Can You Forgive the One Who Hurt You?

Photo by Kelvin Valerio from Pexels

A few days ago, I was watching a live stream of a blogger I follow and she was talking about forgiveness. She’s not a self-help guru, shrink, or Tony Robbins-esque life coach. She’s just a regular person, extremely relatable. I appreciate her ability to make me think.

The blogger — I’ll call her Sue — was proposing that — you’ve probably heard this before—you need to forgive those who have hurt you *for your own well-being.*

I practice meditation and this forgiveness idea sounds a bit like a loving-kindness meditation. If you’re not familiar, here’s how it goes. Start by thinking of someone you love, like your spouse, your mom, Ryan Gosling. While you think of this person, you say (in your head): may you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be safe, may you be loved.

Next, imagine someone you kind of know but feel neutral about, like the principal at your kid’s high school or your neighbor’s son, and you say the words again.

The third round is where it gets a bit tricky. This time, imagine someone you know but don’t like so much; someone who lied to you, took advantage of you, or broke your heart. And you say those words again.

My first time doing this part of the meditation, I stopped after just a few seconds. I wasn’t ready to send that person loving kindness, much less forgiveness. I’m still not ready.

I’m guessing that last person is what the loving-kindness meditation is really about. And the type of forgiveness Sue was talking about. I mean, it’s easy to want good things for the people we love and people we only know in passing. It’s the jackass behind door number 3 that requires some effort, amIright?

Everyone has been called a name, cut off in traffic, been passed over for a job. These are the everyday slights that we’re angry or hurt over in the moment but, after a bit of time, we move on. Then, there are the deep wounds that leave scars we can’t escape or ignore. How the hell do you forgive those wounds without feeling like you’ve betrayed yourself?

“When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.” — Alan Paton

For me, understanding what forgiveness means is critical to practicing it, and actually meaning it.

I did some Googling and reading about what other people think forgiveness is and why we should do it. The theme that kept coming up as the benefit of forgiving is that it frees your heart and mind of the anger or sadness you feel when someone has hurt you.

That sounds like a good thing, but is it true? For me to truly forgive and let go, I have to believe that it’s good for me. If I forgive someone, I want to mean it. I want to feel that release and relief.

What I realized is that when I feel hurt by someone, it’s because I believe it’s a negative judgment of me. How could they do this to me? Why didn’t they care about my feelings? How could they move on without explaining or apologizing? Don’t I deserve better?

Then I had another realization. If I’ve learned anything in almost 10 years of therapy, it’s that our bad choices are almost never about the people we hurt. Bad choices are most often a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. If we can’t be kind to ourselves, we won’t be kind to anyone else, will we?

So these transgressions we want to forgive aren’t even about us in the first place. Think of it this way: the person who hurt you could have done what they did to anyone. It only happened to you because of timing. You were in contact with this person at a time when they were acting out because of their own pain.

When I think of things that way, I can see and feel that it wasn’t about me. And, just as important, the transgressor acted out of their own pain and vulnerability. There’s nothing more human than that.

Photo by Lucas Pezeta from Pexels

Seeing things this way helps me to let go of my anger or sadness, and move willingly toward forgiveness.

I’ve learned that by changing my thoughts, I change how I feel and, ultimately, how I act. Maybe being intentional about why we offer forgiveness can help us forgive authentically, in a way that is healing.

So. Who do you want to forgive?

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Instead of Running

Instead of Running

Writing about what happens when I face my fears. Mom, wife, meditator, therapy goer, sports player, dog lover. I only ever wanted to write.