“The things two people do to each other they remember. If they stay together, it’s not because they forget; it’s because they forgive.” –Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal
Forgiveness is often mistaken as something you do for other people; in truth, it’s much less altruistic than that. Imagine carrying around a backpack full of all the times someone in your life had done something that required your forgiveness. Imagine that instead of forgiving them, you had held on to all of those things. The weight of all of those unforgiven actions would be unbearable, and you would crumble under that weight. When we forgive someone, we not only accept their apology and make them feel better, we unburden ourselves of the weight of the negative feelings and thoughts that came with the action.
There is a major difference between forgiving someone for something they’ve done wrong, and forgetting it ever happened. That difference lies not in the way you treat the person who wronged you, but in how you carry what is left over from what happened. Forgiveness means acknowledging that people are fallible; that they make mistakes and are not perfect, but choosing to love them regardless. It does not mean setting aside everything they’ve done wrong and ignoring it; it means choosing not to use their past mistakes against them, but remembering things that have happened as a lesson. This may seem difficult, because often people are eager to engage in an all-or-nothing thinking, they either forgive and forget, or don’t do either.
The ability to forgive and move on is a learned skill, and not something you can automatically be great at. If you’re prone to holding on to things, learning to let go of them may feel like you are betraying yourself or your feelings. I often tell my clients that if you can change your perspective on something, you can change pretty much anything else as well- the way you feel about the situation, the way the situation effects you, and your relationships. Once you’ve done it enough times, the struggle ceases.
I’m definitely not saying that everything deserves forgiveness, or even that forgiveness should be your automatic response to every wrong that is done to you. I firmly believe that ninety percent of a problem is how you react to it- forgiveness is a reaction, and while we may not always feel like it is true, we are fully capable of choosing our reaction to things that happen to us. There will always be things that we feel are unforgivable, and sometimes choosing not to forgive is about self-preservation and is necessary. Ultimately, it boils down to picking your battles. You get to choose the things that go inside that imaginary backpack that you carry around. Choose things that help you, not hinder you. If all else fails, give yourself time to decide how you want to react, and if forgiveness is a possibility.