This blog series explores what forgiveness is, how we forgive others, and how we forgive ourselves.
We all want to be forgiven when we make mistakes. When applied to us, it seems relatively simple – we’d prefer they just let it go. Forgiving others, well, that’s different. Do they deserve it? Forgiving ourselves, wait – is that a thing? Is it necessary?
Let’s start at the beginning. Forgiveness is defined as “the act of granting pardon, as for a wrong, offense or sin; remission of an obligation, debt, or penalty” by The Century Dictionary (wordnik.com). Psychology Today (2021) defines it as “the release of resentment or anger.”
So, is it an act of will or a change in feelings? Yes.
Decisional forgiveness is when we decide to forgive someone. We choose not to hold the offense against them. We choose not to talk poorly about them. We choose not to treat them with cruelty. We choose not to ruminate or rehearse the offense over and over in our minds.
A refusal to ruminate is critical to emotional forgiveness. Emotional forgiveness, which generally comes after decisional forgiveness for apparent reasons, releases bitterness, anger, and resentment. This step is often recurring as our emotions may get triggered, and we have to start again. However, you never go back to square one. It’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-back scenario. It’s worth the effort. Studies show that emotional forgiveness is linked to lower rates of depression and a substantially higher level of sustained forgiveness, i.e., the offense’s impact is lessened significantly (Lichtenfeld et al., 2015).
Notice that none of these definitions require reconciliation or for the wronged party to “forget,” acting like it never happened. Neither do they suggest that an apology is necessary. You obtain power over the situation by forgiving because you choose to do so - not in response to an apology. God did not wait on an apology before He sent His only Son to pay for our sins so we could be forgiven. God demonstrates taking control of the situation by forgiving while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8).
If you are blessed enough to receive an apology, do not respond with, “it’s okay” or “don’t worry about it” or anything that minimizes that you were wronged. A kindly stated, “I forgive you,” is powerful. It acknowledges your pain and their remorse. It honors you both rather than diminishing the growth that the experience has given both of you.
If you are blessed with an apology, you have an opportunity to mend the relationship if you choose to do. No, it will never go back to what it was. However, it can be better. A deeper level of intimacy is reached when forgiveness is present.
If restoring the relationship is not an option for you, forgiveness is still a loving act that you extend to yourself. It brings healing to you and releases you from the power of the offense and the offender.
Lichtenfeld, S. Beuchner, V. L., Maier, M. A. & Fernandez-Capo, M. (2015). Forgive and forget: Differences between decisional and emotional forgiveness. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0125561 https://www.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0125561
Psychology Today. (2021). Forgiveness. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/forgiveness