Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

A big part of my growth over the last few years has been understanding why I allowed myself to become lost. At first I blamed a lot of people, then a select few but that outward blame did not ease my suffering. Only until I really let go of the perceived injustices by forgiving those whom I held anger toward have I truly found the space to grow and blossom.

Forgiveness is a difficult concept for many of us to swallow. It is often associated with giving up, excusing behaviour, or admitting defeat. It feels like losing when we forgive someone who “doesn’t really deserve it.” In fact, letting go of all that pain has done the opposite for me. I feel happier and more secure the more I forgive. Forgiveness is like a muscle, the more we use it the stronger and more useful it gets! 

Like many of the positive habits I encourage people to try, forgiveness is a skill which we must practice in order for us to have it’s full benefit. Below are some ideas which may help you on your own forgiving journey.

forgiveness cannot be conditional

When we make the conscious decision to consider forgiving someone for an offence they have committed against us we must observe our motivations, intentions and expectations. Be clear, forgiveness cannot be contingent on the other person acknowledging their mistakes, apologizing, or changing their behaviour. In other words, we cannot forgive to get something external in return.

The other person may feel as if we are equally to blame for the mistake. They may be feeling bitter, resentful and holding a grudge against us. They may even be oblivious to the fact that they hurt us in any way. And yet, by forgiving them we release our pain and that is enough in itself.

forgiveness is not the same thing as trust

There are times when forgiving someone leads to great and lasting growth in the relationship you share. Both parties are able to let go, move forward and become stronger together. This is when we forgive someone who is equally invested in making things work, who treats us with respect and decency and who has simply made a mistake that has hurt our feelings but not damaged us deeply.

Then there are times when the mistakes are too hurtful to repair the relationship. When the damage is dangerous, abusive or disrespectful. This is when we need to ensure we have safe and healthy boundaries in place. Just because we forgive a person does not mean we accept their harmful treatment of us. We owe no one our trust. It is okay to forgive and to walk away from someone at the same time.

forgiveness frees up valuable space

Holding onto grudges, feeling resentful and being angry uses up an enormous amount of energy! When we do not practice forgiveness we carry this energy everywhere with us. It permeates into other areas of our lives. We are miserable and bitter. We act vengefully and negatively even when we are not around the person who has hurt us.

By truly practicing forgiveness we begin to release that negative energy and clear space in our heads and our hearts for more positive feelings. Forgiveness of others leads to our own healing and good health. Letting go of all that negative energy means we have the space to focus on the good in our lives.

forgiveness makes your healthy relationships stronger

By practicing forgiveness for past sufferings we begin to set a course for becoming more compassionate and loving, in general. We open up to being more understanding when we are forgiving. We stop colouring events, situations and behaviours that occur with our loved ones with the ugly lens of those we resented or were angry with. This allows our loving relationships to be more positive and genuine.

A big part of the forgiveness process is being able to consider the person who has hurt us from a bigger picture perspective. When we can identify with their hurt, understand where they are coming from and give them a break knowing they are possibly hurting too we are able to let go more easily.

In turn, this bigger perspective becomes a tool we use in our life with others. Situations and behaviour that may have caused us to be wounded now are dealt with more peacefully. Our heart has opened to the possibility that there may be more to the situation than just our own pain. From this place forgiveness becomes natural and flowing.

forgive ourselves, forgive others

A great place to begin is with ourselves although for some this may be very difficult. We have all made mistakes we hold onto firmly. These mistakes replay in our heads and shape our behaviour. They feel powerful and sometimes all-encompassing. And they are toxic to our well-being and sense of worthiness.

It is here that I encourage each of us to begin practicing forgiveness. Think of a mistake that has really stuck with you. Reflect on it until you are really clear what it is you feel you cannot let go of and then every day say to yourself “I made this mistake_________, it happened in the past but I no longer will allow it to define my present life. I forgive myself.” Once you begin to practice this with yourself, chances are you will be able to open up to the possibilities of forgiving others.

Forgiveness is contagious. We all have the capacity to forgive and once it becomes a habit we approach challenges with people with a forgiving heart. We understand that everyone deserves forgiveness, including us!

Is there someone you have been unable to forgive? Do you hold onto resentment and anger and want to exact revenge? Start your forgiveness journey today by declaring that you are ready to release this energy. Sort out the details of the offence by journaling or speaking to a trusted friend about your suffering. Once you are clear about your pain, declare you are ready to create a path toward forgiving them. And then, consciously make this forgiveness your priority. Your intention and practice will lead to your own happiness and peace.

Please send me a quick note at karla@kslifecoach.com if you found this helpful or would like help creating your own forgiveness journey.