The Power of Forgiveness

Are you a forgiving kind of person? Many of us are not and that is ok. I mean, some things are just unforgivable, right? While it’s true to say that some of the things that people do are very difficult to forgive, saying the words “I forgive you” can actually be incredibly powerful and freeing.

When I talk to people about forgiveness, I like to make it clear that if you are going to forgive something or someone it should always be for your own benefit. Forgiving can set you free, help you to let go of bitterness and resentment, and ultimately enable you to grow as a person. Any anger or pain that you feel can become a feeling of inner peace, clarity and calm.

If someone does something terrible to you, it can have a lasting impact. You may feel that you absolutely hate the person who wronged you. You may cry or get angry. You may experience stress, anxiety or even depression as a result. Understandably, it’s challenging to forgive when someone has made you feel so bad. But forgiving doesn’t mean you have to forget, and it doesn’t mean you have to let the person who wronged you continue to be a part of your life. This is perhaps best highlighted in a quote from Joan Borysenko, who said in an interview that “you can forgive someone who wronged you and still call the Police and testify in court”. Forgiveness is about preserving and protecting your own wellbeing, not about the person you are forgiving.

By forgiving, you’re not forgetting. Indeed, what you have experienced may stay with your forever. However, if you do forgive you may find that you’re able to reflect on what you have been through in a more positive, productive and self-compassionate way.

Then there is forgiving yourself. This is sometimes harder than forgiving another person. If someone else has done something wrong, it’s easier to project your anger and upset on to them than aim it towards yourself.

We all do things that we regret. I’m sure that at some point in our lives we all do something to the detriment of our own happiness or wellbeing. It could be deciding not to embark on a career you had your heart set on. It could be deciding to end a relationship for the wrong reasons. Perhaps infidelity or treating a partner poorly. It could be putting your body and mind through some kind of trauma or self-abuse, or maybe something else. Whatever it may be, learning to forgive ourselves for the things that we have done, not just to ourselves but to other people too, is the most freeing type of forgiveness there is.

I can certainly recall times in my life when I have done something that I wish I hadn’t due to the repercussions of my actions (or inactions). That has led to regret and really beating myself up mentally, wishing that I could turn back the clock and do things differently. The reality is that we are all human. Not one of us is a perfect human being. We all have flaws and we all do things that we wish we hadn’t. But what does that feeling of regret and beating oneself up actually achieve? It is likely to only lead to more pain, increased resentment and negative emotions that continue to grow or possibly even spiral out of control unless they’re addressed. Holding a grudge can become ugly, whether it’s a grudge against ourselves or someone else.

Remember that forgiving is not about letting someone get way with something. It’s not about giving in. It’s not about forgetting and it’s certainly not for the benefit of the other person. You must always do it for yourself. You deserve to be free of what happened to you in the past, whether someone else has done it to you or it’s been self-inflicted, and to be free it’s important to learn to forgive.

While it can be hard to forgive some serious, traumatic things that people may have done, it is ok to forgive in your own time and when you are ready. You’ll eventually thank yourself for doing it.