Growth & Grace Podcast Episode #24
EP 24: What Does Forgiveness Look Like?
What is forgiveness?
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a 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.
It is ultimately about YOU!
You make the choice, sometimes more than once, sometimes daily… to release resentment and let go of past hurts.
YOU have the power to decide.
You are the one who can be freed!
Forgiveness is a choice, but forgiveness is also a journey.
Why would you want to forgive?
Un-forgiveness can cause a range of unhealthy emotions including: resentment, hostility, hatred, bitterness, anger and fear.
Holding a grudge can have a toxic effect on your body. It can raise blood pressure and increase risk of stroke or heart attack. It can impair the functioning of the immune system and increase stress hormones.
I heard someone say one time that un-forgiveness is like taking poison and waiting on the other person to die.
Though the steps might look different for different people, there are some things that I think forgiveness typically includes
Recalling the hurt - identifying and process what has actually happened and how it has impacted you. It is hard to forgive someone, if we don't know what we are forgiving them for…or the extent of the hurt.
I think about complicated family situations for example….if someone hurts you physically, there are likely emotional scars there too. Working through that in support groups or in therapy can be really helpful.
But we have to know the scope of the damage.
Next we have to decide to forgive.
Getting to this step can be a LONG, HARD road. It sometimes takes people years because of all the things we talked about early related to forgiveness.
But remember that forgiveness is about YOU, not them….it is NOT because they deserve it…but because you deserve to be from the hurt and pain!
Take an action that makes the forgiveness real.
This can look different for different people. Maybe it means going to the person, maybe that is not safe. Maybe it means saying it someone else. Writing it down in your journal. Let go of a balloon. Write a letter. Write it on a piece of paper and burn it.
Doing something just makes it feel real
Now the reality is that you might go back and forth and have to work through forgiveness multiple times. That is okay. You might have thought you have forgiven a situation, and then it pops back up…there is pain you didn't know was there….and you have to work through it again.
I want to share a story from my own life about forgiveness, and I haven't really every shared this story before in large circles--maybe a few close friends, my therapist. It is about a really close family member that I grew up with who was an alcoholic, and she passed away about a decade ago. I guess I have always felt like I needed to protect her and other members of my family. But it was really transformational in my life and I wanted to share it with you guys. It might sound like I’m being vague, but I really just want to make sure that I'm only representing my own thoughts and experience.
So I had a really close family member who was an alcoholic, and I grew up with her and quite frank I resented her for years. When I came to the awareness that her behavior and how she treated me and the things that she said and did were not the norm, my resentment grew. I felt like I was missing out on having any real relationship with her. Now she did have periods of sobriety that were better, but it was ultimately alcoholism that took her life.
I'm not sure if it was the summer before college or the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, but I went to New Orleans on a trip to do some Hurricane Katrina relief. We stayed on the French Quarter and in the evenings we would hang around Jackson Square and get to know the homeless community there. One night we invited a few of our new friends to eat dinner with us…and it was on this trip that I first met Mama Rose. Everyone on the streets of new Orleans called her Mama Rose. She was probably in her 60s. She has been homeless for years, and she was an alcoholic. She drank straight vodka like it was water, and I cannot even begin to tell you the sticking similarities between Mama Rose and my family member. The drink of choice, the mannerisms, the way she carried herself. I absolutely fell in love with Mama Rose that week. I sought her out, and I wanted to love and support her. Though I didn't agree with or understand her life choices, I met her where she was. I showered her with compassion and empathy…and then my trip was over and I went back and started the fall semester.
It wasn't until a few weeks into the semester that I got a chance to really process that trip…and it hit me like a ton of bricks!
I was able to love and accept and support a complete stranger …yet still hold such resentment toward my family member with the same illness…some of the same struggles.
Quite frank, I knew that wasn't right. I knew that my resentment and anger were hurting me…but I also didn't know what to do about it.
So, I wrote a letter. At first I was writing a letter to myself, that only I would ever see. But before I knew it, the letter was finished, addressed, and placed in the mailbox.
I came home for the holidays that year, and we never spoke about it. I know that she received the letter, because it was found tucked in a book after she passed away a few years later.
I 100% have no idea if she accepted my forgiveness, or thought she had done anything wrong at all…but I also 100% know that putting that letter in the mailbox was one of the most freeing things I have ever done in my life.
Forgiveness is not about the other person…it is about you. It is a gift you give yourself.
Forgiveness happens when:
you choose to let go of resentment or revenge even though the wrongdoer’s actions don’t deserve it. You choose to gift them gifts of mercy, generosity, and love. they doesn’t deserve it. But you deserve the freedom of letting go.
Forgiveness is different for every human being that lives it. For some, it comes on suddenly, blessedly, without having to think about or try and create it. For others, it’s a more deliberate process that requires effort and practice. And for others, it’s a permanent destination and once discovered, never slips away. But it can also be a feeling that comes and goes and ebbs and flows. There’s no right way to find or live forgiveness; any path to and version of it will do.
If you are holding on to something that is eating you alive, I would really encourage you to start the journey to forgiveness- begin to just process and see where it takes you! I think You'll be surprised!