Every one of us walks through life a little wounded. We have all had experiences that left us feeling as though we were robbed of something, or negatively changed in some way. For some of us, those experiences were unthinkably sinister, or at the very least, just plain nasty. It doesn’t matter if your experience was worse than someone else’s, or if you feel you are justified in holding onto anger and resentment. What matters is that you give yourself the opportunity to move forward in a healthy way and focus on thoughts and emotions that serve you. Negativity never serves you very well.
I sometimes meet people who have been holding onto anger and resentment for most of their lives and consequently, have a myriad of physical and mental health issues. In many ways, they deny themselves the opportunity to have healthy relationships and live a fulfilling life. A shift in perspective allows people to let go, so I will attempt to support that shift in this blog.
The most misunderstood thought around forgiveness is that it in some way sets the offender free.
Forgiveness is not about being okay with the offending behaviour.
It does not give permission to the other person to reoffend and it is not an acceptance of the excuses offered by the offender. It is simply an unwillingness to allow the past to colour your present. Remember, you get to choose your thoughts and emotions around every single circumstance in your life. Resentment is disempowering. Forgiveness allows you to get on with your life in a productive way.
Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness.
Forgiving someone does not make you a doormat or a weak person in any way. There is probably nothing more empowering than being able to say that you have made a choice to not let your past experiences define you. In doing so, you get to define who you are, what you are, how you are and what you stand for. You get to stand tall and move forward without the past coming back to haunt you, because the buck stops with you.
You have to make peace with things you cannot change.
There is always something positive to glean from your experiences if you take time to reflect without judgement.
There are many things in life that we cannot control or change, so we must make peace with them. I can tell you from my personal experience, that I can fully see how those who have transgressed against me have shaped my future in a positive way. The trials of my earlier relationships set me on a path that has led me to where I am today, helping people and inspiring them to change the way they think so they can live a more fulfilling life. I feel like I have been called to do this work, but I would not have anything to offer without those experiences. Nevertheless, it could have gone the other way. I could have allowed myself to be consumed with anger and resentment, and I’ll admit that for a while, I was, but I learned to let it go. I learned to look for the wisdom behind my experiences. There is always something positive to glean from your experiences if you take time to reflect without judgement. My reflection taught me the value of being true to myself and of being kind in my thoughts and emotions about my life. My journey continues to offer me a variety of experiences to appreciate, even if they are sometimes uncomfortable.
People seldom reflect on the effect bad behaviour has on the transgressor.
The worst transgressors are usually good at manipulating the truth to support a more positive public image. Those who deliberately bring harm to you have a reputation to protect, after all. They need to weave a story that downplays their actions, makes them look innocent in some way, or that makes you look deserving of the bad behaviour. There will always be people who believe them, but what’s interesting is that they ultimately created a situation where they have to be afraid of you. Suddenly, they have to control relationships and wonder who you told and what you said. That’s one side of the problem they created for themselves. The other is that as they watch you live through the repercussions of their actions, there is a certain emotional burden they must deal with if they have any conscience at all. Either way, they created an emotional hell for themselves. In this way they unwittingly give power back to their victims.
Think of all the drunk drivers who have killed people, the wife beaters, rapists, child molesters, con artists and such. You cannot feel sorry for them, but boy do they have an emotional burden to live with. Imagine the self-contempt they wake up with and try to hide from the world. That’s the thought that will allow you to take a step back and rethink your decision to go through life as a victim. It’s a beginning, anyway, but you really don’t want to go through life with some sense of smug satisfaction, either.
Moving past all of it means focusing on your own well-being, not your misery or victimhood.
Forgiveness is the only antidote for the poison brought to you by someone’s foul behaviour. Try to become more aware of your thoughts, your mood, and your corresponding emotions. Focus on feeling good about yourself, loving who you are, not defining yourself by your experiences or diagnoses. Focus on changing the talk in your head. Your thoughts are yours. They will either imprison you or free you. You get to choose. I chose happiness and freedom a long time ago and it’s been great for me ever since. I think everyone should make that choice no matter what happens to them.
Renee, welcome to the Biz Catalyst family! Your article is insightful, and it resonates with me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us about this topic and providing perspective on the value and freedom forgiveness can instill in us. Forgiving ourselves is often one of the hardest things to do, but its healing powers can unlock paths we weren’t able to see before.
