What IS Forgiveness? – August 5, 2013

QUESTION:

What IS forgiveness?  Is it never bringing up the ‘what happened’?  Is it never wanting to think about it again?  Is it trusting the person?  I keep hearing it is for yourself and not the other person but what do you get when you find whatever IT is?  I feel I need to get there but I don’t know what or where it is for me?  I am sure it is different for everybody. … Please share what it is and if anything besides time and a regretful partner helped to get there?

ANSWER:

When trying to understand forgiveness it’s important to look not only at what forgiveness is, but also at what forgiveness is not. Below we’ll look at both.

Forgiveness is making a decision to give up your feelings of anger, bitterness, resentment and hatred towards a person who has committed a wrong against you. It is also giving up your right to punish that person for what they’ve done to you.

There are two distinct types of forgiveness:

Type #1The person who has committed the wrong is genuinely remorseful and has not only apologized for what they’ve done, but is doing everything possible to make restitution for what they’ve done, as well as making genuine changes to themselves as a person, to ensure they never commit such a wrong against you again.

In this situation, forgiveness is easier and reconciliation of the relationship is possible if desired. And it may be desirable to tell the other person you forgive them.

Type #2The person is not sorry, refuses to make restitution, and/or refuses to change. In this situation reconciliation of the relationship is not usually in your best interest. You may want to make effort to remove this person from your life and protect yourself, so that they are no longer in a position where they can continue to hurt you. In this situation, you can still make a decision to forgive in the fact that you give up your feelings of anger, hatred and revenge, so that you’re future life is not robbed from you because you are consumed with bitterness and angry feelings. You can make a decision to forgive someone without necessarily going to that person and telling them you forgive them. For example you may make a decision to forgive the other woman/other man, but that doesn’t mean you HAVE to go to that person and tell them you forgive them. It just means you decide not to let feelings of bitterness and hatred towards them consume you.

Is forgiveness never bringing up the ‘what happened’?

Not necessarily. For example; you may choose to forgive someone (to benefit your own emotional well-being), but perhaps there is a courtcase pending, where the wrong is relevant and may need to be brought up again.

Forgiveness means not bringing up what happened in a mean way intended to hurt the other person, but you could forgive and still bring it up for honest discussion, because you need to better understand what happened. Forgiveness does mean you don’t hold something over someone else’s head for the rest of their lives, something they can never undo.

When you forgive an affair in a marriage, you may sometimes bring it up in appropriate ways, but you would never bring it up as your trump card in an argument. When true healing, forgiveness AND RESTORATION have taken place in a relationship, you can still bring it up in appropriate ways. The event has lost its power to hurt either of you. I have forgiven my husband, but sometimes one of us may bring up his affair in order to better understand someone else’s situation. And believe it or not, sometimes we even tell jokes about his affair. But I would never bring it up in an argument, and I’m very careful that the way it’s talked about doesn’t hurt my husband. Because genuine forgiveness has taken place, we have no need to feel afraid of discussing his affair, or affairs in general. It happened. It’s part of who we are and our history. But because I’ve forgiven and he’s forgiven himself, we can easily discuss it in appropriate ways if it’s beneficial to someone.

Is it never wanting to think about it again?

Forgiveness is making a decision not to think about it in ways that are destructive to yourself anymore. You may forgive, but then still have bad days where you “feel” like thinking about it, and you will definitely have fleeting thoughts about the event again, that’s only natural, but you CAN control what you choose to think about for long periods of time. Forgiveness is choosing not to dwell on the event in a way that is destructive to you.

Is forgiveness trusting the person?

No. Trust is completely separate from forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift one can choose to grant. It is not wise to trust someone unless they have proven themselves to be trustworthy. Forgiveness can be given regardless of the offending parties actions. Trust must be earned, by consistently acting in a trustworthy manner over an extended period of time. You can choose to forgive someone without ever trusting them again.

What forgiveness is:

Webster’s dictionary defines forgiveness this way: To give up resentment against; stop being angry with; pardon; give up all claim to punish; overlook; cancel a debt.

That’s an awful lot to ask of someone when the offense has been major.

Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free. The surprise is, once you have forgiven, you discover that the real prisoner who has been freed is yourself, not the person who has hurt you. You become free of bitterness, and free to enjoy your present and your future.

Forgiveness is a response to an injustice. It is a turning, goodwill, a merciful restraint from pursuing resentment or revenge.

Forgiveness is paradoxical, the opposite of what comes naturally because it is human and natural to be resentful and require others to pay a price for their wrongdoing.

Forgiveness is good will.

  • merciful restraint from pursuing resentment or revenge.
  • generosity or offering good things.
  • moral love or contributing to the betterment of others.

Forgiveness is coping strategy

  • a means to survival.
  • improvement of one’s self under difficult circumstances.

Forgiveness is a choice

Forgiveness is a skill

  • it takes time to learn and practice it.

Forgiving is a process.

  • It takes time to process all of our emotions; anger, grief and sadness. The important thing is to be moving forward from whatever point we are at. It is healthy to give yourself appropriate time to process your emotions, when forgiving.

