Whether it was a family member, a friend or a classmate. It’s not easy to forgive someone when their actions or words can leave you feeling angry and bitter.
But, if you’re stuck in the past because you can’t forgive, how do you expect to be positive and move forward, when negative thoughts keep you chained to the prison of the past?
At the moment it might seem as if your silence gives you control over them but holding on to those feelings won’t allow you to embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness.
Forgiveness has different outcomes in different situations but the most common benefit of forgiveness is the peace that helps you go on with life.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” These fascinating and undeniably true words were said by Lewis Smedes.
By not forgiving someone, you’re a prisoner. Forgiveness can truly free you and lead to understanding, compassion and empathy for the one who hurt you. Some people feel as if forgiveness means forgetting or approving what happened. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Forgiveness is choosing to rise above the situation.
So how do you forgive someone when every cell in your body wants to hurt them back? How do you laugh with them when all you want to do is cry from the pain of their actions? How do you let go of the past and move into a promising future?
I firmly believe that no one is purely evil; no one completely dedicates their life to hurting others. Everyone carries their own pain which influences the decisions they make. Everyone has a past that effects their present and future. It’s not an excuse for their thoughtless, insensitive, or selfish decisions, but it makes them easier to understand.
In the end, none of us are perfect; we’ve all been thoughtless and insensitive at one point in our lives. We’ve all made mistakes and usually we start off with good intentions.
A simple starting point would be to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and to understand the situation from all different perspectives.
Imagine a girl who has been bullied throughout most of her school years, eventually she gets out of school, graduates and starts a job. Does the trauma she faced in school have anything to do with the job and the life she’s living as an adult? Yes. She might still have insecurities from her childhood and she might still be holding a grudge that affects her life in many ways. It’s possible that it doesn’t affect her in huge ways but there are definitely small parts of her life that are affected due to her childhood.
Let’s say, one day while she’s at work, she comes face to face with the company’s new employee who happens to be her childhood bully. Due to the fact that she never really forgave her bully or let go of the past, her new life could be disturbed. Now that they’ve both grown as people, the bully asks for forgiveness, hoping to start a friendship.
The girl examines the details in the bully’s life and finds herself understanding the reasons behind the bully’s behavior. She learns that her home life wasn’t always easy, her parents never gave her the love and support an innocent child needs. This damaged her personality, causing her to hurt others to feel a sense of control and power.
People who hurt you won’t always explain the reasons behind their actions but if you give it a try and imagine it from what you know, you may be able to see through the façade that they put up in front of others. You may see a vulnerable person who was wounded and wounded you in return. Despite what they may have done to hurt you, you realize that she did not deserve to suffer, either. It’s not an excuse for their behavior but, recognizing that we all carry wounds in our hearts can help open the door to forgiveness.
Another question arises once you do forgive someone, can it lead to reconciliation? And what if the person doesn’t change?
If both people value the relationship, then it can always be mended leading to reconciliation. Sometimes, in the case of an old bully, friendship isn’t what either side is looking for. Most people just want to undo the pain they’ve caused. By forgiving a bully who truly feels sorry, you can give them hope for becoming a better person and you can let yourself be truly free.
There are other times where the person you forgive doesn’t change, instead just focuses on hurting someone else. That bring us back to how forgiveness can change your life. By bringing peace, happiness, and emotional healing. Forgiveness can take away the power the other person continues to wield in your life.
Forgiveness isn’t always asked for by the offender. You may have completely cut off the person who hurt you for your own well-being, but still carry the anger, pain and hurt. There’s no need to tell the person you’ve forgiven them as long as you’ve freed yourself from those negative feelings.
Once you’ve overcome suffering, you gain a more mature understanding of what it means to be humble, courageous, and loving in the world. You may be moved to create an atmosphere of forgiveness in your environment, to help others who’ve been harmed overcome their suffering, or to protect your community from a cycle of hatred and violence. All of these choices can lighten the heart and bring joy to one’s life.
Some people may believe that forgiveness makes you weak, but I disagree. It takes courage to apologize but it takes an even stronger person to understand and forgive.