What Forgiveness is, Really.

The idea of forgiveness is a common misconception amongst a number of my students and clients. When I mention the word “forgiveness” in response to a client’s experience of a particularly nasty betrayal, I’m frequently either laughed at or met with irritability. The thing is, forgiveness is not dropping the subject and never broaching it again.

Forgiveness is:
understanding that you’ve been wronged, maliciously or unintentionally, by another and deciding to let go of hanging onto the bitterness, resentment and other emotions linked to the incident (which, by the way, you have every right to feel). It is making the conscious effort to extend grace, beneficence, and compassion to the wrongdoer, even though that person is entitled to absolutely none of it (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000).

Forgiveness is absolutely not:
simply saying the words and moving on. It’s not pardoning the behavior of the perpetrator, particularly if malice was involved. It’s not making an excuse or justifying what happened, it’s not letting go of any and all resentment one might feel about the incident, it’s not seeking revenge or holding onto a debt owed by the one who harmed you, and it certainly is not simply deciding, “I’m over it.”

Get off the hook.
One of my favorite pieces of forgiveness psychoeducation I use that is fantastic for kiddos and adults alike is the metaphor of a giant fishing hook. Hanging onto bitterness is like putting yourself on that fishing hook, the same way you’d put on a shrimp or a worm. After you’ve put yourself on, you add your offender. As you might imagine, being on a pointed, metal hook is incredibly painful. Not to mention, where you go, so does your perpetrator – you know, since you’ve put both of you on that same hook.

The only way out of this nasty situation and get yourself off that hook is to allow the person who wronged you off first. By keeping him or her on the hook, you’re opening yourself up to a lengthy stay in an unhappy place.

It’s time to retrain our brains to understand what forgiveness is, really. Allow yourself to move on from negative people and the pains of the past in order to live a more fulfilling and open life. Recognize the emotions you have related to the injury, stop the thoughts of revenge, put yourself in the other person’s shoes (can be difficult, I know), make the conscious decision to accept the hurtful emotions caused by the betrayal, and let the person off your hook.

MegAnne Duke, LCSW, LCDCi

Published by Meg Duke

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