I particularly love what you say here: “…Focus on changing the talk in your head. Your thoughts are yours. They will either imprison you or free you. You get to choose.” I couldn’t agree more. I let my thoughts imprison me for a long time. But walking through that fear and choosing each day has brought me to a better place. I still fall back sometimes, but I am more adept at recognizing it and kicking myself back to a healthier mindset.
That’s right, Laura. It takes practice. You cannot erase the past so it will haunt you now and then, but you can always change your perspective. Being able to recognize when you are heading toward unhelpful thinking and pull yourself back to where you really want to be is a highly valuable skill. Thank you for your comment.
Thank you for sharing this great piece, Renee. It’s something I haven’t yet mastered but am working on everyday. This is the nugget I’m taking with me today:
“Forgiveness is the only antidote for the poison brought to you by someone’s foul behaviour. Try to become more aware of your thoughts, your mood, and your corresponding emotions. Focus on feeling good about yourself, loving who you are, not defining yourself by your experiences or diagnoses. Focus on changing the talk in your head. Your thoughts are yours. They will either imprison you or free you. You get to choose.”
Amen to that!
Thank you Melissa. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.
Welcome to BC360.
Personally, I have already expressed myself on this subject, but I am pleased to bring my thoughts back to a matter that is always relevant, in a world full of free malicious expressions.
We must not think that forgiving is a sign of weakness. Nor can you imagine that it means forgetting a situation that has upset us. Forgiveness is a sort of active decision, which will give us the strength to free ourselves from sadness, resentment and resentment that often accompany certain moments of life and overwhelm us, even causing physical discomfort. Forgiveness, in fact, has nothing to do with the person who hurt us. It concerns first of all ourselves and gives us immense power: that of freeing ourselves from the malaise that that situation causes us. Those who forgive are often driven by a feeling of goodness towards the person who has wronged them and prove to be a person who knows how to manage their feelings in a mature way. Of course, we will have to take the right time to analyze the situation. It feels in fact, freer and calmer if you forgive yourself after reflections and analysis of the behavior of others but above all, of ours. Forgiving without rancor is possible essentially by learning to know one’s emotions and going beyond the lived situation.
I agree 100% Aldo. Further to the discussion, forgiveness is something you never need to justify, but sometimes people expect us to. We are often urged to seek revenge or to advertise what someone did to us, but those actions don’t make the pain go away. They only hold you in your resentment, which is of course, toxic. Anger and resentment, on the other hand, are often more easily understood and accepted as justifiable, but it should really be the opposite. I don’t believe there is any situation that is unforgivable once you accept that forgiveness is not a form of permission. All it really is, is an unwillingness to invest your emotional energy in the past and in victimhood.
How do you forgive someone that wreaked a car you were in and the accident put you in a wheelchair for life? I try to be positive but my ability to take care myself is declining.
The term accident should say everything. Did this person intend to ruin your life or did you allow yourself to be a permanent victim of circumstance? Forgiveness for you will mean having to change the way you feel about your life and the significance of the circumstances that led you to where you are today. I, personally know one other person who has had a similar experience but he chose to make the best of it. Sometimes we just have to find a way to make peace with what is. Wishing you much love and courage to change your perspective so you can feel good about your life. At the end of the day, happiness is a choice. If you would like more help please feel free to contact me through my website. http://www.reneecormier.com
Welcome Renee! Thank you for your thoughtful article. Being a therapist for over 30 years as well as a coach, I know many in our profession share your view. I have a different perspective, but I am always open to hearing another person’s view on this very complicated and nuanced issue.?
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful gifts we can give ourselves.
Thank you, Renee, for your very meaningful post.
As for myself, I have learned that by forgiving, I am accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it. This is usually a gradual process—and it doesn’t necessarily have to include the person I am forgiving. Forgiveness isn’t something I do for the person who wronged me; it’s something I do for ME.
Forgiveness requires willingness to forgive. Sometimes, I feel I can’t or at times I won’t, because the hurt went too deep, or because the person was too abusive, or expressed no regret. I have now learned not to attempt to forgive someone before I have identified, fully felt, expressed, and released my anger, frustration and pain.
Forgiving is an act of courage. It is powerful
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” — Louis B. Smedes
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” — Paul Boese
Jonathan, if forgiveness depends on an apology, you may never get to release yourself from that prison. There is a quote attributed to Buddha which says, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Sometimes you just have to let it go.
