There was a time in my life when I was dealing with lots of problems, a lot of baggage from my past, and had reached a point where I really needed to let go of all of it and move forward with my life.
It’s a simple idea, to let go of the past in order to move forward. And it’s a simple idea to forgive people who have wronged you, who have hurt you, who have taken something from you that you can never get back—such as time, money, property, trust…or even your heart.
But sometimes, it can be really difficult to do. In some cases, certain people from your past, and the problems, circumstances and events they brought about through their mean-spirited (or outright evil) actions, have hurt you so badly, even destroyed your life at the time, that you simply cannot bring yourself to forgive them.
But forgive you must—you know this—in order for you to finally let go and move forward.
I was in this very dilemma a few years ago, when my entire life had crashed down around me and I was going through some therapy to try to get my head back on straight, deal with my issues, and move forward in my life, in what I hoped would be a healthier, more productive way. For most of my issues, this was very doable.
But for one issue in particular, I found it seemingly impossible…
There were certain people from my past who had hurt me so badly, caused me so many problems in my life, and damaged me, my mind, and my future to the point that my capacity for living a normal, healthy, productive life was severely handicapped, if not completely destroyed. How could I possibly forgive them for what they did to me, the repercussions of which have negatively impacted me my entire adult life?
Yet, I knew I had to. I would never be able to move forward, to change, to grow, to build a new life, if I dragged this issue along, unable to put it in the past where it belonged. And the only way to put it in the past was to forgive those who had hurt me so badly. But how? I tried. I really did. But after extensive time and effort, I found that I simply couldn’t do it.
Finally exasperated, I turned to the Internet. I spent an entire evening searching key words such as forgiving and forgiveness, hoping that some little gem of wisdom would miraculously surface, from a world of infinite possibilities, and help me do what I so desperately needed to do.
And to my surprise, it did!
Unfortunately, I did not document, nor do I recall, where I found the following helpful approach to forgiveness. And in thorough online searching since, it has not re-surfaced. Perhaps it was sent to me from a divine source; I suppose I’ll never really know. But it went something like this:
Forgiveness isn’t necessarily saying, “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
Forgiveness isn’t necessarily saying, “Everything is okay now.”
Instead, forgiveness can be simply saying, “I hereby forfeit my right to hurt you just because you hurt me first.”
I believe that this, in a sense, is a way of elevating yourself to a higher level than those who have hurt you. I’ve always strived to avoid “lowering myself” to the level of those who hurt me or otherwise conduct themselves in a selfish or unacceptable manner. If, in retaliation, I were to lower myself to their level, conduct myself as they do, how does that make me any different than them? How does that make me a better person?
By looking at forgiveness in this same way—understanding that holding a grudge, or harboring bad thoughts and feelings, or longing for revenge, or hurtful words or behavior directed toward those who have truly hurt me—is, in effect, conducting myself on the same level as them; I am indeed lowering myself, whereas by forgiving them I am elevating myself.
And it’s crucial to understand: you forgive others, not for their sake, but for yours.
There’s an old saying: Forgive others, not necessarily because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace of mind.
The fact of the matter is, if you can’t, or don’t, forgive them, then they will continue to hurt you over and over again in your head, because you’ve never let go of it, never released it from your mind.
It’s like watching an instant replay of the hurtful incident over and over and over. Eventually, you’ve got to hit STOP, and EJECT, and be done with it.
And though at first it may be difficult to do; but it gets easier with practice.
Understanding this, I was finally able to forgive the people who hurt me so badly in my past, let go of the hurt, the memories, the bad thoughts and feelings, and move forward with my life.
So forgiveness, in the seemingly impossible cases, can be simply saying, “I hereby forfeit my right to hurt you just becaause you hurt me first.”
I can live with that.
And live I do.
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