Forgiveness is often a misunderstood concept for the betrayed, hurting, neglected, and abused.
How do you extend forgiveness when your close friend betrays your trust and tries to undermine your relationship with others – or when a coworker hijacked your hard work and took credit for it, cheating you out of that big promotion? How do you forgive your spouse who’s been unfaithful and flaunts his new love relationship all around town? Or, what about the parent who is abusive – and the other parent who spends years “looking the other way”, allowing it to continue? And, let’s be honest, why would we want to forgive such despicable acts by such undeserving people?
When we have been wounded, especially by someone we trusted, many people feel that their only recourse is to cling to their anger and hold a grudge. So, while the wrongdoer is going about their life and never giving the object of their misdeeds another thought, the injured party latches onto their grudge like it is a lifeline to justice. “I have every right to be angry!” “If I forgive, he wins.” “If I let go of my anger, she gets off scot-free.” “It’s my right to hate him.” “She deserves it.” This reasoning begs the question, who is really suffering by our unforgiveness?
There is a saying that talks about how holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You can already see what the problem is with doing that, can’t you? The problem is… you are the one who gets burned. When we seethe in anger and unforgiveness, our ability to think clearly and to function in healthy relationships is compromised. Our health often suffers, as well. So what is the answer?
One of the first things we need to recognize is that forgiveness is a gift to ourselves. Truly. It is the gift of releasing the intense pain in our hearts and trading it for peace. It is the gift of freeing our emotions so we can nurture and further develop the healthy relationships we value. It is the gift of enabling us to enjoy all that is good and right in our lives and moving forward. Nancy S. Kay talks about this subject in her book, “The Self-Aware Life”.
“Authentic forgiveness is the healthiest choice… It is too easy to react to life’s disappointments with anger. Holding a grudge can consume us and eventually destroy us. Grudges can cloud judgment and lead to acts of revenge that can never be reversed. They can also inhibit the values that foster genuine relationships. The humble, forgiving temperament can settle quarrels and interrupt the damaging effects of pride and self- righteousness. It cannot predict or control others’ choices, but it sure can help us sleep better.”
It is also important to recognize that forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. Sometimes reconciliation is a bonus to forgiveness. It’s wonderful when that can happen. Often, however, an unhealthy relationship needs to be cut out of our lives completely –sometimes that’s the healthiest choice. It’s okay to make the tough choice of denying reconciliation. Other times, however, a relationship will need to be redefined with strict boundaries –and that’s okay, too.
If you are stuck in the throes of anger and unforgiveness today, gift yourself by releasing them and working towards forgiveness. It is not always a one-time decision. Sometimes it’s a process of two steps forward and one step back, but as long as you determine to continue the forward motion, it is possible to achieve.