Welcome to BizCatalyst, Renee! There are many excellent ideas offered here as forgiveness often is a process with stages of awareness and awakenings. Holding forgiveness inside a container of wholeness and compassion, I notice that the process of forgiving oneself and others continues to be both/and for me. When I hold the “offender” separate from my heart, I struggle to do the deeper work to connect with that human beings’ humanity. My own mother would be someone you’d most definitely place in the container of “offender.” and she gave birth to me, gave me the gift of life. Looking through eyes from a great distance, with a heart filled with compassion, I see the truly tortured soul that she has been/still is-a life struggling to find wholeness, to release her own past traumas when no one understood the horrific impact of what she endured as a child (and then what I subsequently endured). I do not have a relationship with her because of her chronic, persistent, unrelenting ways she treated me, but I also know many people saw/experienced her goodness, her happier sides, the ways she cared for others. She loved my dad for 61 years. Forgiveness continues to be a process I engage inside my own heart as I see her as the greatest teacher I could ever have in my life. We learn a great deal about what’s possible for being human, for loving, for living a fulfilling life, for breaking free, for being courageous, bold, and resilient from those who struggle with out of whack brains/nervous systems/ways of treating others. I would not want anyone to experience what I did with my mom AND I’m grateful for all the ways I have learned to love myself, to treat other people, to Pause and respond, to deeply listen from the core of me, to walk towards healthy, vibrantly alive people. Releasing all that anger/resentment remained critical to my unfolding to my true/healthiest self able to hold my mom in my heart with much compassion. Resolving trauma inside my system was also essential to my healing-opening the space for forgiveness. I am still her daughter. I get to love and thank my mom. Thank you for offering this topic as it obviously gave me a chance to reflect on the love I now can feel for my mom-how far I’ve come, the additional steps I imagine I will take when she dies. I think you may really appreciate the book Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza.
Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Laura. Those traumas of early childhood are especially difficult to forgive. I know that very well. I am glad you have found a way to turn around the relationship you have with your mother on some level. The pivotal moment for me came when I realized my abuser bore a heavy burden. Not all abusers are inclined to reflect that way, however, and not all forms of abuse lend themselves so well to guilt, but I’ll bet your mother has had to “not face” her own actions on more than one occasion. Deep down she knows how she affected you.
I’m very happy to see this post resonating with so many people.
Wonderful article, Renee, and so true. There’s much to take in, here. Welcome, by the way!!
Very interesting, Renee. The subjects of forgiveness and emotional healing are ones that draw my attention. I have a slightly different approach to forgiveness and that it starts with self-forgiveness. Not that I did anything wrong, but that I was made to believe I did.
At 13, I was accused by a “man of the cloth” of doing something and because of his “rank,” I truly believed I did and that I was a rotten person. Move forward 40 years and through therapy, I realized he was wrong. He’s long gone and even if he were alive, he would never accept my forgiveness because he would say that he did nothing wrong. At one point, I wanted him to come back from the grave so I could punch him in the mouth. I no longer feel that way but it was because I forgave myself and then be able to understand the flaw in this thinking.
Forgiving an abuser is something I approach carefully and never “force” anyone to do. I do agree that harboring ill feelings towards another does present HUGE problems but I’ve found that self-forgiveness is the best place to start because a lot of the collateral damage is caused by “the way we think about ourselves” and I’m all for changing that.
I agree that the talk in our heads is critical, and regardless of how you go about the process of forgiveness, it really all does come down to the story you tell yourself about you and the situation you were in. Thank you, John.
Renee – Welcome to the BC360 family of authors where honest, respectful engagement is the norm. Your first article is really powerful but if I may, allow me to add one point to your list.
You can only forgive a person for what they have done to you. For example, if you come from a home where your father abused your mother, you can forgive your father for making you feel helpless and afraid – you cannot forgive him for the pain he caused your mother – only she can do that. Once we realize this, much of the “victim” mentality we see today will disappear.
Great job on this article.
Interesting point, Len! Holding others responsible for how we feel, holds us back in many ways. Our emotions belong to us and are under our own control. It is quite empowering to recognize that only you control your thoughts and emotions. – Renee
I love this Renee often we are the obstacle that need attention before we continue down our path. It is very Inspiring Post. Sharing …..
Thank you, Larry! I appreciate the sentiment and the share!
Thank you so much!