Lewis B. Smedes once said, “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” What does forgiveness really mean? According to psychologists at UC Berkeley, forgiveness is the conscious decision we make to release feelings of resentment or vengeance we have towards someone, whether they deserve it or not. Anyone who’s truly forgiven somebody knows how liberating it can be, so why do we struggle to let go of the past? While July 7th marks this year’s global day of forgiveness, this awareness presents us with the opportunity to recognize the pain we’ve encountered without letting it define us all year long.
However, this reflection can be painful and finding the resolve to forgive is a difficult process that can take much longer than one might think.
Repairing relationships with family members can be one of the more challenging tasks to tackle. Naturally we have a different set of expectations for our immediate family. When we are let down by family members the pain, anger, and frustration can be immense. After all, our families are expected to love and support us unconditionally. To navigate forgiving family members consider the following:
Adjusting your Expectations
What are you really upset about? Did they not live up to your expectations? If so, maybe these expectations need to be adjusted. We love our family because they are just that, family. However, it is important to recognize that they may be dealing with stressors in their life that cause them to not show up for us the way we may need. Forgive them for this by accepting them for who they are and what they can do.
Sometimes relationships with our family can turn toxic. Forgiving family who have contributed to the negativity in our lives can feel unfair. It can take years to recover from these painful relationships and forgiveness can feel unimaginable. It is important to remember that forgiving someone, by no means, justifies their behavior or completely rectifies a broken relationship. Forgiveness is just as much for us as it is for those we forgive. Letting go of the anger we are holding onto does not open up the door for more potential pain but rather allow us to accept what has happened and the opportunity to move on – with or without the relationship.
Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. Sometimes it can take years to build a close-knit friendship and other times it only takes a few hours. Either way, we can all agree being let down by a friend can feel like the ultimate betrayal and moving on can be a very daunting path. If you are struggling to repair a relationship with a close friend consider either:
Once trust is lost between friends the road to get back to where you used to be feels long, although not entirely impossible. If you are determined to repair your friendship, don’t lose hope! Moving forward may require setting new boundaries. Reevaluate what you feel comfortable sharing to protect yourself and allow your friend to prove they are trustworthy. One of the most confusing parts about being hurt by a close friend is that we typically want to forgive them, but we are frustrated they let us down to begin with. The sooner we are able to let go of the anger, the sooner we can rebuild an even stronger friendship.
Unfortunately, there are times when we don’t think we’ll ever be able to rekindle the relationship – and we may not want to. In these instances it’s important to let go of any and all resentment for our own wellbeing. Betrayal, especially from a friend, hurts but it presents us with the opportunity to grow. Moments like these provide us insight into life’s many lessons, and all we have to do is be willing to learn from them. Distancing yourself will allow you the space you need to heal, reflect and finally forgive.
Our partners are who we share the most intimate details of our lives with. We spend all our days together and trust them to confide in. The key ingredients for any healthy relationship are dependability, love, and trust. When our love-lives take a turn for the worst, how do we forgive are S.O.?
We have all heard the classic saying ‘pick and choose your battles’ and while this may be wise, it can also become a slippery slope. Ignoring hurtful comments or false promises may be an easy way to avoid an argument, but over time resentment is bound to build up and has the potential to break any couple. Open communication is vital, even over the little things. These conversations are most productive when level-headed and calm, so don’t feel guilty for taking time to collect your thoughts. Once your partner is able to understand what has been upsetting you, you can devise a plan to fix it moving forward and let go of any tension you once felt.
As difficult as it may be to forgive our family, friends, and partners, nothing is more challenging when it comes to forgiving ourselves. We often tend to overthink the moments when we could have done better. How can we stop punishing ourselves for our past mistakes and failures?
The first step towards forgiving yourself is to stop dwelling on moments in the past. Focusing on the ‘what if’s’ prevents us from learning from our mistakes. Instead, recognize your inability to change the past and use these experiences to inform future choices. Not only will this practice help eliminate any lingering regret or guilt, it can be transformative to your mindset when dealing with similar situations later down the line. Let’s face it – we will never stop making mistakes but we can stop beating ourselves up over them.
Gratitude is usually associated with our appreciation for those around us, but expressing our gratuity for ourselves often gets overlooked. Reflecting on all the things we are thankful for about ourselves can make forgiveness a lot easier. It’s not easy to change our way of thinking, especially when in a dark place. However, finding the strength to feel grateful for the opportunity to make mistakes, and to grow from them, will help us become kinder to ourselves. As Katrina Mayer once wrote, “loving yourself isn’t vanity, it’s sanity.” It’s time we learn to love ourselves unconditionally, failures, flaws and all.