Forgiveness is when we choose to let go of negative emotions relating to the perpetrator of an action which has hurt us deeply. Built up resentment, anger and a thirst for revenge serve no purpose as they can’t change the outcome but they can gnaw away at us.
Long term anger is corrosive. It can damage the heart, the immune system and change how we think. The only reason we hold on to it is because it’s serving a purpose – usually by giving us a false sense of power. We feel it's a just form of punishment when all we are doing, is punishing ourselves.
When this turns to bitterness, it poisons how we view the world. We forget the good that’s in our lives, as we pursue vengefulness or a pay-back for the pain inflicted.
Forgiveness is misunderstood. It doesn’t mean you gloss over the seriousness of the offense nor does it imply a willingness to forget and pretend it never happened. It means deciding not to let the pain define who you are as you move forward in life.
I love what it says in The Bhagavad Gita. ‘If you want to see the heroic, look to those who can forgive.’
It’s not for the weak and faint-hearted as it requires bravery and a strong mind to not pass down bitterness and hatred to the next generation.
I witnessed such a shift in mind-set when I worked in Belfast on the Shankill Road in the early 2000s. The paramilitaries on my training programmes wanted their children to have a different future and that meant forgiving those who had murdered and maimed people in their communities in the name of religion, politics and territory. Moreover, it meant forgiving themselves for similar actions. That requires enormous courage and strength.
Recently I found myself in a similar position. It was time to forgive my former husband for the emotional abuse and his cruel decision to cut off all contact with his daughters for the past twenty years. Saying those few words, ‘I forgive you,’ were like sticking my tongue into battery acid at first, but as I expanded on my reasons, I knew it was the right thing at the right time. You can’t be glib or plaster on a fake smile. It must come from a place of love. In my case, it was for my daughters. I don’t want to leave them a legacy of resentment.
I’ve been told that some things are unforgiveable. Sexual abuse and neglect of children being one of them. That being said, I have talked to survivors of horrendous abuse who explained that holding onto the anger has trapped them for too long and it’s only by letting it go, can they be free. Heroic indeed.
Like the Dalai Lama says,'You can take everything from me, even my country, but I won’t let you take my joy'. (roughly quoted.)
Forgiveness, like death, taps us on the shoulder to remind us it’s time. Often the two come hand in hand. It’s too late to forgive ( and reconcile) at the funeral service. Think about it. If you want to be truly free, forgive someone today. It’s through compassion that we become real and true to ourselves. It might be all we have to offer.