Or we can simply acknowledge it in our heart and not tell a soul.
The act in forgiveness is letting go of the anger, not necessarily shouting it from the rooftops.
MYTH: We only forgive other people.
FACT: Often when we think about forgiveness, we think about forgiving other people. We identify the person we are angry with as someone else because that is safer and does not mean we have to take any ownership or responsibility.
Oftentimes, the person that you most need to forgive is yourself. Self forgiveness might be the hardest type of forgiveness due to the fact that if you feel guilty about what you have done, then holding onto anger continues to punish you, and that might be hard to give up.
Sometimes, creatively finding a way to make amends can help let that anger go. It can help to apologize to the person that you have wronged, even if that person is also you.
There are also times when it can be helpful to acknowledge that the punishment must fit the crime and accept the fact that you have held onto the anger long enough. You have served your time and it is time to let it go and move forward.
Forgiveness is a difficult step, but an important one when you find yourself holding onto anger towards yourself or others. It is important to remember that no one can go back in time and do something different or change the past.
The only thing any of us have control over is the present. And what we do in the present moment gets to determine what kind of future lies ahead of us.
So the question is, have you held onto the anger long enough? And are you ready to let it go?