Like it or not, the success of your relationships – romantic, professional, and otherwise – depends on your ability to forgive.
If you don’t know how to forgive, your relationships only last until some shit goes down. I don’t care how much of a saint you are, eventually something will happen in your marriage, friendships, or otherwise that needs forgiving.
The big problem I see with forgiveness is people wanted to do it but being afraid. Afraid of what will happen, afraid of being shut out, afraid of what others may think.
What Forgiveness Is, and What Forgiveness Isn’t
Think about your past. Something you wish could be undone. This might be something that happened to you, or it might be something you did to someone else.
I define forgiveness as the ability to cut loose the negative emotions associated with these events. In other words, to let go, stop wallowing, and get a fucking move on with your life. To me, waiting to forgive someone is a tragedy.
You know pretty much immediately if you’re going to forgive someone for something (or yourself) before you die. If you’re never going to forgive someone, that’s OK. You have every right to do so. If you are, you might as well get on it.
What reasons are there for not forgiving someone right away? Anger. Waiting on an apology. Waiting to see if they’ll make amends for whatever they’ve done. Waiting to see positive progress. Generally, things that are reactive.
Any time you make decisions based on what another person does, you’re being reactive. In other words, their actions are shaping your life. Not a great position to be in.
Whether or not you forgive someone is independent of your choice to keep them in your life. In both my personal and professional experience, forgiving is essentially an act of understanding, and I think this is something that’s often overlooked.
To see the extent of this, all you’d have to do is sit in on one of my family or couples sessions. You wanna know the most common phrases? “How could you?” “Why would you?” and other variations of “I no longer believe I understand you well enough to trust that you’ll meet my standards for acceptable behaviour.”
Forgiving someone is saying “I understand why you did what you did. I understand how that could happen. I understand this does not reflect on me nor does it imply anything about me. These actions are yours. I choose to accept you as you are, forgive you, and have you in my life (or not). You are the only person responsible for absolving yourself, and whether or not you do so is up to you.”
How You Forgive (Or Don’t) Is Based On Your Past
I’m not going to hide my bias here. My advice isn’t based on a book. It’s based on my life. I don’t know if you’ll understand my views without a bit of context, so I’ll do my best to be tastefully honest here.
My parents split when I was an infant. When I was 6, my dad fell from a 7th story balcony. He lived, but as would be the case with any athletic young guy, he was permanently changed. Alcoholism and addiction to prescription pain medication would adversely affect his life, as well as mine.
When I was 14, my father called me up and told me I was out of the family. A couple months later I moved 3,500 kilometres (2000 miles) across the country with no idea what the hell was happening, or why.
On my 18th birthday I decided I was a man now (lol), and as such was owed an explanation. I called him up ready to do battle, but to my surprise he burst into tears when he heard my voice. He didn’t even know what he said to me, and had no idea why I stopped talking to him. It was at this point I realized how mentally damaged he was, and suddenly, my whole childhood made a lot more sense. Talk about a mindfuck.
Three years later, his father, one of the best men I have ever known, died of cancer. I only saw him twice before this happened. Two years after that, my father died of a prescription drug overdose. He was 51. I saw him three times between the phone call and his passing.
I knew he loved me, he was just really messed up. I was willing to endure the shitty parts of our relationship because his days of clarity were so cool. He would make jokes, tell me he loved me, and let me do stuff my mom would get mad at me for. It was like I was a regular kid, and on those days I would pretend things were always that way.
The 3 Things This Taught Me About Forgiveness
1) Only You Know What’s Best For You
Not your family. Not your friends. Not your spouse. Not your counsellor. Not your priest. Just you.
Take their opinions into consideration, but ultimately you have to trust yourself. Almost every couple I see asks me if they should stay together, and I tell them the truth: I don’t know. It’s not my job to tell them if they should split or stay together, it’s my job to help them figure out which scenario will result in a happier life.
It’s scary to be the sole bearer of your fate. I get that. It’s way easier to trust someone else, that way you have someone else to blame if shit hits the fan. Ultimately though, catering to this fear robs you of happiness, fulfilment, and the satisfaction that comes with being the sole architect of your life.
2) Don’t Fuck Around On the Fence
Like I said earlier, you know almost immediately if you will at some point forgive someone. Waiting is reactive, and it wastes time, which (obviously) is something you can’t get back.
Holding on to anger only hurts you. Not forgiving someone because someone else thinks what they did doesn’t deserve forgiveness only hurts you. If you think they’re remorseful and are taking steps (or will) to correct the action, what purpose is furthered by not forgiving someone?
3) Forgiving Someone Doesn’t Mean What They’ve Done Is OK
Forgiveness isn’t about excusing someone’s actions. It’s about understanding and acceptance. You can forgive someone and let them out of your life.
Or, you can forgive someone and keep them in your life, even if they aren’t the nicest. If my old man was still around, I’d forgive him for the frustrating stuff he does because I know it’s caused by mental illness. If it was just him being an asshole, I’d still forgive him – but we probably wouldn’t have a relationship until he agreed to make some changes.
Thoughts? Struggling with a dilemma over whether you should forgive someone or not? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so take a second and leave a comment now.