We are all likely to be wronged by others more than a few times in the course of our lifetime. Living in this imperfect world we will surely find ourselves faced with the dilemma of forgiveness over and over.
When someone that matters to us is hurtful we will naturally feel painful emotions such as anger and sadness. We may find ourselves dwelling on the injustice of the situation and holding grudges. Gradually these negative feelings overshadow the positive feelings in our lives, leaving us filled with resentment. That eventually leads to spiritual paralysis and detrimental physical destruction.
The stress of these self-defeating attitudes affects our well being; it may wreak havoc on our immune system, raise our blood pressure, and possibly lead to substance abuse. We may find ourselves suffering from anxiety and depression.
Forgiveness is a hard concept for many of us to grasp. Some think forgiveness is about letting someone who has wronged us off the hook or reinforcing their bad behavior. On the surface it may appear that we are handing someone a “Get out of Jail Free Card,” giving them permission to have crossed the line with us. But that is not what forgiveness is about.
Forgiveness does not justify a wrongdoing. We can sincerely forgive someone without excusing their actions. It actually has very little to do with the other person. It is all about letting the burden of our own resentments go.
At best, the emotional energy expended on betrayal should be proportionate to the offense. A problem occurs when it is not—when we cling tightly to the pain of the past and allow the wrongdoing to define us. By allowing our past to consume us, the bitterness we hold on to will likely infiltrate and impede every new relationship and every new experience. We allow the joy of the present to pass us by while remaining stuck in resentments we have about the past.
Forgiveness is a promise we make to ourselves to change our life. It is about releasing ourselves from the grip that hinders our well-being—the negative hold we have essentially allowed the other person to have over us.
The decision to forgive is one that requires the weighing of issues. It is often not easily done. It becomes particularly challenging when the wrongdoer does not offer a sincere apology or show heartfelt remorse for his actions, or when he continually reoffends. It is difficult when we are not given the assurance that this will never happen again.
Occasionally an offender will make forgiveness easy for us but that is not the norm. People have the tendency to think they are right and are often not willing to look at the situation any other way. Sometimes they come around, sometimes they do not. Some people will apologize, some will not.
Sometimes apologies are offered but are not sincere. An apology is difficult to swallow when it is offered and then canceled out with the word, “but.” And there are times when promises to do better in the future are flimsy—when we are told that the other person “will try to do better” instead of assuring us that they are doing better.
Relationships can only be salvaged when apologies and forgiveness are genuinely given and accepted. There certainly are situations when reconciliation may be impossible or inappropriate. But when relationships can be worked out, choosing to forgive someone is a gesture of closure. When we genuinely forgive someone we do not revisit the offense—we do not hold it over the other person’s head or relive the pain we have attached to it. When it is over it is over.
When practicing forgiveness we must be mindful that there will be times when we will want to be forgiven. How can we ask for something that we are unwilling to give? We must always remember to show the mercy, faith, and love that we expect from others.
We have limited perspective into what motivates another to do, say, or act the way he does. When we feel wronged it is always worthwhile to consider the other person’s point of view—to take the circumstances that may have influenced him to do what he did into account. Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes may be a very helpful healing tool.
Forgiveness is a process that takes time; in the end it is our choice whether or not to offer mercy or share our forgiveness with the person who wronged us. We make that decision based on what is best for us.
Forgiveness is about healing, growing, and evolving. It is never our job to exact punishment on others for their transgressions. That is best left up to the Karmic laws of the Universe.
When we forgive others we allow ourselves the peace of mind we deserve. It is an act of self-love and self-love is a choice we have to make every day.
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