In my country of origin Ghana, a phrase that is oft-repeated is "forgive and forget". Ghanaians are generally a non-confrontational people, but I have wondered if the concept of forgiveness has really been understood.
Just about everyone of us has been hurt by someone else's words or actions (or inaction). It could close friends, family or someone we were romantically involved with. Whatever they said or did probably made us hurt, angry, resentful, or betrayed the trust we had in them. In 40 years, I've had my share of them!
To forgive the actions of another means making a conscious choice to release yourself of the anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge. It doesn't just happen. Notice I said releasing yourself, not the other person. Forgiveness does not make what the other person did okay. It does not imply making excuses for what they did. You don't need to tell them they are forgiven to make the forgiveness effective. Forgiveness is a way to rid yourself of negative emotions so you can make room for more positive energy. Forgiveness, in a sense, is more about you than it is about the other person. It is about keeping you in a state of peace.
Forgiveness puts the controls back into your hands. When you forgive, you transition from being a victim to being the hero of your life. You may not have had control over the other person's actions, but you have control over what you do with your emotions and your life after that. Whether you choose to be consumed in the bitterness, resentment and anger caused by someone else, or you choose to disentangle yourself from all of that negativity, the choice is ultimately yours. For many people, unfortunately, the latter is easier to do.
Now, forgiving is not a magic wand that makes the pain and hurt go away! Far from it. It is a paradigm shift in your attitude that frees you from the negativity and helps you move on in life with less baggage. The hurt might take some time to heal, but the anger and thoughts of revenge will dissipate. It is surprising how many people carry the resentments of past relationships into new ones and poison them. The resentment is often so deeply buried they do not even know it exists, but it lurks in the shadows, secreting its venom surreptitiously....
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean your relationship with the other person will be reconciled. I have usually made an effort to reconcile those relationships, but reconciliation is not always possible, or even appropriate. It is difficult to reconcile such relationships if the other person accepts no responsibility for their actions that hurt you, or if they refuse to talk to you, of if they died. Forgiveness is not dependent on reconciliation.
Sometimes the person who needs forgiveness is you. For many years after my father died, I held on to the anger that I was not there when he passed away, as was the rest of the family. With a limited phone network and an almost non existent ambulance service, I had to physically go and get help. He asked me not to go, but I wasn't about to stand by and do nothing. I even left my wallet and had to come back home. I was at the doctor's when my brother called me and said, "Don't worry, it's over..." Many years later I realized I had to forgive myself and I did. I still feel the sadness and hurt, but it's no longer angry. I miss my father and wished I was there when he took his last breath, but I can now embrace that sadness.
My process of forgiving has involved writing a letter addressed to the other person venting my feelings. Once I'm done I read it over (I'm often amazed at my emotions), and with the letter in my hand, I close my eyes and begin deep breathing exercises, breathing in forgiveness and releasing all my anger into the letter. When I feel relaxed and rid of my anger, I burn the letter and watch my anger go up in flames...
Who do you need to forgive today?