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Learning to Forgive

Forgiveness. Who needs it? Who deserves it? How can there be forgiveness when there is still pain? Why is forgiveness even necessary?


No relationship is without moments of pain, accidental or predictable. Because relationship is a dance involving two different people, each facing life from separate perspectives, toes are bound to get stubbed. Relationships can be destroyed by a series of these emotional injuries. There are also relationships that have born the great pain of an extramarital affair or of addiction to drugs or alcohol. Because we humans are wired for relational contact, we all need to learn how to restore trust and repair connection after there has been hurt, no matter how small or how great. We must learn the art of forgiveness. This involves not only knowing how to extend forgiveness, but also understanding its purpose and when it is needed. Let’s start with what forgiveness is not.


Forgiveness is not an acceptance of bad behavior;

Forgiveness is not something that happens by chance;

Forgiveness is not something that is earned;

Forgiveness is not withdrawal from the issue or avoidance of the emotions from the hurt;

Forgiveness is not forgetting;

Forgiveness is not an instant remedy for pain;

Forgiveness may not come simultaneously with justice being satisfied.


What forgiveness is:


Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.

If we wait until we “find it in our heart” to forgive it may never happen. We prepare ourselves for forgiveness by allowing ourselves to fully feel and work through the hurt that accompanies betrayal. If we have authentically done this work, forgiveness is a next step, something we give our selves and the other. Robert D. Enright, a creator of the first scientifically proven forgiveness program in the country, offers a 20-step map through the process of forgiveness. For help in taking steps toward forgiveness, consider getting his book “Forgiveness is a Choice.”


Forgiveness is something we give for our overall health as well as for the benefit of the relationship.

When we hold onto a grudge, our bodies respond with an avalanche of hormones and chemical responses that can compromise our immune system and diminish our emotional resilience. Not forgiving a partner creates a barrier to intimacy, which over time can create a wall too big to be overcome.


Forgiveness is a necessary part of healing pain.

In intimate relationships, choosing to forgive often goes hand in hand with assessing what is needed in order to rebuild trust. For the relationship to continue, the hurt partner must identify what consistent behaviors she needs to experience from a partner in order to rebuild trust. However, we can forgive even if we discern that the other person is unable to be trustworthy. We must attend to our own healing regardless of the other person’s choices or whether we choose to continue the relationship.


Forgiveness is a well-chosen path through each emerging thought or image regarding a hurt.

If we have chosen to forgive, we may still be plagued by thoughts, feelings or images of what has hurt us. Our hearts may need to grieve time-and-time again. Yet, as the waves of hurt crest, we can repeatedly choose for them to dissolve onto the shore of forgiveness.


The benefits of forgiveness may be instant or gradual.

Forgiveness is a process. It is something we choose to practice for it’s own benefit, not just for the outcome. Therefore, we needn’t measure the results of our choice by the frequency with which we exercise it.


We can turn to a higher power for help.

If it is in keeping with your orientation, turn toward spiritual or religious practices for support and strength.


Forgiveness is a daily practice that includes not keeping tally of wrongs or storing up hurts.

We need not reserve the practice of forgiveness for the “Big One’s.” It’s nice to do a big spring cleaning once in a while, but it’s wonderfully fulfilling to “tidy up” on a daily basis.


Forgiveness: we need it for ourselves as much as for those who we forgive. The one relationship that is most often in need of forgiveness is our relationship to our selves. Learning to figure yourself is a wonderful place to start.