Q: My best friend of many years did something that has deeply upset me. We have not spoken since although she has tried to make amends. Why should I forgive her? Won’t that mean that what she did was okay?
A: Forgiveness does not mean acceptance. Forgiveness means letting go of the hurt and disappointment and regaining control of your life. Forgiveness is more for your benefit than for the benefit of anyone else. When you forgive, you release yourself from the bad feelings of the past and free yourself to move on to enjoy your future. Although the people who have hurt you may not have accepted responsibility and have not apologized, your anger is not hurting them—it is only hurting you. The person who hurt you might have already died but until you let go, you keep suffering.
As long as you hold on to your past hurts, waiting for an apology, an admission of guilt, or some other type of compensation, your behaviour, feelings about yourself and your relationships are all being affected by the people who you are most disappointed in. This does not mean that their behaviour was acceptable. It does not mean that they did not hurt you. It just means that you do not let them hurt you further and accept that this may be the best you can expect from them. You may never have the opportunity for further closure, yet you can stop the destruction. With forgiveness you can move on to shape your future as you choose without spending your energy looking backwards. You do not have to accept more bad behaviour. Learn to be assertive and stand up for yourself. You cannot change anyone else. You can only change yourself.
Forgiveness may mean that you accept the one who hurt you is self-centred and selfish; ignorant and careless or even criminal and deviant but whatever they have done, it only reflects their own inadequate humanity. It has no bearing on who you are. Letting go means recognizing and accepting that all the negative messages that they transmitted to you are only reflections of their self and not you. Regain control of your life by working towards forgiveness, not for his or her sake, but for yours. Counselling can help you achieve the freedom of forgiveness.