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Forgiveness: It May Not Be What You Think It Is But It’s Good For Your Heart

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness and what it really means in my life. I’ll admit that I have been one to hold a grudge when I feel that someone has done me wrong. It may stem from a childhood of feeling like I was always on the outside watching everyone else be part of something that I wasn’t. That exclusion may well have been my own doing or maybe it wasn’t. I always felt different from the others and really wasn’t sure how to fit in and I was struggling to get through each day the best way I could.

There have been times in my adult life when I felt short-changed, disrespected, dismissed or otherwise felt like I was insignificant.  I felt ignored and disregarded because my point of view was not necessarily congruent with popular opinion. In those situations, I tend to separate myself from the players involved and move away. In some situations when I have attempted to state my case it hasn’t gone well. Rather than allowing me to state my position, I’ve been blamed again. I want no part of that. Treating me like a disobedient child will get you nowhere.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I can forgive someone without allowing them the opportunity to continue the pattern of disrespect. Forgiveness is for the forgiver, not the forgiven.

Some myths about forgiveness

According to this article, there are nine myths about forgiveness that the Christian doctrine may not have gotten exactly right. I’ll share the more secular ones here.

This is no way a shot at my Christian friends. I happen to be a Christian myself, regardless of my unorthodox interpretation of the faith.

Forgiveness is about the other person

Nope! It’s all about you. Forgiveness is a way to move on from the experience you would like to forgive whether the offender takes any responsibility for their actions or not. It’s a helpful way to get on with your life.

If you forgive someone you should forget it ever happened

Another big Nope! You shouldn’t forget the offense ever occurred but you shouldn’t dwell in it either. Depending on what happened, forgetting the event could actually put the forgiver/forgetter in danger. Forgetting may have you back in the position for the issue to recur.

I can forgive them while still living in bondage to regret and shame for my own failures

This is a tough one for me. I’m excellent at revisiting all my own transgressions and beating myself up over them. But unless you can forgive yourself, you aren’t likely to be able to forgive someone else for what they’ve done to you. Give yourself the the same or more grace as you are giving someone else.

Forgiveness is a decision, an act of will

While this may be partially true, it isn’t always the case. You may be able to decide and POOF! you’ve forgiven and all is well. You may have to forgive the same person over and over, whether they are still in your life or not.

Refusing to forgive shows I value accountability

No it doesn’t. It shows you value revenge. It may be much harder to forgive someone who caused you irreparable harm and loss. Remember, forgiveness is for you and not the person you are forgiving.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are the same

These are not synonymous. Reconciliation may not be possible if you can no longer have a relationship that you can repair. That doesn’t mean that you can’t forgive the person. Putting yourself in the line of fire for abuse, neglect, narcissism, gaslighting or any other behavior that doesn’t support you as a person is of no benefit to you. You can forgive without reconciling.

I need to tell the person I forgive them

This one is complicated. If someone has asked for your forgiveness and, in the interest of reconciliation, you tell them…great. However, if you’re telling them you forgive them to just make them feel guilty…then no. This exercise is all about you and your peace of mind.

Forgiveness is something I can do on my own

Sometimes you can and other times you need help. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a trusted confidant. It may help you gain perspective on a situation that is hard for you to see objectively.

So what does all this have to do with your heart?

Everything we feel, think, and do can affect our heart. When you are living your life with the heaviness of remorse, regret, vengeance, bitterness, rage and any other emotion that makes you unhappy, your heart absorbs all of that. On the other side of the coin, when you feel the relief of forgiveness and let go of the emotions that bring you down you are giving your heart the love it deserves.

Forgiveness isn’t always easy but it’s so necessary to support your well-being. I’m still working on it myself and do so every day. It helps me to remember that everyone is struggling to get through life. Even people who are seemingly out to “get” you are dealing with something inside themselves that makes them feel “less than”. They may not be able to acknowledge that about themselves and it shows up in the mistreatment of others. If they can make you feel bad about yourself, then they can feel better.

Does that mean you have to continue in relationship with them? Absolutely not! But whether you stay in that relationship or not, forgive them for yourself. Your heart will thank you.

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