He done ya wrong. She done ya wrong. They aren’t even sorry about it! They deserve to burn in Hell for this, and you want ring-side seats for the show. Forgive them? What are you, nuts? Why on Earth would you want to let them off the hook like that?
I never suggested you let them off the hook.
There are lots of misconceptions about forgiveness.
1. The person who is forgiven is the one who benefits most from the act of forgiveness.
Not even close. The person who forgives reaps the greatest reward. I’m not talking about “in the afterlife.” I’m talking about right now. Today. When I forgive someone, it’s like a huge burden has been lifted off of my shoulders. I let it go. I am free of that anger and resentment. Until that happens, the person who hurt me still has control over my life! I am festering over the event, thinking it over and over again. My brain is like a hamster on a wheel, trying to make sense of it; why would they do that to me? Did they think I deserved it? Did they ever love me? Did they have it planned out from the beginning?
When we forgive, those questions can go away, because they don’t matter anymore.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
2. When we forgive, we are saying that no crime was committed against us; there is nothing for which the other person should be punished.
Nope. The event happened. Restitution must be made in this life or the next. It’s just not your responsibility to get it out of them anymore.
Think of it this way; let’s say “Jan” buys a house. She borrows $100,000 from Wells Fargo and signs a note saying she will pay the loan back to Wells Fargo and the terms of how she will do that and when. The DEBT: $100,000. OWED TO: Wells Fargo. The DEBTOR: Jan.
A few days after Jan moves into her new house, Wells Fargo sells the note to GMAC. The debt does NOT go away. Jan simply makes the same payments she had agreed upon, but sends the checks to GMAC instead. The DEBT: $100,000. OWED TO: GMAC. The DEBTOR: Jan. If she decides to stop paying her mortgage, GMAC will eventually come banging on her door. There will be consequences, but Wells Fargo will have nothing to do with executing those consequences or squeezing the money out of Jan.
Now we apply it like this:
The DEBT: She stole your money, he cheated on you, they trashed your house or whatever else you want to put here.
OWED TO: You. They need to pay you back, apologize or make it right to you in some way.
The DEBTOR: Whoever it is that “done ya wrong”.
When you forgive, it shifts like this:
The DEBT: stays the same
OWED TO: I say God, but if you’ve got issues with that, you can say karma, the universe, or whatever is outside of YOU. They still need to pay it back or make it right in some way. If it doesn’t happen in this life, it will happen in the next.
The DEBTOR: stays the same
The crime never goes away. But you don’t have to “make them pay” anymore. God takes care of that for you. He’s much better at debt collection, anyway.
3. Whenever you say you’re sorry, the other person should forgive you and everything should go back to “normal” as though the event never happened.
**AUUGH!** NO, NO, NO! There is a HUGE difference between apology and repentance. “Apology” is a noun. “I’m sorry” can be said a thousand times and never meant. It is only words.
Repentance is a verb, it is an action or actions. It is taking responsibility for how our choices impacted another (or ourselves) and making a plan for changing the behavior/thought pattern that caused the action. Apology without repentance is completely worthless.
Anyone who has witnessed this in children will know that when a child hurts another and the parent forces the child to apologize, the words are said, but the emotion behind the words most definitely expresses, “I’M NOT SORRY AT ALL BUT I’LL GET IN TROUBLE IF I DON’T SAY I’M SORRY!” We learn early in life that saying you’re sorry gets you out of trouble.
If someone hurts you and apologizes, it is in your best interest to forgive them. But for heaven’s sake, GET OUT OF THE SITUATION AND PROTECT YOURSELF! Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to stick around and continue to let them abuse you.
When someone has behaviors that are destructive to others and themselves, it is best to remove yourself from the situation. Then you can forgive them and get on with your life. If they show that they have made real changes (regular participation in Alcoholics Anonymous, counseling, church or volunteer work, paying back debts, etc., and several of these combined), you can consider allowing them into your life again on a limited basis. If you choose not to, that has nothing to do with forgiveness. It has to do with self-respect, wisdom, and free will.
If the toxic or self-destructive person is someone with whom you must interact (a relative, neighbor, co-worker, etc.), you can still be polite, but it is wise to limit your involvement with them as much as possible.
4. If you’ve really forgiven someone, you never think about it again.
Boy, I wish that was true. When someone hurts us, there’s a part of our brains that wants to make sense of it. We want to “figure it out” so we can prevent it from ever happening again, that’s why it keeps popping back up. When something triggers a bad memory, I remind myself that there’s nothing to “figure out”. It’s over. The other person is either doing their best to do right by me now, or I have rearranged my life so that the person who wronged me will have a much harder time doing it again in the future.
Festering over past hurts is very self-destructive. While we can’t stop the thoughts from entering our minds, we do have control over how long we allow them to linger. When events trigger negative thoughts in my head, I say something to myself like this, “Yep. That happened and it hurt. I will not allow myself to be treated like that ever again and my life now is wonderful by comparison. I have moved on.” Then I think of something else entirely; things I need to take care of, people who love me, or my favorite stand-by: puppies.
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