There are many common fears and misperceptions about forgiving someone who has hurt you. You might recognize yourself in some of these fearful justifications:
- You are afraid that forgiveness will empower the other person to continue to hurt you and/or other people.
- You are afraid of giving up your victim role and the sympathy you get from other people.
- You are afraid that forgiving will make you vulnerable to experiencing hurts similar to those you’ve experienced in the past.
These fears are fallacious, as we shall see.
Since publishing my new book, called A Forgiveness Journal: Letting Go of the Past, several of my coaching clients have declared something like this, “I can’t forgive my ex-husband because I’m afraid he’s going to do horrible things to me and the kids. If I forgive, I won’t be vigilant any more - who will protect my children?” Or another might say, “I can’t forgive him - if I do, I’ll just attract the same type of horrible man into my life again.” These women feel a false sense of security in holding onto their grievances - that wrapping themselves in the negative energy of non-forgiveness will somehow keep them safe. I understand that feeling, because I was in that place for many years.
For me, my thoughts were, “How can I forgive that horrible person for the unthinkable acts she did against me? I was right and she was wrong! I can’t forgive her, because then, I might not be completely right anymore.” Ouch. To relinquish your position of being 100% right - and righteous - is to eat humble pie, and what a bitter pie that is. Yep, that was a tough one for me!
Before I tell you why it’s counterproductive to hold on to these justifications of your non-forgiveness, let’s remember that the definition of forgiveness is not to condone the behavior of people that have hurt you, or to ignore the pain that it has caused you. Instead, the purpose of forgiveness is to achieve a neutral feeling - IN YOUR OWN HEART - when you remember the person or incident that hurt you. It has nothing to do with the other person. It has only to do with relinquishing your burden of anger, regret, resentment, recrimination and self-righteousness - and laying that burden down for good - so you can focus 100% of your energy on your present life.
So here is my little secret about fears about forgiving: Unfortunately, by not forgiving, you cannot protect yourself at all. Holding on to your grievance - and the anger, regrets, resentment, recrimination and self-righteousness that go with it - keeps you in a state of mind that actually attracts those same qualities to you. Remember the old adage that “like attracts like”. If you are holding on to negative emotions and memories, don’t be surprised if similar events and emotions keep showing up in your life. I’m talking about events and people that exemplify the same emotions you cling to: anger, regrets, resentment, recrimination and self-righteousness. They will continue to show up in your life until you forgive.
If you want more of what you’ve had in the past, don’t bother to forgive. If, however, you’d like to make a clean break from the past and live a happier life, please consider forgiveness.