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When Forgiveness Seems Impossible

So ... what is forgiveness? What is it not? What does it look like and feel like? How can you tell when forgiveness has happened?

I've experienced sublime forgiveness in my own life for my transgressions, but I've gone without it when the other party just could not forgive me. I know women who have forgiven the men who abused them, and those women are healthier and happier because of that forgiveness. I also know of couples who cannot seem to forgive each other for the damage both have inflicted on their marriages, and they are locked in battles over money or time or children. Their need to hurt each other in a revengeful manner results in destruction and even more pain.

Consider first what forgiveness is not: it's not forgetting what happened, it's not allowing the other person to hurt you over and over, and it is not the same as reconciling.

FORGETTING

When you forgive someone, you may be startled to learn that you still cannot forget the incident. But forgiveness and forgetting are definitely not the same things. All kinds of sensory experiences can bring back memories, good and bad. However, the memory of the hurt does not have to bring back the pain and anger that was associated with it. If you have forgiven the offender, you might remember the whole event, but you don't feel the adrenaline rush of resentment and outrage. Rather, you might take a moment to remember a time when someone forgave you for something you did and be grateful for the gift of forgiveness that you were given.

ALLOWING HURT TO CONTINUE

Forgiveness is not allowing abuse or disrespect to continue on and on without end. No person is a doormat to be trodden upon and stomped on; no one needs to remain in the role of victim. When you end an unhappy or even destructive relationship, you can move on both physically and emotionally. Part of emotional healing is forgiving the injury caused in the relationship. Remember, you aren't forgetting, but you are forgiving, moving on, letting go of resentment. Living in the pain of the past prevents you from living fully in today.

RECONCILING

The idea that you must become friends again with the person who has hurt you, or you must somehow repair the relationship is completely mistaken. Sometimes, the relationship is battered so badly through damage and wrongdoing that it cannot be repaired. Once you realize this, it may be very freeing. The freedom of moving on from a bad relationship can free you to forgive the other party. If you do somehow have to continue a relationship with someone, because they are family or a co-worker, then you may have to establish a new way of relating to the other person. Keep interactions brief and courteous; adjust how you react to the person. Not an easy task, but do it once, do it twice and soon it's a habit.

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