Ep. 36 Forgiveness: When to Do It and Why
Forgiveness. That word carries a lot of weight and mystery in many ways. There are books written solely about forgiveness.
It's often hard to put into words. Trust me, I've experienced so much uncertainty with forgiveness. There are so many different layers: What exactly is the situation you're forgiving? Who is involved? Do you know them personally? Are they seeking forgiveness?
Today, I mainly want to talk about forgiveness when you have been deeply wronged and the person is not a healthy person to have as part of your life.
If that scenario doesn't fit you, there are still plenty of nuggets on forgiveness you will get out of this message that you can use to help others or youself when needed.
My Journey with Forgiveness
I'm going to start by sharing my journey with forgiveness. As you probably know by now, at the age of 34, I was raped at a spa by a masseuse. I did not know this man outside of him being a masseuse at the spa.
That day changed my life forever. I sought out counseling, had amazing people around me, and really took time to invest in my healing. After a couple of years, I realized I was at the point where I needed to dive into forgiveness.
Sometimes people are too quick to forgive, and sometimes are even pushed by others to forgive quickly. I saw this stressed often in the Christian church.
However, when it is a major wound that caused life-changing trauma, you need to give yourself ample time to process it. You need time to fully explore the damage that was done, so you can know what you are actually forgiving.
When they are really deep wounds that have several layers, forgiveness isn't something you can give within a week. It takes time. It takes you seeking out healing, it takes you seeing how it's impacting all these different areas of your life.
By pursuing healing you will uncover all of those layers. This is why forgiveness often comes much further down the road when you have done the a large amount of healing.
That's why I never push someone to forgive. I know that when the time is right, it will reveal itself. So don't force forgiveness. It will become apparent when the time is right.
For me, that was probably two or three years after the assault. I had done a whole lot of work on my healing, but I couldn't quite figure out how to forgive the man who raped me.
I had grown up in the Christian church, so the word forgiveness was very common to me. But I had never forgiven someone whom I wasn't in a relationship with, or who wasn't asking for forgiveness.
Usually, I was forgiving someone because it was causing a rift in our relationship, and we needed to have forgiveness to move forward. But that didn't apply to this situation.
How do you forgive someone who isn't even asking for forgiveness, who isn't even admitting what they did?
I ended up booking a cabin in the mountains for a week to try to tackle forgiveness.
This cabin was off the grid, there was no WiFi, and I was able to bring my dog Zoey. It was this beautiful little cabin that had a babbling brook in the backyard and a fire pit. I love being able to go be in nature and find places of solitude. So this place definitely checked all the boxes.
I brought tons of books about forgiveness with me and my journals. I spent a lot of time in reflection and prayer, looking inward, reading books, and trying to figure it out.
One of the things that I read that really impacted me a lot as I was trying to figure out forgiveness was a book about the Rwandan genocide. It talked about all the horrific things that some people experienced, and how those that were still alive dealt with the aftermath.
Those that never had counseling and never practiced forgiveness, ended up becoming like a constant open emotional and mental wound, and a lot of them end up repeating the same kinds of violence that happened to them. That is very common in people that have experienced abuse. If they don't seek healing and work on themselves, oftentimes they repeat the things that happened to them. This book was highlighting the importance of stopping that.
Without forgiveness, the damage that was done to you will continue to harm you. It will rob you of your quality of life. It will change you into a person that you would never have wanted to become.
That concept is something I thought about a lot when I was going through my healing. I wanted to work on my healing so that the damage that was done to me didn't do any more harm than it had to. I want to stop the spread and growth of that damage.
Forgiveness is for You
You've probably heard people say that forgiveness is more for the person doing the forgiving than the one being forgiven. This was abundantly clear in my case because this person wasn't asking for forgiveness.
I had always seen forgiveness as a way to mend something in a relationship, so I had to rethink that view. Finally, by the end of that week in a remote cabin, I felt like I was able to actually practice forgiveness. Immediately afterward I felt like a heavy weight was lifted off of me.
If you don't get to forgiveness in your healing process, there is a weight you'll be constantly carrying. You may even get used to it and don't realize that's what it is weighing you down.
