Before I started my introspective journey to become a life coach, I really struggled with forgiveness. No matter how hard I tried to “let it go” when someone I cared about hurt or disappointed me, my mind always fixated on how angry, betrayed, and insignificant I felt. Because my ego was bruised, I tried to find inner strength by blaming, resenting, and judging the “wrongdoer.” I held on to grudges for dear life, and sometimes even fantasized, in detail, about all the vengeful ways I would make them pay.
Perhaps you can relate?
The mindset work that I have done (and continue doing) has helped me realize that I really didn’t understand forgiveness. I used to think that if you forgave someone, you were weak. Spineless. Lacked self-respect.
But here’s the thing: forgiveness is not a weakness. In fact, it is the ultimate form of strength because it frees your soul from the painful burden of self-doubt, self-loathing, and limiting beliefs that you buy into (e.g., “I’m not loveable,” “I’m not successful,” “I did something wrong and I am being punished”). Staying in victim mode and holding onto anger and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the “wrongdoer” to die. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse or condone someone’s behavior; it just prevents that behavior from destroying your heart with bitterness, fear, distrust, and anger. It lets you move on with your life.
You will find strength in forgiveness no matter how you express it, and regardless of whether the “wrongdoer” acknowledges or apologizes to you for their behavior. I never knew how strong I was until I sat down and wrote a letter (that I never mailed) to a family member who wasn’t sorry for something he did that caused me immense pain and catapulted me into a deep depression. I poured everything into that letter – my anger, sadness, frustration, resentment, and shock at his lack of emotional intelligence; my belief that he knew better and was capable of treating me better; what I wish he would have done differently; and why it was unreasonable for me to expect him to act the way I would have in a similar situation. I read the letter, cried, and read it again. And then I shredded it.
(Side note: I know that many people who write forgiveness letters like this burn them after they finish writing them. However, as someone who was once labeled a “pyromaniac” following an unfortunate and uncontrolled fire incident at Girl Scout sleep away camp – which led to my fire badge being forcibly removed from my uniform in front of my entire troop – I now stay away from burning anything other than a candle wick. Anyway, I digress …).
Forgiveness is a process. It is a choice you have to make over and over, every day, until you’re free of hurt. Like anything else, you get better with practice. Remember, when you forgive, you heal. And when you heal, you get stronger and create a more loving relationship with yourself. To quote the legendary Lucille Ball:
“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”