Forgiveness is something we ask for when we’ve wronged someone, or it’s something we give to free ourselves from resentment. What does forgiveness mean to you? In the bible forgiveness is a two-way street. If you forgive others for their transgressions, then you will be forgiven in return. In your prayer for forgiveness, your wish may be to wipe the slate clean. That doesn’t mean that all is forgiven, or that you don’t have to make amends. Forgiveness is a an emotional release, not a free pass to hurt or be hurt again. Here is how psychologists define it.

Forgiveness definition

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. … Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.

Boundaries are important when offering forgiveness

Can you ever forgive me? When someone has hurt you, these words can be a genuine plea for reconciliation, or it can be a form of manipulation in the narcissists playbook to maintain control control of you. In toxic relationships asking for forgiveness means nothing. That’s the reason you need to know how to stay safe emotionally when you release your resentment and pain. Forgiveness can be a private thing that’s only for you.

What are some different kinds of forgiving

There may have been physical, sexual, emotional, or spiritual neglect or abuse as well as small hurts received through everyday living such as telling you something about yourself you don’t want to hear or forgetting your birthday or the anniversary of your marriage.

Forgiveness In Smaller Hurts

For these small hurts, forgiveness is usually fairly easy. Forgiveness can be about just letting go of the slight by recognizing we all say and do stupid things at times; it can be about telling the other person we were hurt; or it can be about holding on to resentment.

In keeping healthy boundaries, we decide who we want in our lives. Remember that boundaries are about where I begin and end with other people and boundaries are about “yes means yes and no means no.” Rigid boundaries are too strong as they don’t let anyone or anything into your life; very porous boundaries let in too much; but healthy boundaries give or take by letting in the positives and keeping out the negatives.

Forgiveness In Difficult Hurts

So we need to look at the possibility of forgiveness for our more difficult problems. We know that keeping grudges can keep us stuck in a negative outlook. The Big Book of AA discusses how resentments keep us sick as when we resent someone and don’t deal with this, the anger and pain can become overwhelming – hurting only ourselves and not the person who harmed us.

In this manner, we stay focused on our bitterness, hostility, and possibly wanting revenge. It may also cause us to become anxious, depressed, and in a perpetual state of grieving with no end in sight. If this happens, we may find ourselves missing out on life and love as we are so wrapped up in our trauma.

Do We Have To Forgive?

Numerous studies as well as our religious institutions focus on forgiveness as a path for healing ourselves as well as others. For example, Johns Hopkins expert Dr. Karen Swartz relates that forgiveness can help lower your risk of a heart attack as well as your cholesterol levels, help with sleep, and reduce pain and blood pressure, as well as decrease anxiety, depression and stress (www.hopkinsmedicine.org). Our religious and spiritual beliefs also see forgiveness as an important path to take for healing. But is forgiveness for everyone?

We do not have to forgive for there may be concerns where forgiveness is not possible. Think of a teenager who was gang raped or a father who just lost his entire family in a drunk-driving wreck; is it a must for these people to forgive?

No. In fact, early on in recovery from such horrors, it may be counter-indicated to forgive as it can be a way to deny the pain and horror. So do not feel that you have to forgive. In time, you may find yourself wanting to forgive and this can be healthy especially if you first begin by choosing to forgive someone in order to heal yourself.

First Signs Of A Healthy Boundary

Healing yourself first is the sign of a healthy boundary for you cannot forgive someone else until you have dealt with the issues yourself. Letting go of anger, pain, resentments and grief can thereby lead to forgiveness – or not.

If you choose to forgive, it needs to be on your terms. Forgiveness may be related to not only coping with your own pain, but also keeping yourself from being harmed in any other manner. You can offer compassion to yourself and the other person; you can set healthy boundaries by setting limits on others or by deciding to not continue a relationship that is toxic.

Forgiveness Does Not Remove Boundaries

In such forgiveness, we do not make excuses for the other nor do we ignore the pain. But we can let go of the anger and resentments – feelings that can keep us trapped. We can seek counseling for help or lean on our religious/spiritual beliefs and practices to help us to go on. But we do not blame ourselves nor do we begin the path to forgiveness if we’re not ready, and for some, this readiness to forgive others may never come.

Yet if we focus on our own healing, that is forgiveness in itself for we are setting boundaries and taking care of ourselves.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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