Forgiveness is not easy.
Forgiveness is being able to let go from your heart, truly and genuinely.
If you have experienced war, exile, abuse, assault, bullying, discrimination, dishonesty, dehumanizing or rude behaviours from others… you know that it’s not always easy to just forgive.
But forgiveness is possible.
Forgiveness is therapeutic: it gives you freedom and inner peace. Forgiveness is strength. Forgiveness has the power to heal and transform.
Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace. (Jonathan Lockwood Huie)
Here is a brief but challenging exercise:
Imagine having the same life circumstances as a person who has done harm to you… these circumstances could be a history of adversity (many abusive people have a history of being harmed by others), or it could be exposure to cultural, social, or educational factors which have taught them to behave meanly towards others. In your exercise, I am sure you would feel uncomfortable to feel in the other person’s shoes. It would be a terrible life to be a cruel person yourself! Regardless of the causes of the other person’s cruelty, imagine how difficult it would be to live such a life, and imagine the obstacles there could be to truly changing, accepting justice, apologizing, making amends, dealing with the guilt, and becoming a better person. Be aware that if such a person encounters others, such as past victims, who simply show them hateful or vindictive reactions to their behaviour, it is unlikely for that person to change for the better—in fact, their behaviour is likely to get even worse.
Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their behaviour. Forgiveness prevents their behaviour from destroying your heart. (Author Unknown)
Exercises like this can help facilitate healing, and it can also be a reminder: strive to do no harm to other people because you know how painful it is to be harmed.
Don’t allow your wounds to turn you into a person you are not. (Paulo Coelho)
Forgiveness is not remaining passive and allowing other people to harm us continually. Forgiving is not ignoring or swallowing mean behaviours, but rather is stepping back from our emotions and hurt, and aiming instead for calm, peace, and justice in a rational way. You still need to courageously stand up for yourself, and for others! The great examples that I can think of are Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. They have forgiven, but they continue to talk about what they have been through and ways that can help all of us promote equality and humanity. They are still pursuing justice.
Forgiveness is also not necessarily welcoming people who have harmed you back into your life. Oftentimes, it is actually not safe or healthy for you to be physically or emotionally close to these people, especially if they are not genuinely remorseful and apologetic.
I don’t think people understand that you can forgive a person and not allow them back into your life. That is possible, very possible. (Author Unknown)
You can love them, forgive them, want good things for them… but still move on without them. (Mandy Hale)
Forgiveness is being able to make peace with your pain… forgiveness is noble… forgiveness is self-love… forgiveness sets you free…
One of the ways to achieve forgiveness is nurturing kindness. But many people ask, how? Be in the presence of genuinely kind people. Yes, spending time with sincerely kind people, learning from them, carrying them in your heart… if they cannot always be around you, then carry those memories with you. Kindness heals. Truly. And you need to practice kindness on a daily basis.
Another exercise that you can do, whether you are religious or not, is writing down a list of names of people who did harm in your life, or people who treated you rudely or disrespectfully. Then you pray for them or you meditate to practice your compassion. The more you practice, the more peace you will have, and the more beautiful your life will be. But we would have to be careful not to let this exercise be an occasion to ruminate or obsess further, in a way which makes our negative feelings worse. Exercises like this are best if they are planned in advance, time-limited (for example, just 10 minutes), and done at a time when you are feeling a little bit better, instead of a little bit worse. Exercises of any kind are not as helpful if you do them when exhausted or suffering your worst pain… exercise is best done when you are at your best.
Religious texts often deal with the subject of forgiveness. There are some well-known verses from the Bible which are meant to encourage a different way of dealing with enemies or people who are not kind to us:
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28)
If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. (Romans 12:20)
I must confess I am not able to do all of these things wholeheartedly. But I have seen people really practicing these scriptures wholeheartedly… many of whom do not have a religious belief. I admire these people, from the very bottom of my heart. I would love to keep learning from them and keep practicing these virtues diligently.
In my personal experience, I once did very kind acts to a bully during one of her hardest times in life; she then apologized to me for having treated me badly. So your forgiveness would not only bring you inner peace, but it could also change the other person!
We know that we cannot always receive a sincere apology from the people who did harm to us—perhaps forgiveness is feeling at peace, with or without an apology.
Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got. (Robert Brault)
Forgiveness can be a lifelong learning process for some. Don’t punish yourself for being “slow.” Just keep going, and keep practicing. If it has to be your lifelong homework, let it be. It is a beautiful kind of homework anyway.
Forgiveness is the best form of love. It takes a strong person to say sorry and an even stronger person to forgive. (Author Unknown)
I wish you well.
Affirmation: I enrich my life when I practice forgiveness.