I forgive you. Three powerful words. But how do you say these words to someone who has betrayed or abused you? I don’t have the perfect answer, but I can share with you what helped me by first exploring what forgiveness is not.
1. Forgiveness is not a warm, gooey feeling. It’s not a feeling at all, good, bad, or otherwise. You can feel pain, anger, frustration, disappointment – and still forgive. I used to think forgiveness meant I wouldn’t hurt anymore. I was wrong.
2. Forgiveness doesn’t dismiss what he did to you. What he did is not OK. Lying, deceiving, hitting, addictions, adultery – none of it will ever be OK. He is still responsible for what he did, and he still has to pay the price like not getting to see his kids until he’s sober or paying off a huge financial debt. You can forgive, and still hold him accountable for his actions.
3. Forgiveness is not trust. Some people think forgiveness means you can go back to how things were before. I don’t believe that. Trust is earned, and once a trust is shattered, it’s difficult to re-earn. The truth is some people can never be trusted again, because their behavior patterns suggest they will never stop abusing you, lying to you, looking at porn, cheating on you, etc.
4. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you live without boundaries. Sometimes you have to cut people out of your life, for good, to preserve your sanity and the well-being of your children. Or you have to keep someone at arm’s length. Whatever your situation, forgiveness doesn’t mean the offender has free access to your life again.
5. Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. I think forgetfulness is dangerous territory. It’s like denial. “If I forget he cheated on me or beat the crap out of me, it means I have truly forgiven him.” I don’t think so. Don’t deny yourself the reality of what happened to you. Working through the pain is part of your healing process.
That’s what forgiveness is not. Now let’s take a look at what forgiveness is.
1. Forgiveness is freedom. It’s the breaking of chains that have a stronghold on your life. I love the way my Diva Julie puts it: “Forgiveness means that person or incident no longer rents space in your head or heart.” It means you no longer keep that part of your life anchored in the past, but rather you let it go so you can move forward with your life.
2. Forgiveness is a mental decision. Let your head, and not your emotions, take over. It’s your head saying, “It’s time to let go and move one.” Your heart may tell you, “I’m still hurting,” but your head needs to respond, “That’s OK, you can still hurt, but I still need to move on.”
3. Forgiveness is a process. It can take months, even years, to get to a place of complete forgiveness. Cut yourself some slack. Just reading about forgiveness and trying to wrap your head around this complex and abstract concept are steps in the right direction.
Author and scholar C.S. Lewis wrote this in a letter to a woman who was struggling with forgiveness: “Do you know, only a few weeks ago I realised suddenly that I at last had forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my childhood. I’d been trying to do it for years: and like you, each time I thought I’d done it, I found, after a week or so it all had to be attempted over again. But this time I feel sure it is the real thing.” (Find more about Lewis’s thoughts on forgiveness at http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/Forgiving_in_Difficult_Situations )
4. Forgiveness frees you up to feel compassion. I know what you’re thinking – the last person you want to feel compassion towards is him. But here’s the deal. We’re all screwed up human beings who have hurt somebody at one time or another.
As I went through the process of forgiveness and healing, I actually felt sorry for my ex. He is a confused individual who thinks betrayal is the just and mature way to end a marriage. He gets to spend the rest of his life living with the consequences of his behavior, and trying to convince himself and everyone he’s hurt that he really is happy with soulmate/wife number 3. What a sad way to live.
I, on the other hand, get to live free from the power he once had over me. And I am better for it.
So those are my thoughts on forgiveness. Now it’s your turn. What do you think forgiveness is and is not?