Forgiveness is a commitment

  • it takes dedication to forgive.

What Forgiveness Is Not:

Forgiveness is NOT condoning the wrong behavior.

  • “nothing that bad happened”
  • “it was only this one time”
  • “it won’t happen again”

Forgiveness is NOT forgetting about it.

  • “forgive and forget,” “suck it up” or “just get over it.”

Forgiveness is NOT denial, pretending it didn’t happen.

  • time passing / ignoring the effects of the wrongdoer.

Forgiveness is not condemning. Condemning implies permanence.

  • blaming, prescribing punishment, pronounce unfit, to declare incurable.
  • holding a grudge becomes a vicious cycle of bitterness, resentment and pain.
  • forgiving with a sense of moral superiority.

Remember: Forgiveness does not take the pain away.

To truly forgive we must be aware of an important distinction: Forgiveness is not reconciliation with the person. Reconciliation is different. Forgiveness is one person’s moral response to another person’s injustice.

I keep hearing forgiveness is for yourself and not the other person but what do you get when you find whatever IT is? 

When you forgive – releasing your feelings of anger, hatred, bitterness and revenge towards another human being, you get your life back. Your health improves, you are free to be happy again, you get to keep good people in your life, and good things start happening to you again. If you harbor unforgiveness in your heart, you become unpleasant to be around and eventually good people start avoiding you. Your friends, family and children will empathize with you for some time, but if you don’t forgive at some point, you will become unpleasant to be around and eventually people will start avoiding you.

If you don’t forgive, your health is at risk.

Disappointment, criticism, hurt, abuse, loss, rejections, humiliation, abandonment, guilt, false guilt, hate, anger, or envy etc. profoundly affect the way your body functions.  The flow of love through you is at risk of becoming blocked, and your health is at stake.  It has been said: “One who hates another (blocks love) digs two graves.”

  1. Your muscles may tighten, causing postural imbalances or pain in neck, back and limbs
  2. Headaches may occur.
  3. Muscles tension squeezes the joint surfaces together decreasing blood flow, making it more difficult for the blood to remove waste products from the cells and tissues. It reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the cells.  Both these contribute to delayed or inadequate tissue repair during sleep, impairing recovery from injury, arthritis, etc.
  4. Your teeth may clench, especially at night, contributing to the dental bills for problems with your teeth and jaw joints.
  5. Injury through inattention, accident, or violence is more likely.
  6. The blood flow to your heart is constricted.
  7. Your digestion is impaired.
  8. Your breathing is restricted.
  9. It is now beginning to be realized that your immune system functions less well.
  10. If you have a tendency to allergy, the level at which the allergic response tends to trigger off can be reduced, so that allergic symptoms occur more frequently.
  11. You become more vulnerable to infections, and perhaps cancer.
  12. You feel bad, moody, irritable, and so on, and your mind is less able to see its way through problems and difficulties.
  13. Making decisions can become harder.
  14. You may become depressed – even suicidal.
  15. Your creativity is reduced or even blocked.

Other side effects of not forgiving often include:

  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depriving yourself
  • Remaining stuck (even developmentally)
  • Illness
  • Accidents
  • Addictions

I feel I need to get there but I don’t know what or where it is for me?

Forgiveness is a learned skill. It doesn’t just happen. We take you through the process of forgiveness during our seminars.

I am sure it is different for everybody, please share what it is for you and if anything besides time and a regretful partner helped to get there? 

This article on how to forgive may help you. Understanding what forgiveness really is helped me. Hearing stories of others who’ve forgiven helped me.

One of the most powerful of these has been The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

A key to real forgiveness is learning to stop focusing on the past and focusing on the future instead, focusing on becoming your best self and reaching your full potential as a man or woman. In my own journey to forgiveness, as I worked on becoming all that I was capable of, I didn’t have time to think about the wrongs of the past anymore. Living your best life is the greatest revenge.

Two wrongs never make a situation right. Those who commit wrongs should bear the rightful consequences of their actions, but revengeful behaviors actually only serve to make them feel better about themselves (because deep down they know they deserve to be punished for what they’ve done). Kindness is actually the greatest revenge, but kindness does not mean we free people from the consequences of their behavior.

What other’s had to say about forgiveness:

I think that Forgiveness is the ability to know that the person who wronged you is just as human as you are. The part about it being about you is the part that is important. If you dont forgive and carry the anger around it becomes hate and hate turns you sour or black hearted. Although none of us can go back to the innocent love we once knew, once forgiveness sets in you can truely love again. For me forgiveness is getting to the point where we can talk about what happened without tears, frustration and so on. I am almost there, but not quite! As far as trust-this must be earned not forgiven. – Michelle – Texas

I’m sure forgiveness means different things to different people as much as love has many different meanings or definitions. For me, forgiveness is summed up in one sentence. When the wrong that was committed on me (by whomever) no longer controls who I am. – Darren – Hawaii

Well said. In particular the part that trust must be earned and not forgiven. I have, for the most part, forgiven the affair. … My wife is, however, still lying to me. I believe she wants to spare me further pain but I have told her that she must answer my questions truthfully. … I think we really love one another at least I do. Her behavior indicates that she loves me dearly too, except for the lies. We are going to get divorced over this. … It appears that everything is ok but when I tell her that for me to heal I must know some truths she will not face this request. She tells me that she already told me all the truth and there is nothing else but I just found out (and she confirmed) that she has lied again. … So, I have forgiven her for the affair because of the irrationality of the moment. I cannot forgive her for the deliberate hurt she is dispensing me right now by not telling the truth and because she has once again broken the trust I had started rebuilding in her. That instance, brought me back to D-day.

