Forgiveness: What It Really is and How to Do It

Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Couples Counseling | Comments Off on Forgiveness: What It Really is and How to Do It

Forgiveness. It’s tough for a lot of people. Most of us recognize when it needs to happen, but find it very difficult to put into practice. You may not even know where to start.

It’s important to recognize, too, that being able to forgive is an important relationship skill.

By refusing to forgive each other, we keep hard or negative feelings alive and well.

Why is it important to forgive a partner when they’ve hurt us?

We’re all human. Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Inevitably, at some point in your relationship, you or your partner will do or say something hurtful or disappointing. You will eventually let each other down.

Sometimes, the things partners do to each other are minor, other times they are life-altering. Whether it’s a big or small misstep or mistake, the relationship can get stuck if we can’t forgive. Forgiveness allows you both to progress. The relationship can’t go forward unless and until authentic forgiveness occurs.

What exactly is forgiveness?

According to Webster‘s Dictionary:

“Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation, or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference of opinion, or mistake.”

However, that’s not all forgiveness involves. This relationship skill also removes the need to seek or demand punishment or retribution for the perceived offense.

Essentially, the two necessary parts of forgiveness are 1) letting go and 2) moving forward.

It’s important to know and understand what forgiveness is not.

There are a lot of misconceptions about forgiving someone. Take note of what forgiving your partner does not mean:

  • Forgiveness does not mean you condone or approve of the offending behavior.
  • Forgiveness does not mean you no longer have feelings about what’s taken place.
  • Forgiveness does not mean that you can or should forget the hurtful incident.
  • Forgiveness does not mean everything’s okay and no more work needs to be done on the relationship.

What exactly does forgiveness involve? Take these 5 steps

1. Make sure you’re actually ready to forgive. This is a process. It isn’t something that should be rushed. Often people rush to forgive too soon as a way of bypassing difficult emotions or interactions. If people try to forgive without working through their own grief and pain, they can do even more damage to themselves and the relationship.

2. Work through your feelings about the situation. How?

  • First, accept what happened while expressing your feelings about the matter.
  • Then, take full responsibility for your reactions.

Understand that you are not ready to forgive if…

  • you are still filled with the need to seek retribution or punishment
  • you enjoy feeling superior to the offending person
  • you are addicted to the angry adrenaline rush connected to the offense
  • you self-identify as the relationship victim

These indicators suggest that you are not yet dealing with your feelings in a productive way and are not emotionally ready to extend forgiveness.

3. Consider and acknowledge any potential growth resulting from your experience.

It’s not uncommon to become so focused on how your life or relationship has been ruined or damaged that you don’t take the time to see how much emotional and mental growth has taken place.

That doesn’t mean you’re glad the hurtful event happened or would repeat the situation. You simply recognize that, in certain respects, you’re a changed or better person because of the experience. While it is not always possible to find something good in a situation, it’s definitely worth a try.

For example, think about what you’ve gone through and ask yourself questions like:

  • Am I stronger because of these circumstances?
  • Have I learned to survive on my own because of this?
  • How did I contribute to my partner’s loneliness, anger, hurt feelings, etc.?
  • What have I learned about my own needs and boundaries?

You may discover that you’ve experienced considerable internal growth and development.

4. Step outside yourself. Consider what happened from the other person’s point of view.

Whatever feelings you have — anger, sadness, pain, or resentment — are certainly justified. You may also come to realize that your partner is experiencing some of those same emotions for different reasons. It’s easy to forget the other person’s experience when we’re hurt or injured.

The simple truth is that people often do hurtful things when they themselves are hurting. What is the context of your partner’s actions? Why have they done this?

Try to understand and have some compassion. What drove him or her to do what they did?

Pull back the curtain on old stories and opinions, question what you think you know. See things more as they were and less as you perceived them to be at the time.

5. Make the choice to forgive.

Forgiveness is a gift you can choose to give freely. Or not.

It’s yours to give or withhold.

Forgiveness is not something anyone wants to feel forced into.

Just know, in the long run, it isn’t good for you or your relationship to hold onto resentment indefinitely.

Work towards making a conscious, healthy, purposeful choice to let go and move on.

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