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The Courage of Forgiveness


It’s a New Year and I am a lucky woman to be on a plane headed to paradise. There's nothing like a brand new year and a quiet, long plane ride to make one reflective. It has me thinking about where I have been…

Mistakes, lessons, pain, incidents, loss, failures and issues – so much can happen in a year. I strongly believe each year has taught me its own set of life lessons. I “maintain” there are no mistakes in life and how it unravels. Relationships are no exception to this rule.

Like most things, relationships must grow to survive.

They grow from the good things as well as the bad. Some lessons are taught harshly, inflicting great pain. I glance at my index finger and trace over the faint scar remaining from a cooking mishap when I accidently sliced deep into my own flesh.  There’s thicker skin beneath the scar now— if sliced again it would not penetrate as easily.  The same goes for the emotional scars that remain after someone hurts you. Walls go up, you become wary and lose trust. The gift in hurt is the wisdom you gain about yourself and about the person who hurt you.  But many times we cannot look beyond the pain.

Let it go.

There’s a reason that Disney song stayed at the top of the charts for what seemed like forever.

Move on.

Forgive and forget.

Let bygones be bygones.

When you forgive you don’t do it for the other person, you do it for yourself.

We talk a great deal about forgiveness because it’s hard. It’s easier to wallow instead of forgiving.  The degree of the infraction, the depth of the injury, the magnitude of the betrayal or the specific act that needs to be forgiven often dictates our ability to move on and truly forgive a person. Sometimes people waste years or an entire life stuck in the purgatory of bitterness, anger and pain – unable to forgive.

Why do we find forgiveness so hard?

Most of us find the feelings of anger so much easier to handle than vulnerable emotions like sadness. It feels good to be vengeful or resentful and less so to acknowledge pain and sadness. Or, on a higher level, it can be difficult to to see our own role in an act or see it from the other person’s vantage point.

Pain.  Why is it so hard to move past the pain?

Sometimes relationships cannot recover from the pain inflicted on one another and things crumble in a way that can’t be rebuilt. People find out things about their partners or friends they cannot accept.  Sometimes the truth behind a betrayal can irreparably sever a relationship. Trust is a very difficult thing to rebuild after it is broken. However, sometimes uncovering a betrayal can bring partners closer.  In my own relationships and from what I have witnessed in the therapy room people forgive some pretty monumental things. If a relationship cannot be repaired or simply is not good for us, we may have no choice but to end them. Often this is a mourning process—much like a death. In the end we have to accept that as well.

In all of my relationships, I realize forgiveness for the most part is about acceptance. Accepting what someone did, who someone is, why it happened, how it changed you and him or her, and what you learned from it. WE CANNOT UNDO THE PAST—we can only accept it, learn from it and move on. Walking through pain and getting to forgiveness is undeniably a process, but it is meant to be a fluid one. Most people get stuck somewhere hanging onto those easier emotions of hate, anger, revenge, and bitterness. It hurts so good.

True forgiveness takes courage. I’ve been there—if you are human, you have felt the sting of someone hurting you and if you pile that up inside it can lead to depression and life that is full of ongoing darkness. Sometimes you have to forgive yourself, which is difficult for many people. Forgiving yourself and choosing to end the cycle of self-inflicted pain is sometimes the hardest thing to do.

Forgiveness is a decision.  Be brave.

Look back from time to time – trace your finger over your scars, remember what you learned from the pain but don’t even think about lingering there.

There’s a reason scars fade.