The single most important thing that has helped me forgive her is the knowledge I have aquired reading all the excellent books on the subject and, of course, sharing with the BAN community. I understood that the affair was not my fault and how easy it could happen to anyone. – G.C. – Virginia

For me, the beginning of forgiveness came when we were in a conversation, and it hit me like a ton of bricks . . .
The affair, the behavior, the attitudes, and everything that was happening surrounding the affair were because my husband had strayed from God.  He admittedly didn’t want anything to do with God or church after being a committed Christian man for 25 years.  That made me realize that it was sin causing all of this—which I guess would be the case anytime anyone has an affair. But it was so clear to me, and that made me realize that my husband needed forgiveness.  Then I began to think about how God forgives each of us for our sin, and how I am no better than anyone else. I have been afforded God’s grace and forgiveness in my life, and to be a Christian, I needed to give that same grace and forgiveness to others.  While I had no clue how I was going to do that, I knew I had to.  So for me, it was a decision, based strictly on what I felt God was telling me in the middle of the circumstances.  Thank God I listened.  Just prior to that realization, I had packed all of my clothes and was planning to divorce my husband.  But, when I realized how much he needed God, I couldn’t do it.  And, Biblically, I know I had every right to divorce him, but I also felt like I had an obligation to try to help him get his life back on track.  I didn’t want to see him separated from God.  He had been so faithful to me, and to God, up to that point, and never gave me concern of this nature.  Don’t we all deserve forgiveness?

I know that I want God’s forgiveness and grace in my life, so I had to give the same to my husband who was struggling with sin.  Now, let me just say that forgiveness does not mean that what he did was ok, or that I just let it go.  We’ve had many, many tearful conversations about it.  But as time has gone by (about 5 months), God has helped me not to be so bitter towards my husband and the other woman.  In fact, He (God) has given me a special love for the hurting people through this event in my life.  I’m trying to allow God to use this situation to reach out to others.  God has even given the opportunity to have conversations with the “other woman”, and I truly have tried to help her forgive herself, and move on with her life as well.  What they did to me was so hurtful, but what we do to God on a daily basis is much more hurtful after He gave His one and only Son for our sins!  So, how can I lay around and pout or wallow in my hurt?!?  I still have moments where the feelings are more intense than others, but all in all, God has truly helped me with this, and I am counting on Him being there with me on a daily basis to help me continue to work through this forgiveness and rebuild my marriage.  To God be the glory that we are still together, and in many ways . . . much better than before.  We don’t take each other for granted as we used to, and we are more careful about how we treat each other.  More respectful of each other.  It’s amazing how God can take what Satan meant for our harm and turn it around for His good. – Joyce – Illinois

For me, forgiveness is a “choice.” When you truly love someone no matter how much they hurt you, you forgive them. That is the way I was raised as a child of God. I hurt my Husband also (not w/ an affair) but by ignoring his needs for years. When I found out about his affair I too needed his forgiveness. I never thought twice about forgiving him, for me that’s what love is about. Forgiveness for me is easy it’s the forgetting I struggle with. It’s been two years since I found out & 1 yr & 9 month’s since we reunited. For some of us I suppose there can never be forgiveness & that is so sad. I believe everyone deserves a second chance. If it ever happens again, I will divorce him but I don’t see that happening. We have gotten counseling and have talked openly about our feelings. I know some women that never spoke to their Husband again. I know some women that used revenge and hurt their Husband. My Husband said he loves me more now than he ever loved me before & I believe him today. We make every minute together count & we talk about our feelings when we didn’t before. I am grateful I have a forgiving heart. – Kathy

When the wrong that was committed on me (by whomever) no longer controls who I am.

I was blown away by the above statement.  Thank you Darren.  I am not totally controlled by my husband’s affair, which by the way was not his first, but I am working on it.  I don’t think I’ll ever forgive him because if I do then I think he’ll go on his merry way and do it again.  When he leaves the house I get that horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It’s been 15 months since he was caught and as he told our therapist the only reason he gave her up was because I found out.  He will not discuss his affair in any length, he just says he was stupid.  That’s it.  But he has changed in other ways by being more loving, etc.  But I’m still waiting for the other shoes to fall. Its one Hell of a life, I never thought at the age of 63 I would be in this horrible life. – No name signed

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