Forgiveness doesn’t work. Neither does forgetting. Why? Because both assume you have been wronged, and that you’re doing someone else a favor by not punishing them for it. “I forgive you ” really means We both know you did something bad, but I am choosing not to give you the silent treatment or make you feel guilty for years to come, even though it’s my right to do so.
Suppose your spouse cancels your dinner date last minute. You arrive home angry, your head stuffed with unkind thoughts. You walk in the door and–Surprise! Your spouse is throwing you a surprise party to celebrate your recent promotion! Your anger vanishes immediately. You’re not forgiving your spouse because there’s nothing to forgive. You were just misperceiving things before. Now that you have all the information (ie. the surprise party), you appreciate the situation for what it really is.
As it turns out, everything’s a surprise party.
Think of someone who hurt you in the past. Suppose your fourth grade teacher told you you’d never amount to anything. Even though you were deeply hurt at the time, your teacher’s insensitive remark inspired you to eventually prove her wrong by becoming a huge success. Sure, you can “forgive” this person, but why not thank her instead? Even if she made that hurtful remark simply because she didn’t like you, that’s not the point. The point is she helped you, whether or not she intended to. Now that you have all the information, this much is crystal clear.
The people and circumstances that cause you the most pain tend to also be your greatest teachers–if you will let them. I’m not staying to stay in an abusive relationship because you’re “learning” so much. I’m saying move on, never speak to that person again if that’s best–but recognize the powerful lessons that situation taught you about yourself. If you could have learned those lessons in some less painful way you would have, but that’s not the way things worked out.
If someone hands you a $100 dollar bill to help you out, great. If someone hands you a $100 dollar bill to humiliate you, great. Either way you’ve got $100 more than you did. Not spending that $100 because you’re still in the process of ‘”forgiving” the person who gave it to you doesn’t make any sense. Forget about forgiving, forget about forgetting. See the profound value in the challenges you face. Realize that no person, circumstance or situation can prevent you from learning more about yourself. And with self-knowledge comes wisdom, peacefulness and compassion.
About the Author: James Robbins is a licensed professional counselor, published author and co-owner of Dallas Whole Life Counseling. He has over 15 years of experience helping people in various life stages that come from a wide variety of cultural, economic and family backgrounds. Learn more about his background by clicking here.