“Forgiveness is a gift card that should never have fees attached, or an expiration date.” Lynn Emery Hubbard
Years ago when I was younger, and less wise, a woman said something to me that stung. She meant to take a verbal swing at me, and did it publicly. Well, she hit the bullseye. I was hurt and angry. I quietly fumed about it for days and days, rehearsing the nasty comeback I should have delivered. Then I read a quote from a famous actress, “Holding a grudge is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die”. Another direct hit. The more I thought about this quote, the more I realized that I was wasting time and energy. Nursing a grudge takes up a lot of both, which means missed chances to do something positive. So hard as it was, I let it go. No more time spent imagining ways to deliver payback.
Over time I continued to remind myself of that quote, and learned to forgive. Yes, forgive. You can’t “just get over it” unless you can forgive the person who hurt you. But I won’t lie and say there was one flash of wisdom, and from then on I was able to forgive easily. No way. Forgiveness is a process. Don’t expect to be perfect at it, or become a saint in the blink of an eye (or twenty blinks!). Here are my rules to remember:
- Forgiving a person doesn’t mean you approve of what they did, or that they’re getting away with something. Forgiveness means YOU stop allowing the past to rule your present. You’re letting go because the person didn’t know any better, or is filled with envy, resentment or anger. Either way you don’t want to be like them!
- You can choose to talk it over with the person, but don’t expect them to change. In fact, they may still think what they said or did was either right or no big deal. Forgiveness is not about changing them. This is about changing you from being angry or sad, and letting go of that event.
- If the person does apologize that should be the end of it. Once you forgive the event shouldn’t be brought up again, especially by you.
- Forgiving the person doesn’t mean you become their personal doormat. As a social worker I’ve counseled people who made this mistake. They became martyrs, constantly being abused or used by someone and “forgiving” them repeatedly. If someone constantly lets you down, insults you or tries to use you cut off contact. Maybe you can’t, in the case of close relatives like a parent. But you can limit contact and set boundaries. Don’t see them as often, or keep visits short! If they start in with put downs or other troublesome behavior, politely say “Okay, well I’ll be seeing you around” and leave.
- Treat yourself well, like you would treat your best friend. What does this have to do with forgiveness? Simple, forgiving is hard work and emotionally draining. Do something nice for you (it doesn’t have to involve spending money). Being good to yourself is a nice balm to help soothe the hurt caused by others. I think it’s a key ingredient in the forgiving process.