But after I forgave, I could tell the difference. It was like this rage that was inside of me and bottled up, was no longer there. The anger no longer had the constant supply of fuel that had kept it at a simmer for the past few years.
Do I still have situations where I get mad, upset, sad, frustrated, and angry about this person? Absolutely! But it's no longer the constant state I am living. Forgiveness alleviated it.
Forgiveness gave me internal separation from that person. I can't explain how exactly, but I can say that before I had felt tethered to that person, but once I reached forgiveness I felt separated from him.
Forgiveness Does Not Mean a Clean Slate
Now, don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean I have "good" feelings towards him. This doesn't mean that I never get angry when he comes to mind. And, most important to know, forgiveness does not excuse what someone has done to harm you.
I have forgiven the man who raped me, and at the same time, I will always want him to confess to the police and serve prison time. Those two things are allowed to exist at the same time. To forgive someone does not mean that due punishment and consequences must be forgotten.
I think that's where a lot of people get confused. I definitely was confused about that because I thought forgiveness was almost as if saying it never happened. But that is not the case at all.
Forgiveness isn't excusing anything. Also if the person who harmed you is a friend, family member, significant other, or someone else you already had a relationship with, forgiveness doesn't mean you have to allow that person to be part of your life.
Even if that person does ask for forgiveness, you can forgive them and not let them have access to your life. Forgiveness does not mean you have to give that person a second chance. That is a decision you have to make for yourself depending on the person and the situation.
But I will say this to you, if you have been abused or assaulted in any way by someone you have a relationship with, please strongly consider cutting that person out of your life - especially if you live with that person.
Even if the person asked for forgiveness and started investing in major therapy and treatment programs, that does not mean you are obligated to stay with that person. You don't owe it to that person.
I'm not saying that a person in major therapy and treatment programs doesn't have the potential for change, I just want you to take care of yourself first - and don't feel like you have to stay with that person.
You don't have to maintain a relationship with that person - even if other people don't understand. Protecting yourself is the most important thing. And I promise you there are other people in this world who understand that and can support you. Support groups especially are great for that.
Sadly, I have seen people who have been ostracized from their families when they have drawn boundaries like this. It is heartbreaking because the survivor should be overwhelmingly supported, not the opposite.
But I've been so proud of those people when they do draw boundaries because they knew it was what was best for them. There are tons of in-person or online support groups for whatever you are going through. They are filled with people who have walked a similar path, and they can be there to help and support you.
Forgiveness Can Be Unspoken
Forgiveness also doesn't mean you have to actually communicate it to that person. Again, forgiveness is really for yourself. Communicating that to the person isn't necessary.
If that's hard for you to understand, consider that you don't even have to call it forgiveness. You can call it letting go, releasing your anger, etc. —whatever works for you.
So what can forgiveness look like? In regards to specific actions, it could just be you sitting in your room and reaching that point of letting go. It could be journaling. It could be writing a letter to that person, regardless of if you ever send it to them. It could also be a phone call or a text. It could be meeting in person. It could be you writing down all this anger then burning it in a fire.
In my act of forgiveness, I threw a rock into the babbling brook by the cabin I was staying in.
There's not just one way you can do it. Choose whatever method resonates with you and makes the process real for you.
Remember, you don't deserve to have your trauma rob you anymore. It's already robbed you of so much.
When approaching forgiveness, keep in mind that it's important to fully understand the pain you've experienced in order to truly know what you are forgiving. If not, then you may forgive before you are ready. Which can become frustrating when you realize you didn't fully forgive that person because you didn't fully know all the layers of what you were forgiving them for.
Do the work to understand what hurt you, what angered you, what harmed you, etc. because then you can truly let it go.
And remember that letting go doesn't mean you're never going to get angry again. It just means that you don't have to carry that burden of hate, resentment, anger—all those things that are still weighing you down.
I hope that you can take some time to look at areas in your life in which it may be time for forgiveness. And if it's not, don't rush it. You will know when the time is right. If you continue to focus on healing, then when you get to that step of forgiveness, you'll know because it'll be evident that it's holding you back in some ways.
As always, I'm cheering you on. You've got this.