Defining Forgiveness For Anger Healing
But before we go too far talking about forgiveness, it is important to clarify what it is that we are talking about, what we mean when we use the word “forgiveness”–and what we don’t. In other words, defining forgiveness helps us do it. Forgiveness helps marriage counselors restore relationships.
Forgiveness Isn’t Excusing
One client recently told me, “I can’t forgive. If I forgive him that means what he did was OK, and I can’t do that.” Some clients initially believe that the term “forgiveness” is synonymous with condoning or excusing the harmful act, and because of this they have no interest in pursuing forgiveness.
Confusion Over Forgiveness Meaning
But when I use the word “forgiveness” that is not what I mean at all. I have found that many clients walk into my office with a very different idea of what forgiveness means than the way I use the word. Sometimes other counselors, pastors, or friends have different definitions of the term, too. All of this can create a lot of confusion over what “forgiveness” actually means. So it’s important to talk about what forgiveness is, and what is isn’t.
What Forgiveness Is Not
First, let’s start with what forgiveness isn’t. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning, reconciling, accepting, justifying, excusing, overlooking, or releasing the offender of his or her responsibility. That’s not forgiveness. Forgiveness is not making excuses or saying the person didn’t do anything wrong. Forgiveness is not saying it was your fault and not theirs. It is not saying, “no big deal.”
You’ve heard the phrase “forgive and forget.” I think that saying is a bunch of garbage. When you have been hurt you are not going to forget it. That’s ridiculous. “Hmm, did my wife cheat on me? I don’t remember.” Yeah right.
Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean Forgetting
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It also does not mean that you have to trust the person again. Years ago I loaned someone a significant sum of money. he never paid me back. For a while I was really angry about it. I thought about the money ever time I saw him. It was causing a conflict between us. Then I decided that this bitterness was hurting me and getting in the way of our relationship. I knew I would never see the money again, but I was also sick of it causing a problem for me. So I decided to let it go. i forgave him for not paying me back. I can honestly say that when I see this person I don’t bring it up and I don’t even think about the money. We can hang out and there is not problem, awkwardness, or tension between us at all. I have forgiven him.
Forgiveness Doesn’t Require Being Stupid
But if he asked me for another loan, there is not way that I’m going to give him one. That would be stupid. And forgiveness doesn’t make you stupid. If your girlfriend cheated on you it is possible for you to forgive her, and release any anger, hurt and negative feelings. But that doesn’t mean that you have to take her back. It just means that you are letting go of your anger and not letting her hurt you any more.
What Is Forgiveness?
So what is forgiveness? Forgiveness researcher Everett Worthington defines forgiveness as, “a conscious decision where the victim chooses to forgive the offender and give up the right to retaliate.” Forgiveness involves releasing bitterness and vengeance while at the same time acknowledging the seriousness of the offense. Another forgiveness researcher defined forgiveness this way:
People, upon rationally determining that they have been unfairly treated, forgive when they willfully abandon resentment and related responses (to which they have a right), and endeavor to respond to the wrongdoer based on a moral principle of beneficence, which may include compassion, unconditional worth, generosity, and moral love (to which the wrongdoer, by nature of the hurtful act or acts has not right).
Forgiveness Is Letting Go of Bitterness & Resentment
In short, forgiveness is acknowledging that you have been wronged, but choosing to let go of your bitterness and resentment, even though the other person doesn’t deserve it. You are releasing your right to hold on t to your anger. They hurt you once, but by forgiving them they can’t continue to hurt you anymore. When you forgive them, the hurt is over. It’s time for the pain to stop.