Finding the Courage to Forgive
By: Margaret MacMillan
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Ghandi
When we choose to forgive, we make the conscious choice to let go of the hurt or injustice inflicted on us by someone else. If we decide not to forgive, we cling to resentment and bitterness, and often wish for vengeance.
Which one is easier? Let’s think about that for a moment.
Allowing your heart and mind to be consumed with anger toward another because of something they did to you can sometimes seem comforting. You don’t want to let the feeling go. You might perceive that feeling as noble because it shows that you won’t give in, that you’re not a patsy, that you’ll never put yourself in that position again, and that you’ll never allow that person to do such a thing to you again. In essence, that feeling gives you the right to never allow yourself to trust that person again. If you can’t trust someone, you can’t forgive them. Instead, you will cut yourself off from them. As that reaction originates in the gut, it comes quite easily.
When you consider forgiveness, you consider making yourself vulnerable again. But you’ve already done that. By trusting the individual in the first place, you had to break down all sorts of barriers you built up over a lifetime and surrender to them. You allowed yourself to believe the person was honorable, perhaps that they loved you, and that they would never do anything to hurt you or put you in harm’s way. Trust takes courage, and once a trust has been broken it may be difficult to summon courage once more. Now that you’ve been hurt by the person you gave your trust to, it feels like forgiving them makes you vulnerable again. It’s true. It actually does. Finding the spirit to forgive is difficult. Sometimes it seems impossible.
So what do you do? Do you take the easy way out and cling to bitterness that will cloud the decisions you make for the rest of your life or do you take the more difficult path and free yourself from anger and choose to forgive?
Anger and fear are negative emotions. Harboring them isn’t good for our mental or physical health. Choosing to forgive, though not the easy choice, is often the right choice. If you find yourself in a place where you are faced with this concern, here are three actions to consider that might help you find the courage to forgive.
Think honestly about what has transpired. Look at the situation from the other person’s point of view as well as your own. Is your reaction founded? If you believe it is, look at the circumstance of what happened and try to understand it. Think about how your reaction to the betrayal has affected you, continues to affect you, and will affect you in the future. You may also consider who you’re hurting more, yourself or the object of your bitterness. Examine your motives for holding onto the grudge, and picture how you might feel if you were free of it.
After you’ve put the situation into perspective, and this will take time, determine whether or not you’re ready to forgive. If you’re not, wait a while, and consider it again. If at some point you finally are, make the active choice to forgive. Once you have, not only do you free yourself from the bonds of the anger you’ve been holding on to, you free the other person from any blame you have placed on them in the past. Remember, forgiveness is something you don’t go back on. You have to let go of everything in order to truly forgive.
Give up the Role of Victim
None of us intend to see ourselves as victims. We can, however, get caught up in that mold when we’ve been hurt. It can even occur without our realizing it. None of us are victims unless we allow it to be so. We have power over that, so vanquish the anger and take back your life. As you let go, your life will no longer be defined by your hurt. Compassion and understanding may replace it.
Forgiveness may not come easily, and it may take real courage to find it in your heart to get to a place where you are even able to consider it. That’s all right. Take your time. Once you do decide to forgive, you’ll be giving not only the person who hurt you a second chance, you’ll also be giving yourself a second chance by living without the burden you’ve been carrying.