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Forgiveness or Punishment: It’s Your Choice

Some people may hear the phrase, “Forgive and Forget” and feel unburdened by its lightness, and even follow the advice without a second to waste. Others might shudder at the idea, which is understandable. There is enormous pressure in that tiny phrase! To first insinuate that forgiving is so easy, and then to suggest that a person does so and subsequently forgets what hurt them. How rude! Forgiveness can be tough, so don’t let phrases or other people belittle your situation. We live in a world with so much beyond our control, but we do have total control over our own decisions, attitude and actions. Put simply, your forgiveness is yours, and only you can decide when or if you give it.

Choosing to forgive benefits you much more than the person who has hurt you. By choosing to forgive, you are allowing yourself a pathway towards a sense of peace. Holding onto hurt can feel like you’re living in a constant state of unsettlement, thereby affecting other relationships in your life and sometimes your health. When you forgive, in a way, you set yourself free. But you may have things, chains if you will, holding you back from forgiving.

Your chains might be:

1. Wanting revenge, or the other person to “pay” for what they have done. I’m sure we have all pictured ourselves as nighttime vigilantes making justice at some point or another. But the reality is that masking yourself and taking care of business isn’t totally legal, or logical, and lingering on the need for justice only keeps the problem contemporary, instead of letting it fade into the past like DaVinci’s first attempt at the Mona Lisa, the “Mona Uvula.” …It just doesn’t sit right.

2. Unhelpful beliefs about what forgiveness means, such as:

  • Forgiveness makes the offense okay
  • Forgiving means you are weak
  • Forgiving means you’re a pushover
  • Forgiveness must be earned with an apology or some kind of action
  • Forgiveness is not possible for this particular offense

On the contrary, forgiveness does not justify the offense, takes incredible strength to give, and is always possible to give, even if the person who hurt you is no longer around to receive it.

3. An illusion of control felt by holding back forgiveness. You may not even be aware of it, but holding back forgiveness can give you a sense of power, like having the last word in an argument. It may feel like you are punishing the other person this way, but whether or not they feel your “punishment”, you yourself are suffering from the anger and resentment. Remember that the true control is over yourself and the choice of forgiveness; the illusion of control comes into play when you feel empowered over the other person by your very real control of your forgiveness.

Whatever your chains may be, here are some bolt cutters! (or tools to help you forgive):

  • Consider what beliefs you have that could be holding you back. Challenge them. If loosening up on one or more of your beliefs could help you let go of hurt, why not try it?
  • Talk about it. Sometimes a little blah blah with someone you trust is all it takes to get something settled in your head.
  • Take care of yourself. Take some you-time. Decompress. Do or discover what helps you feel comfortable and at peace, whether it’s bubble bathing, a one on one session with a chocolate bar or three, nature walks, etc… Just focus on floatin’ that boat of yours.
  • Think about the things that are within your control and the things that are not. Think about how much more control you could gain over yourself and your feelings; by forgiving, you are NOT allowing the offense to continue to hurt you. If you really think about it, forgiving is putting your foot down on pain. Put the foot! (You can chant it to yourself, secretly, awesomely.) (Put the foot, put the foot, put it!)
  • Forgiveness, because it can be so difficult, is something to be proud of. Rewrite the story you tell yourself about what happened to include your own courageous act of forgiving. If you can taste the triumph, perhaps it’s time to eat it. (Forgive in real life.)

Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. People are often harder on themselves than others, and the shame or guilt you feel might be preventing you from allowing forgiveness to bring healing. Just remember number four on the “tools” list: you don’t have control over the past (as time machines are not yet a thing), but you do have control over yourself and future choices. Choose to put your foot down on pain and let the healing begin. …Put the foot!

by Joanna Brewer

About the Author: Ms. Brewer works for LifePaths Counseling and is also a freelance writer and musician. If you liked her article, go ahead and subscribe to our blog to get notified each time a new article is posted. She will be writing more for us soon!