The Art of Forgiveness

Forgiving is easier said than done, but there are ways to make it easier.

It’s often said, that you can’t make someone forgive you. What is less often said is that you cannot make yourself forgive someone. Forgiveness is a process, and sometimes an elusive one. We’ve all had someone do something wrong to us. Sometimes an apology goes a long way in relieving our feelings of anger and hurt. Sometimes we can find satisfaction in the legal system, when justice prevails. Other times our anger over wrongdoing done to us is exacerbated by the absence of an apology or a failure in legal justice, making forgiveness all the harder to achieve.

Shakespeare shared this wisdom, “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,” which hearkens to an even older turn of phrase found in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

Another astute treatise on forgiveness that has stuck with me that came from an undervalued wise person, the late Tammy Faye Baker, ex-wife of the scandal-ridden evangelist Jim Baker. Tammy Faye was a woman who was greatly mistreated, by her ex-husband, her congregation, as well as the press and public. In a biographical documentary, the Eyes of Tammy Faye, she talks about forgiveness, and she talks about what the lack of it does to a person. In her own odd, eloquent way, Baker explains that holding a grudge is like carrying around a heavy dead body full of maggots. It doesn’t harm the person to whom the grudge is directed; it infects and sickens the person carrying this burden.

Most knowledgeable sources, from the clergy and spiritual leaders to philosophers and psychotherapists, most authorities on the subject of forgiveness agree, that harboring ill feelings toward another breeds discontent in the owner of those feelings. But still, few of these experts can advise on how to actually forgive. Some unrealistically state, that one must simply give up their hateful sentiments. This calls to mind another adage, “Easier said than done.”

As a person who has landed in (or steered myself into) a number of situations where I have been cheated out of money — or plainly been cheated on, been burglarized on multiple occasions, been the target of others seeking to take what is rightfully mine — and in some cases actually succeeding, many family, friends and associates ask me how I have remained standing on two feet in the end.

As the alternative to getting over these iniquities is bitterness or break down, I have had to find ways to stay sane and continue to live and thrive in life; and I offer these tips for those who have been mistreated and abused, to put into motion the wheels of forgiveness.

Put yourself in the shoes of the wrongdoer. Most likely that person has some history whereby they were mistreated and lied to, or they may or even have some physiological pathology that leads them down a bad path. Love, honesty, and kindness come from a pure heart; and on the dark side of that equation, hatred, deceit, and evil come from a dark and damaged heart. Try to sympathize with the evil doer and their sickness; and while this does not right what they have done, it takes away the feeling that their actions were personally directed at you.

Focus on yourself. If your heart does not feel the generosity of forgiveness toward your offender for their sake, then concentrate on the good that forgiveness will do for you, and consider that by giving into negative emotions you are still allowing that person to win the fight. Don’t let darkness overcome the light. Stay on a greater journey of self-evolvement. Show the person who betrayed you that you are better than their forces of their negativity. Make vengeance in this case truly sweet. A happier life will be your reward.

Look onward and upward. If you cannot bring yourself to forget and move on from the hurt inflicted on you, do your best to look forward instead of backward. Redirect the energy of your anger toward a new goal. Pursue a passion or dream that you have put off, even a small goal, perhaps learning a new skill,, conquering a new technology, taking up a new sport, or volunteering your time to a worthy cause. The distraction will do you good, and you just may find a new source of happiness and connection or even prosperity, and you may do others good as well.

Learn a lesson. Write off your bad experience to a valuable education in whatever arena the offense occurred. If you were taken advantage of by a business partner, then glean what lessons you can regarding how you got yourself into a compromising position, and be aware of this and apply it to your future endeavors. Likewise in a relationship, if you ignored red flags, tolerated intolerable behavior, or somehow set yourself up for this incident to happen, take note. Do not let this happen again. Be proactive in dealing with the next similar situation or get out of the relationship before you become a victim again. Consider the treachery a service that will help you head off a more emotionally or financially costly mistake in the future.

Take responsibility. Ultimately, we all make our own choices. Whatever position you found yourself in, and whomever you chose to associate with, and whatever decisions you made that got you into this state, you put yourself there and made those decisions yourself, unless someone held a gun to your head. Realizing that you made the decisions puts the control back in your hands. But rather than be angry at yourself for your mistakes, know that you in fact you have control, which is empowering, and this will help you in the future to help yourself.