Yeah. I'll be the first to raise my hand in this class and say that forgiveness is a process. What I mean by that is, whether you choose to forgive someone while looking them dead in the eye, while journaling at home or while standing at the foot of an altar, rarely do you say the words, "I forgive you" and, immediately following, everything is fully resolved. Or healed. When you decide to forgive someone via your words, it is basically like making a public declaration that you are going to put yourself on the path to, as the dictionary definitions of the word state— "to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.)"; "to cease to feel resentment against and absolve (to cancel an indebtedness or liability of", or "to set free or release, as from some duty, obligation, or responsibility)".
Pardon. Not resent. Release. Hmph. No wonder so many mental health professionals say that when we choose to forgive a person, it's far more for our benefit than it is for theirs; that to choose (because it is always a choice) to hold onto the fallout of our experiences is holding us back, stressing us out and, according to many reports, even making us sick. No joke. There are studies that reveal unforgivingness can keep you in a state of anger and raise your blood pressure. Unforgivingness can also increase levels of depression and PTSD. Shoot, unforgivingness can even cut your lifespan short. And really, y'all, is holding a grudge really worth all of that?
That's why I wanted to take out a few minutes of your time to first say, if you know there is someone you need to forgive, for your own health and well-being, please consider doing so. And second, if you're reading this and you someone who hurt you, offended you and/or totally pissed you off immediately comes to mind, just to make sure that you're as free from the situation as you may believe that you are. You can do this by going down this checklist of signs that a person isn't as good at forgiving as they might think that they are.
Why Is Forgiving So Hard to Do?
Since most of us know that bestowing forgiveness is essential in life (because none of us is perfect, right?), why is it that so many of us seem to struggle so much with forgiving others? In a good article that I read on the topic, the author brought up three good points. A lot of us don't forgive others because 1) we don't want the "offender" to think that what they did was OK; 2) we don't think that the person who hurt us deserves forgiveness, and/or 3) we don't trust them. Thanks to my own forgiveness journey, what I have learned is, far too often we are hesitant or even afraid to forgive someone because we think that forgiveness and reconciliation are one in the same, when that is not even remotely the case.
You forgive as a way to heal from the hurt or harm that was done to you. You also forgive in order to release yourself from the temptation to keep the cycle of pain going by hurting or harming the other person (or someone else because you are still holding onto unforgivingness).
Reconciliation is another matter entirely. If it is even on the table for discussion, the offender has some work to do in order to restore what has been lost (and if they are truly sorry, they are all for putting the sweat equity in with their words and actions—no question about that). So no, never feel that just because you have forgiven someone that you are invalidating your feelings about the offense or that you have to have the same kind of relationship with them moving forward. Forgiveness isn't designed to make you more vulnerable; it's actually meant to empower you by helping you to let the pain, fear and frustration go.
Now, with all of this out of the way, here are some pretty telling signs that you're not as good at forgiving as you probably need to be.
1. You Don’t Really Ever Let Things Go
Something that I deal with a lot in marriage counseling are people who forgive with their mouths but not necessarily via their actions. What I mean by that is, although one spouse will claim that they've forgiven their partner for something that they've done, the moment they do something else that they don't like, the past issue comes up. It's almost like they hold onto it like a trump card to use in an argument in order to "win" it. Nothing healthy comes out of it because really, who wants to constantly hear about their past missteps and mishaps all of the time?
Say that you are married, your husband misspends some money and it caused a check to bounce. You talk it through and then tell yourself and him that you are willing to let it go. But then he forgets to pay a different bill five months later and you bring his misspending from before up, even though these are the only times in recent history that it has happened. This is a good example of not being able to let things go.
If your man really isn't the best with money, perhaps it's time for you to handle the finances or for you guys to get a financial consultant. But to berate him every time he does something, even though you claim you've forgiven him, means that you actually didn't. Not only that, but the more that you "stockpile" his mistakes, the harder it will be to get past a challenge or problem the next time one comes up.
Interestingly enough, this is one of the reasons why a lot of couples end up divorcing after 20 years of marriage; they never really forgave each other for much of…anything really. And you know what they say—eventually a collection of snowflakes end up turning into a huge avalanche.
2. You Take “Forgive but Don’t Forget” Totally Out of Context
One time, I heard a guy named Cedric Dent say something about forgiveness that I think is pretty good. He used the hypothetical example of him telling someone something in confidence, them turning around and telling other people, and then them ultimately asking for forgiveness for the betrayal. According to Cedric, the best way to handle an instance like that is to forgive the person, but to also not tell them any more secrets for a while. It's not because you are holding things over them; it's actually their actions have shown that they have a weakness when it comes to respecting someone else's privacy.
I think this is the healthy way of applying the old adage "forgive but don't forget". You're not "not forgetting the offense" in order to weaponize the offender with it later up the road. You're using it as a teachable moment so that you can do all that you can to prevent being in a similar situation again. It's not about holding something over a person; it's about making sure that you apply wisdom in the future. No more, no less.
That said, forgiving while not forgetting shouldn't be about not being open to giving someone another chance. It's simply about asking yourself, "What did I learn from this experience?" and then applying it across the board. For instance, if someone revealed one of your secrets, what's the lesson? Perhaps it's something as simple as learning how to vet people better in the future. "Not forgetting" should be more about how the situation can make you better rather than how to make someone feel like they cannot be redeemed for what they have done. If you've truly forgiven them, sometimes they can be—once trust has been restored. It's close to impossible for that to happen if you're holding onto the out of context take of "forgive but don't forget".
