Forgiveness is a concept that many believe they understand, but very few actually do.
1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.);absolve.
2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation,etc.).
3. to grant pardon to (a person).
4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.
5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.
What stands out in the definition here is not that it’s something you grant someone else, nor is it offering relief to someone else, but the ability to release yourself from the burden you are carrying and to let go of the negativity that harbouring this ‘unpaid debt’ has caused in you. Forgiveness is not something you give to someone else, it is a gift you give to yourself.
The definition of forgiveness has been distorted to be understood as an almost tangible thing that you can give to someone else. It has been assumed that because someone has offended you that they now have a debt, an obligation to you, and that you have the power to relieve them of that burden. While you can relieve someone of a physical debt, unless you forgive yourself of the burden of being owed that debt, you may not get the closure you seek. You see, the burden lies on you, and it is something you carry with you, that prevents you from moving past this offense and moving on with your life. You can offer forgiveness to the offending party all you want, but if you don’t forgive yourself, then whenever you recall the incident, you will still feel the hurt, the resentment, and the assumed debt for said offence.
Let’s take a look at a really simple example to help explain what I mean.
Let’s say that you loan your friend your car for the evening, and while he’s out he gets into a car crash and your car is damaged. Maybe it just needs some body work to smooth out some dents, or maybe it’s something as serious as needing a new axle… it really doesn’t matter. When you find out about the accident & after you find out your friend is okay, you’re fuming with anger, kicking yourself for lending your car out, pissed off that your friend was so careless as to get into a crash, frustrated that now you don’t have a car for a week while it’s in the shop, and upset that you now have repair costs to consider and an almost certain increase in your insurance rates. You feel betrayed, even though your friend didn’t plan to screw up your car!
Your friend is genuinely apologetic, and even offers to pay for the damages. It might take you a few days or even longer, but you let your friend pay for the repairs and you tell him you forgive him. After all, he is your friend and you realize that you still want him as a friend…but you vow to never again lend him your car! All seems well, right? Well, it mostly is, until one day your friend needs a car and you notice he rents one rather than ask to borrow yours again, and you remember his offense and think to yourself, “That’s right! You won’t be borrowing my car any time soon after what you did!” Then at another time a different friend asks to borrow your car and those same feelings of betrayal, the same anxiety of knowing your insurance rates have gone up because of what your friend did, and remembering the inconvenience of not having a car for a week or two while it was being repaired. You may even resent that you feel so overprotective of your car now, since your friend had crashed it, and you might even feel a little guilty for not being a ‘good friend’ because you wont lend your car out. Whichever.
…but you forgave your friend, right? So why do you still feel all this negativity, betrayal and resentment?
It’s because you didn’t forgive yourself.
Let’s re-examine the definition of forgiveness again:
1. To grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.);absolve.
Instead of seeing this as something you grant someone else, grant it to yourself. Choose to absolve the ‘debt’ and consider it resolved. Allow yourself to let it go, whether it’s been physically paid off (if appropriate) or simply a loss you opt to take in order to get rid of the awful feelings associated with said debt. If it does mean you are going to cut your losses and move on, then actually do it. Forgive yourself for hanging onto the debt for as long as you have, accept that you are letting go of the stress and anxiety over this previously ‘unpaid’ debt, and give yourself permission to relieve yourself of it.
2. To give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation,etc.).
As above, if the debt has been collected, then let go of any entitlement you feel towards it. There is no need to harbour negativity over a resolved situation. If you are taking a loss in order to forgive the debt, then acknowledge your decision, and let it go. Even if you are in-between the two, and have reason to believe a tangible debt will be repaid at some point, accept that and move on. Spending any time worrying over that debt does not benefit you. In that case you are only allowing yourself to hold on to the resentment.
3. To grant pardon to (a person).
In this case, grant pardon to yourself! You can ‘forgive’ someone else all you want, but until you forgive yourself, that forgiveness can’t actually free you from the emotional attachment you have to the offending event.
4. To cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.
Again, this is allowing yourself to relieve the feeling of ‘lopsidedness’ in a situation where you feel something is owed to you. Forgive yourself and return to the previous state of equality that you experienced before the offense, or forgive yourself and move on, choosing to extricate yourself from any further personal investment in the offending situation. Accept what has happened, and govern yourself accordingly, without ill will, resentment or negativity.
5. To cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.
As above. If you are going to accept a debt as paid, whether it is or not, in order to free yourself from the situation, then do so and move on accordingly.
This applies to not only physical debts, like the example with your friend crashing your car, but emotional debts as well. If a friend betrays your trust in some way, perhaps shares something you told in them in confidence, you can feel all sorts of anger and resentment towards them, and hang on to it for a long time, letting that negativity poison your thoughts, or you can accept that it happened and forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not seeing in advance that this person couldn’t be trusted and move on being more careful with what you trust them with, or if you feel you cannot have this person in your life, then forgive yourself for not recognizing this sooner, and move on, cutting your ties to them. Holding on to the resentment of what they did doesn’t help anyone. It does not advance your ability to trust others, nor does it ‘fix’ your mistrust in the offending person. Accept that person for who they are, and either choose to have them in your life or not. But forgive yourself and let all the heavy emotions go. You have already suffered from the offense, you do not need to suffer it again and again and again.