One of the things that bring us down the most is holding onto anger and other negative feelings towards individuals. For us to be whole and emotionally healthy, we need to be able to deal with negative emotions.
I can’t remember the first time I heard the word “forgive.” I suspect you can’t either. But what does it really mean to forgive?
If you go by the dictionary definition, to forgive is about ending the negative emotions attached to someone because of actions they did and not expecting restitution.
Different religions look at forgiveness in various ways. Some religions advocate that forgiveness must be granted if the offending person acknowledges their wrong and fulfills some kind of restitution. Others profess that forgiveness is all about the person harboring the negative emotions and that nothing is needed from or by the offending person for it to be granted. The Wikipedia entry on the subject of forgiveness is very enlightening.
I was raised Catholic. In my understanding of forgiveness according to Catholicism, the only way forgiveness can be granted is if the person who did wrong admits their wrongdoing and agreed to repent. Once a person has done this, it is up to God to forgive him/her.
I’ve looked at a couple dozen websites that had articles or blog posts on the subject of forgiveness. Each seems to promote a different idea. The Mayo Clinic web site says that “forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentments and thoughts of revenge.” It then says that forgiving does not mean forgetting or condoning behavior.
The older I get, the more I am coming to recognize patterns in behavior. Get to know someone just a little bit and I can pretty well figure out a good deal of some of the bad they have gone through. Negative emotions just erode at the possibility of what we could be. When many self-help gurus talk about human potential, they frame it as being unlimited. We do have unlimited power. Yet the bad that we carry inside of us can often stop us from reaching our full potential.
I think it’s important to decide what the word forgiveness means to us as individuals and to define the terms under which forgiveness will be granted, if ever. For actions and individuals that can’t be forgiven by those standards, we need to figure out how to release ourselves from the negative emotions – how we will let go.
If you’ve read my other posts here, you’ll realize that I’ve had a history of putting up emotional blocks and not letting myself feel. When it came to some of the really bad things that happened to me, this was no different. I somehow thought by suppressing it, putting it out of mind entirely, that it would just go away. Meanwhile, it continued to eat away at my subconscious in ways I could never have anticipated.
Avoidance is a negative coping mechanism. In actuality, it’s really not coping at all. Over the years, I’ve talked with various people who have had gone through similar experiences. Only recently did I realize that there was one big commonality between those of us that avoided — we tended to attach some amount of self-blame to things that happened which were beyond our control. Not exactly healthy. Not exactly empowering.
Sometime over the past year, I figured out this whole forgiveness thing. I wish I had sooner. I simply gave up so much power to people without even knowing it. The big “click” for me was a conversation I had with a male friend. His wife was brutally raped and murdered a few years ago. Eventually the scum bucket was caught and convicted. I asked my friend how he had coped. He told me that for the first year after, every single day, he felt he lost a bit more of himself. He had anger, sadness and a bevy of other emotions. He ended up losing his job and then his home. Then one day he realized if he didn’t let go – if he didn’t forgive – the murderer would be taking two lives. He could continue to be sad for the loss of his wife but he was no longer going to let anger rule his life. His last words on the subject were: “My wife would have wanted me to forgive and continue living my life.” People often come into our lives at specific points for a reason. I think this friend came into mine to teach me what true forgiveness meant.
What are your thoughts on forgiveness?