3. You Lack Empathy in the Forgiving Process
I remember when I got my first abortion and a "friend" that I went to school with, who was a virgin at the time, told me that I was going to go to hell for it. Fast forward to her having a late period two years later and—surprise, surprise—she was asking me what clinic I went to for my procedure.
Yeah, it can be really easy to think that someone is not worthy of your forgiveness—or forgiveness, in general—when you haven't done anything similar to what they did to you (or you have selective memory when it comes to some of the past things that you have done). But we've all done something that some human, somewhere, would deem "unforgivable". Not only that but, if a lot of us were truly honest with ourselves, the reason why we don't extend the forgiveness is because, on some cryptic level, we want to have some sort of power over the person who offended us.
I can speak from very up close and personal experience that the sooner you bring empathy—" the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person's feelings"—into play, the sooner your heart will soften to a situation; any situation, really. Try it.
4. You’re Stuck in the Past
An author by the name of Criss Jami once said, "Grudges are for those who insist that they are owed something; forgiveness, however, is for those who are substantial enough to move on." Now put a pin in that as we touch on the main points from the article, "8 Signs You Have NOT Forgiven Someone", the author shares some of the following points.
Here's how to tell if you still need to do more forgiveness work. When you:
- Use what the person said or did as a topic of conversation.
- Daydream about getting revenge or some kind of justice. A good example of this is attending your high school reunion and showing them.
- Preoccupy your mind day in and day out either reliving or dwelling on the situation or the person's behaviors.
- Get annoyed if someone even mentions the person.
- Have a tendency to avoid the person.
- Are secretly delighted to hear about the person's current difficulties and losses.
- Strongly believe you have been unfairly treated and are an innocent victim.
- Have friends and family that are tired of talking about the person and the latest drama.
In another article on forgiveness, the author said this:
"…forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. While there is some debate over whether true forgiveness requires positive feelings toward the offender, experts agree that it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life."
Something that a lot of us refuse to acknowledge or accept about forgiveness is that it can keep us mentally, emotionally and relationally stagnant. Here's an example. Back when I was dating my late fiancé, it took for-e-ver to let him fully into my heart and life because my first love had done so much emotional damage. Looking back, I stand amazed by how much my fiancé was able to tolerate me bringing up my ex or sometimes even comparing the two of them. By the time I finally did let my guard down, Damien (my fiancé) died just a few months later.
That's the thing about unforgivingness. In order to remain in that head and heart space, you have to keep thinking and looking backwards. And that is what can prevent you from truly moving forward. Hmph. The real "ouch" about that is while you're still stuck in your past, there's a pretty good chance that your offender…isn't. They are moving right along.
5. You Think That Karma Is YOUR Job
If you hop on Google, put "karma quotes" in the search field and then click on the "images" tab, you'll see a slew of karma references. Two that cracked me up were "Karma's just sharpening her nails and finishing her drink. She'll be with you shortly" and "In the end, karma will be a bigger bitch than I'll ever need to be". Two that had me like "hmm" were "Karma isn't a bitch, it's a mirror" and "You will never understand the damage you did to someone until it's done to you; that's why I'm here. Signed, Karma." But the quote that all of us should keep in mind as it relates to forgiveness is the one by Dr. Wayne Dyer—"How people treat you is their karma. How you react is yours." (Louder for the seats in the back, please.)
Although most of us consider karma to be "what goes around comes around", did you know that another definition of the word is "destiny" or "fate"? I can personally attest to the fact that karma has a way of handling what someone has done (ourselves included) in a way that we couldn't even begin to come up with on our own. Plus, when we let karma do its thing without trying to help it along, we avoid reaping seeds of bitterness, resentment and revenge.
Along these same lines, the Bible tells us that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:6-10). What's really a trip about that Scripture is it doesn't put an expiration date on when that reaping will happen. The warning here is that you only waste time and bring unnecessary drama into your own life if you think it's better to be the "karma bestower" rather than forgiving someone. What's really crazy is, by trying to do karma's job, you keep the vicious cycle going—and usually end up doing further harm to yourself. (Something that unforgiveness knows will happen, by the way.)
Bonus: If You’re a Christian, You Don’t Factor in Just How Much You Need to Forgive
If you're a Christian (or you're simply someone who tries to apply biblical Scripture to your life as much as possible), I think it's imperative that I end this article on forgiveness on a particular note. Matthew 6:14-15(NKJV) tells us, "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
What this basically means that in order to be forgiven by God, we need to forgive those around us. It's a Scripture that actually keeps me pretty humble because it reminds me that just like I need to forgive others for what they've done, there is stuff that I do that I need to be forgiven by the Most High for; that nothing should keep me from wanting to live a free and forgiven life so that, at the very least, I can spiritually thrive as an individual.
True forgiveness ain't easy. Not by a long shot. But if you really want to evolve and heal as an individual, it's important that you do it. Not the "bad way" (you know, saying that you do even if you don't really mean it); the right way. Hopefully this article helped to point you in the direction of just that.
Forgive. So that your karma will bring forgiveness unto you. Amen. So be it, sis.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
How I Learned To Forgive People In My Life That Weren't Sorry
Jada Pinkett Smith Reminds Us Forgiveness Isn't About The Other Person
Why I Don't "Cut People Off" Anymore, I Release Them Instead
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