Forgiveness is a sensitive topic for many; but that, to me, symbolizes how powerful and important it is to discuss and better understand.
What I’ve learned about forgiveness over the years has been so profound, so life-changing, that it is impossible to separate from the work that I do as well as how I live my life.
In years passed, forgiveness to me, used to mean that I’d release the other person from the responsibility of what they’d done, so they could more on, and that I would have to also release my feelings about what had been done as well. Moving on, was what forgiveness seemed like it was to me.
Quite frankly, the most painful things, the experiences I told myself I wanted to move on from, those were the things I didn’t even want to forgive. It felt like forgiving the people that hurt me, whether they meant to or not, was like saying that what happened was okay. It felt like forgiving them meant saying that my feelings didn’t matter. It felt like forgiving them, meant that they weren’t going to be held accountable for what they did.
Have you ever felt that way?
In my experience, most people have, and many people still do.
It’s not an uncommon perspective to have about forgiveness.
What I’ve learned, however, is contrary to those beliefs that I used to have.
In fact, what I’ve found, is that holding onto these erroneous beliefs about what forgiveness is, actually creates more stress and more resentment. Often, without even realizing it, it keeps people stuck in a reaction mode that spreads to other parts of their life, even more.
When forgiveness doesn’t happen, the residual emotions, the pain from the experience, they not only linger, but they grow- they thrive. Feelings of shame, anger, fear and resentment grow bigger and bigger, seeping into other relationships, becoming a go-to emotional response, even when it’s not necessary.
We aren’t meant to be angry, fearful, shameful and resentful beings all of the time, so when those emotional experiences are given the space to thrive, no one can help but feel distant. Disconnected.
That’s what happened to me, and that’s what I see happen with so many people I’ve helped over the years.
What they, and former me, didn’t realize, is that forgiveness isn’t about the other person. Forgiveness isn’t about removal of accountability. Forgiveness does not negate a very valid emotional experience during a painful time.
Forgiveness, is you giving you permission to be free.
To be free from thinking you need to hold onto the anger.
To be free from believing that their behavior dictates your value or who you are.
To be free to simply show up as who you are, without shame, without something to prove.
Forgiveness is not an excuse for boundary violations or wrong-doings towards you.
Forgiveness is not about letting someone off the hook; it’s not about the other person.
You see, the lack of forgiveness is usually, “I’m going to hold onto the pain of this experience for as long as I can, so you can see how much you’ve hurt me”.
When you hold onto the pain of the experience, YOU are the one in pain. You are the one re-experiencing and feeding the hurtful feelings inside of you. YOU are the one who is exerting energy as a result of these internal experiences that YOU have to deal with.
When you show up to spite the other person or to make them see the pain they’ve caused you, YOU are the one who winds up behaving in a way that feels incongruent with who you are. It hurts YOU.
What I learned is that when I forgive, it gives me permission to really, truly, be me, despite others’ behavior. This means that I can more clearly learn from the interaction, and put my boundaries down accordingly. This means that I can now more effectively communicate my needs, why a behavior is not okay, and how it impacts me. It means I feel no shame or doubt, if I need to walk away, say no, or stand my ground.
Forgiveness is emotional freedom.
You have to forgive, if you want to live a more deeply connected life.
I won’t say the shift to viewing forgiveness in this way is easy, but it is incredibly powerful, and it is very much worth it.
The path to and through forgiveness looks different for everyone. Be kind, compassionate and patient with yourself, wherever you’re at on your journey.
Dr. Toni Warner, LCSW, MSW, MeD, is a transformational life & wellness coach for the ambitious seeking balance and a licensed psychotherapist in Pennsylvania. Dr. Toni is the founder of Dr. Toni Coaches, LLC, a coaching and consulting business. It’s mission is to inspire and enact positive change in the world by helping heart-centered impact makers and leaders to create balance, allowing them to more deeply and meaningfully live, love, connect and share their gifts, enhancing the lives of others. She is also the founder of Authentically Me Psychotherapy, LLC, where she supports high achieving and creative individuals who are struggling with anxiety, depression, burn out and disconnection, to get in touch with their core selves so they can live more fully and authentically aligned lives.
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