Forgiveness Is For You
Don’t be further victimized by those who have caused you pain
As a psychotherapist, one of the more common themes that surface during counseling is that of forgiveness and its effect on people’s lives. Here is a question I recently received that is an excellent example of this:
“Dear Andy, what’s the deal with forgiveness? Some friends and family are saying that I need to forgive my parents for my painful childhood and move on. My father sexually abused me, and my mother said she didn’t believe me. At the age of 11, after three years of the abuse, I finally told a teacher at school, and my father was later convicted. My father has passed away, and I have a very difficult relationship with my mom. I’m in my early 40s, and others think the anger and hurt I’m holding on to at my parents is affecting my relationships at work, my marriage and my teenage kids. I don’t understand what one has to do with the other; please help!” Signed: A Forgiveness Failure.
Dear Forgiveness Failure, you certainly have the right not to forgive your parents, but let me show you the advantages of forgiveness. First, let’s define what forgiveness is and isn’t. The term “forgiveness” may bring to mind religious concepts, but forgiveness doesn’t need to have anything to do with religion. If your faith and religious beliefs are important in your life, then you certainly want to add that to your understanding of forgiveness.
Forgiveness also does not mean that you have forgotten or excused an offense. It only means you are recognizing it and making a conscious decision to let go of the pain it has caused. When forgiving someone, the goal is not to necessarily reconcile with them,
although in some cases, you may. In other cases, it can be unhealthy to do so. Forgiving someone is possible without minimizing or denying the offense or betrayal. It takes time and can be challenging, so don’t force it. Keep working toward your goal, and it will come. Don’t base your willingness to forgive on someone else’s behaviors. An apology is not necessary to forgive someone.
Forgiveness is mainly for you to have peace and take back your power. Here are some advantages of forgiveness:
• Healthier relationships
• Less anxiety, stress and hostility
• Improved general physical health
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• More happiness, peace and joy
• Improved trust in relationships
• Living life in the present
• No longer defining yourself by your past betrayal
Wouldn’t it be nice to have more of these things in your life? When people can’t forgive, anger and resentment can affect other relationships and events. For example, have you ever known someone who was betrayed by a partner’s infidelity and stayed angry and hurt for a long time, maybe even years? Holding on to the pain can make these people hard to be around. They may be jealous of someone else’s healthy relationship, emotionally needy, or just overall a negative person: This is what holding on to the past and letting it alter the present can do to someone.
Another concept to keep in mind is holding on to resentment and pain, in essence, makes the person who caused it very important. It’s like putting that person on a pedestal and making them partially in control of your life. When you don’t forgive, it’s like putting yourself in a prison cell and giving your betrayer the key to your release. Take the “key” and your power back and provide yourself with freedom. You no longer need to define yourself by your pain and victimization.
People also tend to run their thoughts and feelings about others through a filter or belief system of mistrust. When people live their lives expecting to be let down or wronged, they will find evidence of it. The opposite is also true. When you expect most people to be kind and trustworthy, you will see evidence of it. Remember, you are not alone. Many people are dealing with various types of betrayal. Realizing that not all slights or betrayals are equal is helpful. For example, a friend forgetting to call and check on you when you’re sick is not equal to a friend sleeping with your husband. This is a form of “black and white” or “right and wrong” beliefs that all things are 100% good or bad—most things in life fall in the middle.
If you are having friends and family tell you of their concerns, you may want to look at yourself and see if their concerns are valid. Do you tend to be negative, easily angered or offended, aggressive or distant? It’s not easy, but you can forgive and enjoy more joy and healthier relationships. If you haven’t recently, working through this with a licensed counselor could be really helpful.
Andy Sibley, MA, LPC, LMFT is a psychotherapist in private practice and contracted counselor for “The Dr. Phil Show.” To Ask Andy a question about a difficult situation you may want advice with, please email him at Andy@AndySibley.com or go to his website at www.AndySibley.com.