I am not a forgiveness expert. This is not expert advice. This is my perspective based on my experiences. I cannot know whether what I believe to be true for me is true for you. I share this for your consideration only and welcome dialogue about it.
I’ve been given a lot of opportunities to learn how to practice forgiveness in my life. It’s one of the most common places I get into energetic conversations with friends because I seek to forgive the violence and abuse I have experienced in my life. The energy comes around the idea that the people who have harmed me do not “deserve” forgiveness and that to do so would make what they did “okay.” In my mind, nothing could be further from the truth.
I do not practice forgiveness for the other person’s well-being. I practice forgiveness because it supports me letting go of the prison that is formed when I allow someone else’s past choices to harm me impact my current reality. There are so many places already that the abuse I experienced has impacted my reality, and I have to fight the patterns I was nurtured to develop all day, every day. If I spend my time focused on how upset I feel that I have been abused such that I have to do this work or the amount of work I need to do to change these patterns, my attention is misdirected back to the person who abused me and not to my work on changing the pattern.
I use the term “practice forgiveness” because one of the things I never realized, despite 12 years of Catholic School and more church than I needed in a lifetime, forgiveness isn’t a one time thing. It isn’t something a church does or a god. It isn’t an event, it is a practice. Forgiveness is a choice that I make regularly, whenever I feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of having healthy relationships and start spinning in the anxiety and voices of my childhood. When my heart starts to race and the tears start to fall and I feel as though I am a victim all over again and powerless, forgiveness reminds me I am not. Forgiveness reminds me that I have accepted what happened and decided to moved away from that experience. Forgiveness supports me moving my internal energy and dialogue to those things that I can do to move on from those things and practice letting go of the energy around “what was done to me.”
I am not always successfully able to forgive. There are days that I feel the pain and anger and let myself ruminate in it. Usually, there is something going on that I need to sort out and giving myself permission to not always forgive perfectly has been very important. If not, practicing forgiveness of self is also important. There is nothing wrong with me not forgiving sometimes. Sometimes, it just isn’t there and that is okay.
Forgiveness takes as much of the power back from those people who I practice forgiving as I am able to. It allows me to find a space for me to exist outside of those things which would otherwise consume me. Without forgiveness, my struggle to learn self-care and self-love would not be possible. For me, practicing forgiveness is a selfish act. It isn’t about making the other person feel better or anything like that. It is about me accepting what has been done to me and taking the focus off people who have harmed me so that I can focus on my own health and relationships that nurture those.
For me, forgiveness is about the internal dialogue that I have with myself about the experiences I have had and how I respond to them. It does not erase what has been done. It does not change what has been done. Forgiveness is the decision that I make. One of my favorite quotes is from Viktor E Frankl who said that “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Practicing forgiveness gives me space to grow rather than suffer.