Most people don’t find themselves contemplating whether to forgive someone who killed one of their parents, but that’s where I found myself at a young age. When I was sixteen years old, my mom and I were coming home from a local shopping trip. As we approached an intersection, a man driving a truck didn’t happen to see us and pulled out in front of us and struck our vehicle. My mom was killed instantly.
I struggled with forgiveness for close to twenty years, refusing to forgive. I felt anger, frustration, and bitterness. I felt cheated out of future experiences. I suffered greatly, and I wouldn’t have suffered in this way if it weren’t for that single incident of carelessness on the part of another person. It was so wrong, as I saw it, that the person who caused this got to get up and walk away, while my family suffered greatly.
I’ve taken my story on the road and have spoken to groups on the topic of forgiveness, and they’re well attended. I don’t know if it’s because people are looking for a way to deal with their feelings, or whether they’re contemplating forgiving, or if they’re simply trying to gain a different perspective on their own circumstances. But, the fact that people are willing to come to listen tells me that there is a deep and core tendency toward forgiveness in the human spirit. It’s almost as if we have an inner “knowing” that we want to forgive, but because of the circumstances, it’s difficult to take that step.
It’s hard to consider. It’s difficult when we are faced with a situation in which we believe we were wronged, or that someone did something wrong. It’s even harder when that act of wrongness causes pain and suffering on our part. And when we are asked to consider forgiving, some people draw the line and decide they aren’t going to forgive because of how they feel.
For many, forgiveness represents weakness or approval in a way – that one is “giving in,” and saying that what happened is “okay.” For others, they are still waiting for an apology from the other person, and it isn’t until they receive that apology that they can consider forgiveness. Still, for others, there is bitterness, anger, hate, and resentment over what happened, and no matter what anyone says or does, what is wrong is wrong, and they will never, ever, consider forgiving, and they will never forget what happened.
When I stand up in front of people and present this idea of forgiveness, I don’t speak to them from the perspective of telling them that they’re wrong for not considering forgiving. I simply ask them to think about themselves for a moment, and not about the person whom they are contemplating (or resisting) the offering of forgiveness. That’s because, in my opinion, the reality of forgiveness is this:
When you withhold forgiveness, you are only hurting yourself. When you hold on to that anger, resentment, bitterness, or that feeling of being wronged or cheated, it causes distress and pain within yourself more than it will ever cause that same kind of pain within the other person.
Unless you’re calling that other person every day and reminding them of how much what they have done has deeply hurt you, chances are they are not hurting as much as you are over whatever it is that you’re upset about. That’s reality.
In the meantime, your withholding of forgiveness is keeping you fixed in time over a painful event. You’re held stagnant, unable to move forward. You’re potentially ruining interpersonal relationships, both in the past and present. You’re adding stress to your life and negatively affecting your health. You’re primarily hurting yourself.
People get hung up on forgiving, simply because they are still experiencing negative emotions associated with the event that caused the pain in the first place. They’ve been told somewhere along the line that you can’t truly forgive until you are no longer angry, sad, frustrated, bitter, or resentful about what happened.
This is simply not true. Forgiveness simply means that you are ready to move forward with your life, and put this event behind you.
Is it possible to move on, but still be angry? Absolutely. Is it possible to forgive, but still be hurt or sad? Yes!
Forgiveness isn’t at all about getting to that point where you say that you are no longer angry, so all is forgiven. That’s not forgiveness! Forgiveness is all about doing something for yourself, which is moving forward, and telling yourself that you’re no longer going to give any more time, attention, thought, or energy toward that one event that happened. It’s about telling yourself that you are no longer a prisoner of the past and that you are ready to move forward, living and enjoying your life as the best version of yourself.
To forgive is to move on with your life, no longer shackled by the chains of a past event that had gotten you down or caused you pain and suffering.
That’s what forgiveness represented for me, when, after close to twenty years, I was able to forgive the man who killed my mom. I didn’t do it for him. I did it for me. I realized that I was fixated on this past event, and in the meantime, I was only hurting myself. I suffered such tremendous physical, and emotional pain because I felt so wronged and cheated. It was time to move on do something for myself, and so I did. I forgave him.
We don’t have to forgive in person either. It is perfectly okay to write a letter, getting everything out on paper, and then shred or burn the note. It’s even okay to forgive in spirit, where you simply decide all is forgiven, and you’re deciding to move on. That’s what I did. Forgiveness is about energy and mindset, so however you decide to forgive, as long as it’s okay with you, it’s okay to do it the way you wish.
To forgive doesn’t mean you’re weak. To forgive is a sign of strength, where you take a stand and stand up for yourself. To forgive is to believe in the best possible version of you. Forgiveness is one hundred percent an act of love for yourself, and a huge step forward to living your life with purpose, positivity, and on your own terms. To forgive is to love. And best of all, that love is directed toward yourself.