Forgive Wisely

Somebody important hurt you.  Now what?

To forgive or not to forgive?  Under the right circumstances, forgiveness has the power to heal wounds, both within us and between us.  It can repair or improve a relationship, help an offender grow, and enable the release of anger, distrust, and sadness.  But what are those “right conditions” under which it is wise to forgive?  

Not all people or behaviors deserve forgiveness.  “Turning the other cheek” might get you slapped again.   Under most circumstances, forgiveness is something that needs to be earned.  Here are 7 key things to look for (or request) from the person who hurt you before deciding if they deserve your forgiveness.

You need your offender to;

  1. Accept responsibility (I admit that I hurt you)
  2. Express empathy  (I understand the hurt I caused you)
  3. Express remorse (I regret that I hurt you)
  4. Apologize (I’m sorry that I hurt you)
  5. Offer to make amends if necessary (I’ll fix it)
  6. Assure change (I will be more careful going forward)
  7. Be sincere (I mean what I’m saying)

These 7 caring expressions provide a wounded heart its best chance to release anger, sadness, and fear.  They also help restore trust, lower your guard, and restore affection.  You would be wise to expect them from those who hurt you, and just as wise to offer them when you’re the one offending others. 

Even loving people can struggle to offer all 7 of these expressions.  Wounded pride, embarrassment, guilt, and shame can all interfere.  Many people simply never learned to express them.  When someone who loves you can’t bring themselves to show it in these ways, you can still forgive them, but the benefits of forgiveness may be lessened.

There are other circumstances that make forgiveness complicated, such as when the person who hurt you is emotionally or cognitively impaired, inaccessible, or even dead.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t forgive.  Under these circumstances forgiveness won’t repair a relationship, but it can still help you release anger and restore peace.  

Here are some things that can aid in forgiving those who are not in a position to earn it.  First, you need to feel free from further harm from that person.  You also need to free yourself from any sense of guilt, shame, or responsibility that may have been unjustly imposed upon you by the offender, others, or even yourself.  Lastly, it can help to seek to understand the weakness(es) behind the offender’s behavior (e.g. someone who bullied you may have been a victim of tormenting abuse themselves).  Releasing judgment and replacing it with compassion can be very healing.  

Forgiveness is a profound act of love with great potential for helping others grow, for repairing relationships, and for healing.   Earning forgiveness is also an act of love.  As human beings, we all need to forgive and be forgiven.  Sometimes forgiveness is neither possible nor wise.  Either way, make your choices about forgiveness wisely.