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Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a state of mind or attitude that is not ruled by what we or others have done that has created problems for us. We have let go of it!

Unfortunately, many may be unnecessarily pressured or feel compelled to assume that they cannot forgive until they let go of their wariness or distrust. There are many things that forgiveness is not, and being clear about those can relieve a lot of inner stress.

Part of this pressure may be due to a misinterpretation of the line from the Lord's Prayer, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, usually seen in the context of the vengeful and punishing god promulgated by traditional Christian doctrine. The problem with such an interpretation is the implied guilt that comes from not forgiving, as if we are capable of the same level of magnanimity as who has forgiven us. We don't need that guilt overloading our capacity to forgive.

Forgiveness is not trust, as unless circumstances have significantly changed for the better, those who were not trusted before should not be trusted now. Promises of change are not reality. Change has to be actual and necessarily demonstrable over a period of time and a variety of stressful circumstances for someone to be trusted again.

Remorse is not worthy of trust, as it is only a recognition of the harm that may have been done, and not a guarantee that similar circumstances will not result in more harm. Remorse where there was none before is a step up in self-awareness, but is not enough for trust.

Forgiveness does not require pardoning, as there are consequences of all actions and those consequences are for the other person's learning. Pardoning them from those consequences may prevent them from gaining the benefits of that learning, as they may think that they don't need to change. Forgiveness is not a clearing of the slate of wrongdoing.

Forgiveness is not a forgetting of the past. Forgetting implies that there is nothing to learn, but every experience is an opportunity to understand, learn, change and grow. Forgoing those may mean that future similar harmful circumstances are not avoided because the events leading up to them are not recognised for what they lead to.

Taking the time to understand what has happened, especially the sequences of events and what we have done or not done that may have allowed the harmful outcome. That is not to say there is a need to feel guilty, but just a need to properly avoid the choices that allow others to have the opportunity to create harm. Usually that means avoiding those who create harm, rather than just trying to compensate for their bad behaviour.

Of course, all of these are also applicable to us when we have been the perpetrators of harmful actions, or have consciously taken steps to enable others to do so. We have to change ourselves to make sure we are not still harbouring desires to harm ourselves or others. Professional help may be needed to understand how our thoughts and beliefs may have lead to the harmful outcomes and what we need to learn to enduringly change our behaviour for the better.

Forgiveness is a letting go of the destructive feelings and thoughts that prevent us from getting on with our lives without feeling crippled. It is meant to allow a feeling of freedom and optimism to pervade our lives so that we can face and break through those feelings and thoughts that have been defining our lives until now.

That is not to say that the threats have disappeared, nor that reasonable measures should not be taken to prevent further harm. It is that we have reached a place within ourselves where we are not ruled by unnecessary fears, and so can make a new life for ourselves away from those fears.

Forgiveness is not an obligation. If not ready to let go, don't. It takes the time it takes, and that may be a lifetime. It can help to not be encumbered by resentment and anger, but they can be hard to let go of, especially when there is a person who can be the focus of them, so moving beyond them to forgive within and fully let go may be too big an ask. It is our choice.

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