“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
~Louis B. Smedes
Back in May I wrote a post on the best form of self-care–forgiving oneself. Today I want to address another important aspect of forgiveness–forgiving others. As a counselor, I see many clients who are working to forgive someone–whether it be a partner who was unfaithful, a parent who was neglectful, a sibling who was hurtful, a friend who was abusive, etc. Forgiveness is a very, very difficult topic to understand and even harder to apply. Yet I know and have personally experienced and witnessed its healing effects in my life and the lives of those around me. I have learned that forgiveness is an often misunderstood concept and so I wish to debunk these misconceptions by sharing four truths I have learned through my time as a counselor:
- You are not weak if you forgive. Some mistakenly think that forgiveness is a sign of weakness–that you are labeling yourself as a doormat, ready to be walked all over. Through all my years of forgiveness work, I have seen again and again the exact opposite! Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Indeed, some of the strongest individuals I have known and worked with have demonstrated great courage and strength to forgive their offenders.
- You will learn and grow from forgiving. Forgiving others teaches you about humanity, about how each of us makes mistakes. We will all have opportunities to forgive someone who unknowingly wronged or offended us. In such cases, we can learn from that experience and hopefully channel that knowledge into action so that we will never repeat the offense to someone else. Cherie Carter-Scott said, “Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.”
- Withholding forgiveness affects YOU more than anyone else. In cases where my client was the one wronged (through abuse, neglect, etc), I have witnessed immense suffering when the client has held onto his or her anger. The offender is often naive to the hurt the receiver of the offense carries, while the receiver is dealing with feelings of anger, hate, rage, sadness, depression, frustration, and a host of other emotions. I have seen a rebirth, a new light, about clients when they truly let go and forgive… as if they are free from a great burden! It is a beautiful thing. Without forgiveness life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation; no one wants to live like that–holding on to such heavy and unproductive feelings. So remember, forgiveness is not as much for the offender as it is for the one extending the forgiveness. It is liberating to forgive and move on. I stand with Harriet Nelson who said “Forgive all who have offended you, not for them, but for yourself.”
- Your future can change if you forgive. In that same vein, when you are able to forgive, you change, and so does your future. Where you were once held back by resentment and anger, you are instead able to move forward, onward, and upward. Paul Boese rightfully said, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
Allow me to be clear, forgiving someone who has harmed, hurt, or otherwise offended you does not mean that you let them back into your life. Nor does it mean forgetting or giving the message that what they did was okay. Instead, it means that you are choosing to let go of the heavy burden of resentment, and move on as a stronger, more resilient person. Though experiences like these are painful, you can come out on the other side with more strength, wisdom and compassion for yourself and others.
Forgiveness can truly set you free. But it is certainly easier said than done; if forgiveness was simple, this post would not be needed! Forgiveness can be a long road, but it is a beautiful one that is worth the journey. I would like to urge each of you, my readers, to try to practice more forgiveness in your life–even if by just forgiving the person who cut you off during your morning commute. And if you are struggling to let go of something deeper or heavier, I encourage you to contact me today and set up a session. Remember, you will benefit most from forgiving others!
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.
- Cluff Counseling: “Are You Searching for Fulfillment?”
- Cluff Counseling: “Practical Ways to Practice Mental Hygiene”
- Cluff Counseling: “The Best Form of Self-care: Forgiveness”
- Psychology Today: “Forgiveness”
- Psychology Today: “30 Quotes on Forgiveness”