Forgiveness can sometimes feel impossible or even undesirable. Other times, we forgive only to be hurt again and conclude that forgiving was foolish. Both situations arise from confusion about what forgiveness really means.
Forgiveness doesn’t require that we forget or condone another’s actions or the harm caused. In fact, for self-protection, rather than anger, we may decide never to see the person again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we justify or play down the hurt caused. Codependents often forgive and forget, and continue to put themselves in harm’s way. They forgive and then rationalize or minimize their loved one’s abuse or addiction. This is their denial. They may even contribute to it by enabling. We should never deny, enable, or condone abuse.
Meaning of Forgiveness
“Forgiveness is releasing a prisoner and discovering the prisoner was you,” said Hilary Clinton. When we hold grudges, hostility can sabotage our ability to enjoy the present and our future relationships. Ongoing anger harms us and actually has negative health consequences. It raises blood pressure, impairs digestion, and creates psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and mental and physical pain.
Holding anger is poison. It eats you from inside. We think that hating is a weapon that attacks the person who harmed us. But hatred is a curved blade. And the harm we do, we do to ourselves. ~ Mitch Albom, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven”
The opposite is true of forgiveness, which improves mental and physical functioning. Although forgiveness can mean to pardon, generally, it means to let go of resentment, releasing us from obsessive or recurring negative thoughts. When we forgive our enemies, we relinquish any desire for payback or revenge or hoping that misfortune comes to them. Empathy and understanding toward our offender help us forgive. If we’re in a relationship, we attempt to rebuild trust and may set boundaries around our partner’s conduct in the future. Although the past impacts, informs, and shapes us, we’re able to make constructive changes and move on in peace.
When to Forgive
Forgiving too soon may deny anger that’s needed for change. If we’ve been deceived, abused, or victimized, justified anger affirms our self-respect. It motivates us to protect ourselves with appropriate boundaries. It helps us cope with grief and let go. It can smooth the progress of separation from an abuser. In divorces, usually at least one spouse is angry, facilitating the breakup.
Initially, we hurt. If we’ve been betrayed or rejected, it’s natural to feel pain – just like a physical wound. We must experience it and cry without self-judgment. We need time to feel the hurt and loss that has happened and to heal. Once, we feel safe and have gone through stages of loss, it may be easier to forgive.