Forgiveness is a ‘funny’ thing – meaning that people often confuse forgiveness for condoning – but nothing could be further from the truth. Forgiveness is an act that is voluntary and intentional. It’s an active state of being in which the victim changes their feelings towards the one who has offended them, lets go of negative feelings such as being vengeful and angry, and, over time, is able to wish the offender well. Condoning is failing to see an action as wrong and not in need of forgiveness. There is great value and utility when we are able to forgive another person, but even more when we can forgive ourselves. Studies show that people who forgive are healthier and happier compared to those who continue to harbor resentment .
I find that people judge themselves too harshly and are self-critical. They quickly find fault with themselves – sometimes over even the most trivial matters. The irony, of course, is that if you were to ask them if they had a friend with the same issue that did the same thing, would they be equally critical and unforgiving? (I ask this question often). We all know the answer to that. – and yet, one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is forgiveness for things that we said and did that we regret doing or saying. This doesn’t mean that quick, ‘I am sorry’ or just move past something without taking stock of what happened. No, I am talking about something more complicated and nuanced than that.
Case in point: many years ago, I was one of those people who was harsh towards myself, beating myself up over things, and very self-critical, which in turn became my inner dialogue. It was not a healthy place to be. Thinking that way about myself put me in a very unhealthy marriage (you can read my story here. However, the sidebar to that is I am not taking away my ex-husband’s responsibility for his behaviors – not at all. But my self-perception played a role in getting me there to that bad place. Looking back, I was a different person in many significant, important ways. The steps I took to change how I felt and treated myself have also drastically changed. I recognized that I didn’t have the knowledge nor the insight back then but after I left my marriage, I took the necessary steps to do the work. I didn’t know what I didn’t know – and I now I do.
When working with people in therapy, the first steps are learning to be honest with yourself, self –reflective, and deciding to take ownership. I have learned in time that in time, forgiving myself and him was how I truly started to move on. It’s an invaluable gift to yourself! I also refused to give my ex-husband anymore energy and time. Many people remain stuck in the past, blame him, blame themselves, think about the situation (ruminate on it!) – and, in my case, continue to look at myself as a victim. But ultimately, I thought, why would I ever do that? I have already given enough and he has taken enough of my time and energy.
Forgiveness frees up all your negative energy and replaces it with positive energy. Once you start doing that, you will be amazed at how much more you accomplish, how empowering it can be, how much of your time and energy you previously gave up, and why you must continue down the road of a healthier lifestyle.
You owe yourself at least that much, don’t you?