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What is forgiveness and why should you care? part I

Article by Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D.

Webster’s New World Dictionary definition of the word forgive is “to give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon.” Most spouses, at some time or another, struggle with the issue of forgiveness as incidents happen in the marriage.

There are very legitimate reasons for feeling hurt and wronged, such as a partner who is disrespectful, inconsiderate, unsupportive, or unfaithful. But if you remain stuck in resentment, anger, bitterness, or vengeance, you will be unable to move on with your life in a healthy way. Holding grudges and hanging on to negative feelings reduces your capacity to enjoy life and to have maximum energy in the present moment.

Lewis B. Smedes, in The Art of Forgiving, makes the following points about what forgiveness is and what it is not:

Forgiving does not mean that we excuse the person who did it.

Forgiving does not mean that we invite someone who hurt us once to hurt us again.

Forgiving someone who did us wrong does not mean that we tolerate thewrong he or she did.

Forgiveness is not about reunion. Being reconciled to another person as a human being and embracing him/her as a best friend are two different things.

Forgiveness happens inside the person who does it.

So when should you forgive? “We forgive,” shares Smedes, “when we feel a strong wish to be free from the pain that glues us to a bruised moment of the past.

We forgive when we want to overcome the resentment that separates us from the person who wounded us. We forgive when we feel God’s Spirit nudging us with an impulse to pull ourselves out of the sludge of our disabling resentment. We forgive when we are ready to move toward a future unshackled from a painful past we cannot undo.”

When you hang on to the desire to hurt someone else, you are only hurting yourself. In The Heart of the Enlightened, Anthony de Mello states: “It is impossible to help another without helping yourself, or to harm another without harming yourself.”

He illustrates this by a story about Nasruddin, who was muttering to himself delightedly when his friend asked him what it was all about. Said Nasruddin, “That idiot Ahmed keeps slapping me on the back each time he sees me. Well, I’ve put a stick of dynamite under my coat today, so this time when he slaps me he’ll blow his arm off!”

Practice Forgiveness for Your Own Benefit

This is exactly what happens when you are vengeful and deliberately hurt another person–you end up harming yourself. At such times, you may find yourself asking, “Is there another way to resolve this?” or “What do I do now?” The choice you make affects your potential to heal and lead a life of harmony, contentment, and happiness.

If you hang onto your “I’ve been done wrong” song, you’ll begin to think of yourself as a victim of other people and circumstances. As you continue to sing this song, you’ll find yourself approaching life from a victim orientation of helplessness, powerlessness, and weakness. Then it becomes easy to forget that you always have choices in how you will react to others and to circumstances.

According to Gary Zukav, “Forgiveness is letting go of your resentment, disappointment, anger, and hurt. When you do, you are free from these prisons. They no longer captivate your attention. They no longer intrude on your thoughts and your sleep. You are no longer steeped in anger and righteous indignation. You no longer feel the need to convince others that you have been wronged. You give up being a victim, and step into a lighter, less restricted consciousness…You cannot live with a light and happy heart and be a victim at the same time.”

In speaking of forgiveness in her book Life! Louise L. Hay states: “We must release the past and forgive everyone. We are the ones who suffer when we hold on to past grievances. We give the situations and the people in our past power over us, and these same situations and people keep us mentally enslaved. They continue to control us when we stay stuck in ‘unforgiveness.’

This is why forgiveness work is so important. Forgiveness–letting go of the ones who hurt us–is letting go of our identity as the one who was hurt. It allows us to be set free from the needless cycle of pain, anger, and recrimination that keeps us imprisoned in our own suffering. What we forgive is not the act, but the actors–we are forgiving their suffering, confusion, unskillfulness, desperation, and their humanity. As we get the feelings out and let them go, we can then move on.”

Ron Roth, in The Healing Path of Prayer, writes that “Forgiveness must not be conceived as an act of condoning the poor behavior of another toward us, but rather as an act of release on our part in relation to the person we feel has harmed us. In that act of release, we place the individual in God’s light and allow that light to dissolve the negative energy into which we once were plugged. Having unplugged psychically from past negative actions directed against us, we are now prepared to be filled with the positive energy of freedom and joy.”

Harold S. Kusher, in How Good Do We Have to Be? tells of counseling a divorcee who was still seething about her husband’s leaving her for another woman years before and then falling behind on child support payments. She asked him, “How can you expect me to forgive him after what he’s done to me and the children?”

Kushner answered, “I’m not asking you to forgive him because what he did wasn’t so terrible; it was terrible. I’m suggesting that you forgive him because he doesn’t deserve to have this power to turn you into a bitter, resentful woman. When he left, he gave up the right to inhabit your life and mind to the degree that you’re letting him. Your being angry at him doesn’t harm him, but it hurts you. It’s turning you into someone you don’t really want to be. Release that anger, not for his sake–he probably doesn’t deserve it–but for your sake, so that the real you can emerge.”

When you’re dealing with someone who might hurt you or your loved ones, you need to put strong, effective boundaries in place for self-protection. By doing this, you are taking good care of yourself and also trying to help the other person not to accumulate more negative energy in his or her life. “It is never a loving act to allow a person the opportunity to hurt us,” states John Gray.

Talane Miedaner counsels, “At some level people know when they are doing a number of you and they don’t really want to get away with it. If you let them get away with it, not only do you diminish yourself, but you also diminish them.”

The concept of mercy isn’t talked about much in our modern day society. Mercy involves refraining from harming or punishing others who have wronged you in some way. Mary Nurries Stearns writes, “Forgiveness is an intimate relationship with mercy that soothes pain, dissolves anger, and releases attitudes that don’t serve our own life potential or humanity.”

You have to look at the cost to yourself when you cannot be merciful and forgive another person. George Herbert cautions, “He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.”

When you forgive another, you free yourself from the burden of resentment and living in the past. Zukav summarizes, “Forgiving is choosing a light and happy heart instead of resentment.” And as Smedes reminds us, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

About the Author

Nancy J. Wasson, Ph.D., is co-creator of Overcome Control Conflict with Your Spouse or Partner, available at http://www.ControllingSpouse.com. She is also co-author of Keep Your Marriage: What to Do When Your Spouse Says “I don’t love you anymore!” which is available at http://www.KeepYourMarriage.com, as well as a free weekly Keep Your Marriage Internet Magazine. Dr. Wasson offers telephone and email coaching to individuals and couples

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