I’ve never really known how to forgive. Not properly. I didn’t learn it from my mom’s silent treatment or my father’s quiet built-up anger. And there are a lot of things I learned from my family. My mom was always true to herself, so I learned to be unafraid of being silly and weird around any setting. My father, who is the strong/silent type, taught me that love comes in different forms, but it doesn’t mean that love is any less. My brother taught me to enjoy the little moments. But forgiveness was something I had to learn on my own.
When I was younger, forgiveness was more so for the sake of relationships. When people upset me, I was quick to forgive to get away from the arguing. But I soon realized that forgiving that way didn’t mean I was over the argument or the hurt. My anger towards these little things would build back up and grow resentment towards those who hurt me. This is when I learned that forgiveness had a lot more steps to it.
"Without forgiveness, life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation." - Roberto Assagioli
When I got a bit older, I avoided those who hurt me and cut them out completely rather than talking it out and forgiving them. I had difficulty getting over these feelings and felt that the best solution was to just cut and run. This can work for some people, but honestly, even without those people around, those feelings remained in me.
Lately, I’ve been recognizing what I need from others better, and what I need from myself. I recognize that holding onto that grief and resentment is my choice. I’ve found that I can forgive others. It’s just a matter of what I want.
Sometimes we get put in situations where it feels impossible to forgive. Or sometimes we’ve forgiven, but that person keeps putting us in the same situations and our forgiveness feels in vain. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be breaking your boundaries, and it doesn’t have to be impossible.
My father and I never really got along much. We argued over every little thing as I grew up. Whether we misunderstood each other or we were just too stubborn to lose the argument, we would blow up at each other, too angry to hear any side but our own. My father would shut down the argument, telling me to go to my room even when I was old enough to make these decisions on my own. He would argue that it was his house and I couldn’t argue with him. When we argued, our authoritative household suddenly became authoritarian. I learned to be resentful of him. I learned to feel frustrated the second we started speaking to each other, even if it was a positive conversation.
I didn’t want that for us, not for a second. When I was younger, he would play princess monopoly with me when no one else would. I have memories of him showing up for my recitals and making mac n cheese for me every time I asked. And memories of us having movie nights and long drives to girl scouts.
I remembered one time when I was too sick to go to school. My father stayed home and excitedly showed me all his favorite movies. I asked questions, too many for when you’re watching a movie. But he never got annoyed with it. He would answer each question diligently, making sure I understood every aspect of this film that he treasured. Then we would continue watching and laughing through the movie.
But we had gotten so far from those times. And I wanted to heal us, but that resentment had always held me back. And I recognize that sometimes forgiveness takes time and sometimes forgiveness isn’t what you really need. But I also recognized that I don’t have to live with that pent-up resentment and anger. I wanted to forgive.
“Take forgiveness slowly. Don't blame yourself for being slow. Peace will come." -Yoko Ono
Forgiveness looks different to everyone.
For a long while, I knew I was seeking something to make my relationship with my father better. What I really wanted was to fix it, bring it all back to before I got hurt so I can feel at peace with it again. So I could have no anxieties about being hurt again and I could trust the way I did before. Eventually, I realized what I was seeking had to come from inside. I had held a grudge against others, including my father, for so long, feeling the resentment and betrayal I had felt when they hurt me that I failed to recognize their efforts to fix it. I was failing to recognize I didn’t need to be hurt anymore and that I had the choice to let that go.
"It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody." - Maya Angelou
Forgiveness to me is coming to terms with that pain and recognizing that sometimes people make mistakes, even monumental ones. People are capable of change. People change every day. Forgiveness to me is recognizing the effort of others in that change and letting go of the hurt. I found that only forgiveness could bring me that feeling of trust and peace I was searching for. Sure, it wasn’t exactly the same as before, but by recognizing that hurt and the other person’s feelings towards it I could return to that feeling.
Again, forgiveness is different for everyone. The first step to forgiveness is defining what it looks like to you. As soon as I took this step, the rest felt easy. Coming to an understanding of what I need/want (emotionally speaking) is always the hardest part of achieving that in my experience.
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you." -Lewis B Smedes
Recognizing the pain
When learning to forgive someone, it’s always important to acknowledge the way you’ve been hurt. If you cannot acknowledge the way you’ve been hurt, it’ll be difficult to forgive someone for said hurt.
For me, I had to acknowledge that I cannot change what’s been done or how it affected me. And the person I am trying to forgive does not have the power to rewrite that hurt. Talking about these issues usually helped me, whenever I have been hurt by those close to me, it took a lot of genuine, long conversations. It was mostly me desperately trying to understand why they hurt me and desperately trying to explain to them the pain they’ve caused. From that, I’ve come to learn that sometimes people don’t have a good explanation for why they hurt you. Sometimes there’s no good enough excuse, but they still recognize they hurt you anyway and wish to right it. If they truly seek your forgiveness, they likely don’t wish to hurt you.
However, in seeking that explanation, I came to understand that the pain I endured was not enough to define my relationships, let alone me. Sometimes that pain can stick and feel like you can’t trust others the same. It can feel like you don’t deserve those relationships you seek. It can feel like you deserve that pain you’ve been given and it can swallow you whole. I’ve been there, but I’ve also learned that people can surprise you and people can do better than they did before. Letting go of those feelings of distrust and forgiving is the best to free yourself from the pain and find what you want/need.
"Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another." - Emma Goldman
My father and I talked often. We talked about the feelings we have, and we talked about the things that hurt us. We recognized that forgiveness can be a two-way street. And often it is, with one of us getting hurt and then consequently hurting the other. But we wanted the cycle to stop. And so we took accountability for both our parts in it and by doing so, acknowledged the other’s efforts to fix it, helping us to forgive.
"I believe forgiveness is the best form of love in any relationship. It takes a strong person to say they're sorry and an even stronger person to forgive." -Yolanda Hadid
Of course, the last step of forgiveness is to let go. This one should be self-explanatory but unfortunately, it is sometimes the hardest step. You recognize the other person’s efforts, but sometimes you can still hold yourself back from feeling ready to forgive. Honestly, I don’t have any great tips for this one and I don’t want to pretend I do either. Sometimes you can forgive, and then you’re still not capable of fully letting go of it. Sometimes even when I feel I have forgiven, fully forgiven, I can still circle back to that feeling. It takes some reminders of where we are now and how things have changed for me to let go and sometimes that’s still not enough. Take it at your own pace. Discuss what pain you feel. And eventually, hopefully, you can let go of all that pain.
I hope you take these steps with you and recognize what you need to forgive. Everyone forgives differently, so take these as a loose three rules of forgiveness: define what forgiveness looks like for you, recognize the pain (and also the changes after it), and let go of that pain and resentment. Who do you want to forgive and what do you need to do so?
About The Author
Sierra is a senior at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) where she studies English. She enjoys writing and reading with a passion. She is especially passionate about sustainability and human rights and she hopes to use her writing to inspire others in these movements. As an intern at LYF, Sierra is happy for the opportunity to contribute to these topics. When not reading or writing, she can be found playing video games or binge-watching TV. The things she loves most include strawberries, new stationery, and her bed.