Let Yourself Go with Forgiveness


Intern Therapist

Image by Alexa from Pixabay

"I'm sorry."

"It's okay."

Such a simple and natural exchange, isn't? If someone apologizes to us, our typical response is to say "it's okay." But what if that person never apologizes? Your mom who overlooked you your whole life. Your friend who spoke poorly of you behind your back. Your partner who cheated on you. What if they never apologize? Do you still say, "it's okay?"

The simple answer is: yes. It's hard to do, but, yes.

"But what about me? Don't I deserve an apology? Why do I have to be the bigger person?"

These are some of the common and valid pushbacks I hear from clients when I encourage them to forgive. Of course you matter; you matter a lot. But the unfortunate truth is that sometimes, we'll never get the apology we want to hear or deserve. And in those times, forgiving the other person will be a gracious act to liberate yourself from the disappointment of never getting a sincere apology.

There are many misconceptions I've heard around the topic of forgiveness, and I want to point out two that often hinder people from forgiving others.

Misconception 1: Forgiveness is a process.

More often than not, I hear people use this statement to suggest that forgiveness is a passive thing and if you wait long enough or if enough time passes, you'll eventually forgive. That's not forgiveness, that's forgetfulness. Forgiveness is not a passive thing that naturally happens as time goes on. Forgiveness is an active decision that recognizes the fault of the other person, and still chooses to let go. However, forgiveness can take time - meaning, sometimes you'll have to choose to forgive over and over again. Feelings are unpredictable and fickle; your initial forgiveness does not mean you won't feel resentful, hurt, or disappointed when you think of the offense. In these moments, you'll need to actively choose to forgive again.

Misconception 2: Forgiveness is excusing the other person or condoning the behavior.

What makes forgiveness difficult is the misbelief that if we forgive someone, that person is off the hook. We feel a sense of injustice forgiving someone who "doesn't deserve" forgiveness. However, forgiveness does not mean the removal of necessary consequences. If someone did something to you that is punishable by law, they still need to face those consequences even if you forgive them. Forgiving does not excuse the person. It also doesn't mean you need to gladly accept the offenses that was done. You don't need to forget what happened or pretend you aren't hurt or angry in order to forgive.

Forgiveness is not a conditional thing. You don't need the other person to acknowledge their wrongdoing before you can extend forgiveness. As mentioned above, forgiveness is based on a choice. It is an act of love that says, "Even as you have wronged me, I am choosing to let go." It is an act of humility that says, "Even if I don't hear the apology I want or if thing don't turn out the way I hope, I will let go of my expectations." Forgiveness does not and will not invalidate your experiences or pain; it is simply choosing to rise above the situation and disallow the offense to control you or dictate your moods.

I'll say this again, forgiveness is hard. It is hard to extend love and grace to someone who has hurt or offended you. The other person might not ever know or appreciate that you've forgiven them, but that's not really the point anyway. Forgiveness will set you free from the annoying feeling that gnaws at you every time you see them. It'll release you from the agony of waiting for an apology from them. It'll liberate you from the control and effects that offense has on you. So, don't think of forgiveness as doing a favor for the other person, do it for yourself. Because ultimately, forgiving someone will end up benefitting you more than it would the other person.

*It is important to note that forgiveness does not necessarily mean we need to interact with that person as if nothing happened. In the best-case scenario, forgiveness can bring about greater intimacy and trust in a relationship. In other cases, such as abuse, it is wise to set boundaries and keep yourself safe from the offender.*