How to Forgive

How to Forgive


It’s a word that weighs heavily on my mind.  It’s something that I struggle with day in and day out.  There is great power in forgiveness.  There is freedom in forgiveness.

Rachel A. Sussman, LCSW recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post titled, “Consider Some Forgiveness with Your New Year Cleanse“.  I read it and I let it resonate with me.  I want to be in the place to forgive but I can’t seem to find the path.  I search for the path daily, weekly and monthly but it is covered in debris.  The debris keeps piling up and the path is harder and harder to find.

Ironically, my church has started a five-part series called, “Total Forgiveness”.  I attended today’s sermon and I was present…body, mind and soul.  I listened.  I absorbed it.  The pastor said, “Bitterness and anger is like a cancer that will eat away at you“.  I know this to be true.  I am not an angry person by nature.  I am not a bitter person by any definition of the word.  I am struggling with feelings that I can’t process.  I want so badly to be free of the anger that I live with.  I know it isn’t healthy.  I know the stress from this custody battle is affecting me and its affecting my health.

A couple of things stuck with me from today’s lesson:

1. Understand that the other person may not have the ability to meet your expectations. 

To move forward, I believe that I have to accept some truths. My X is not healthy and I do not believe that he has the ability to meet my expectations on his own.  He does not have the ability to meet the court’s expectations and he doesn’t have the ability to be a healthy, loving role model to my daughters because he is simply not healthy.  If I expect this from him, I am setting myself up for failure.

2. Your heart has to be healed to get to a place of forgivness.

Here is where my main struggle lies.  How does my heart heal when the wounds keep coming?  Every story I hear from my daughters breaks my heart- over and over.  Every week there is a new wound.  How does a wound heal when it is repeatedly injured?  You can bandage a wound and you can apply healing ointments but if something keeps striking the wound then it simply can’t heal.  It is impossible.

3. You will know that you’ve completely forgiven when you can  pray that God will bless the other person.

This one, I can do to some extend.  I pray that God will work in my X’s life and that he will see what he has in front of him: two little girls who want to be loved.  Two little girls who need a healthy father.

Is it possible to forgive completely?  I don’t know the answer.  For selfish reasons, I want to be in the place of total forgiveness.  I want to be free of the feelings of anger, resentment and hostility.

I just don’t know how.  I feel stuck.

7 Responses

  1. The only way I managed forgiveness was to separate me and what had happened, from my daughters and what still continues to happen.
    I forgave what my X did, but I continue to struggle with how he deals with my girls. It’s a constant thing. I truly think that he punishes them because he’s still angry with me. I think I will always struggle with forgiveness when it comes to my girls.
    You’ll get there…it’s a process and it’s never finished in my opinion….

  2. I have a very hard time with forgiveness. I say I forgive and then I renig on it and I just don’t. It is hard to explain.

    It is journey that never ends.

  3. I’m going to do something I usually don’t, and recommend a book to a complete stranger: Janis Abrahms Spring wrote a book specifically about forgiveness. This is not a touchy feely approach. She points out that society has some warped views about forgiveness.

    We as a society expect people to forgive someone who does not deserve it, has not earned it, does not believe they have done anything to warrant it, and fully intends to continue the behaviors for which society preaches the offended party should forgive.

    If the subject was financial security, or good health, we would describe someone else trying to give it to a person in those circumstances toxically co-dependent.

    From your post I’m going to assume you fall somewhere within the Christian continuum of faiths. Even the Bible expects repentance before forgiveness. Not even God gives free passes. God even states, if you are going to make an offering to Me, but then remember you have offended your brother, leave your offering and go and get right with your brother. (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point.) God even says you cannot be right with Him, while at odds with your family or friend due to *your* behavior and choices. You don’t get to be a monster pretending to be a person, and fully intend to continue in these behaviors, and get a clean slate with the man upstairs.

    There is a difference between *accepting* someone for who they are and what they are and are not capable of, and forgiving someone because they truly feel repentance for the wrongs they have done you and are actively working to rebuild your trust and faith in them.

    I was raised in an alcoholic home, with a lot of the stereotypical things you would expect. My father is now 19 years sober. So I can say from first hand experience I *know* what it looks like when someone is working to earn your trust, when they are working to rebuild your faith in them and the relationship you used to share. Based on your posts, your X is not doing that.

    Forgiving someone who fully intends to go on hurting you is psychologically suspect at minimum, and I would think down right dangerous to your mental and emotional health. I doubt many of the people who preach ‘forgiveness’ at you have actually lived the cognitive and emotional abuse he heaped on you and your daughters. (And don’t kid yourself, if he thinks women are possessions, it’s not a big stretch to thinking his daughters are possessions. And it’s not a big stretch to teaching his daughters they are possessions.) Demanding that you forgive is a bit like preaching forgiveness to someone who was raped, and telling them their ex gets a free pass to do it again at every visitation, but it’s up to you to forgive them.

    I’m going to say this again, because it bears repeating: There is a difference between accepting someone for who they are and what they are and are not capable of, and forgiving someone who does not believe they have done anything wrong and fully intends to continue doing things that hurts those around them.

    The Bible tells us to be wise as serpents, innocent as doves. Don’t get so hung up on the innocent as doves part that you forget the wisdom part.

  4. @ Heather — I think it also depends on what your definition of “forgiveness” is. I know for some people, it means simply not allowing the offender to occupy space in their heart/mind/time anymore.

    Tina, I think that when your daughters have reached a place where they are able to emotionally/physically protect themselves from your ex, you’ll be able to fully heal. You are absolutely right about not being able to heal when you’re still under attack. I’d put forgiveness on the back burner, on low simmer, and concentrate on teaching your daughters how to protect themselves.

    My grandfather was a pretty horrible person, and I remember being maybe 6, 7 years old, and really upset that we were going to go visit him. My dad sat down with me and said two things that really stuck:
    1) There are reasonable people, and unreasonable people. You cannot expect unreasonable people to respect you, care about you, or try to work WITH you to solve problems — they are unreasonable!
    2) As much as you can, you want to avoid unreasonable people …. but it’s not always possible. Sometimes, you have to have a relationship with an unreasonable person. The way you deal with them is to put them in a mental box in your head, and say “you get this much of my time/energy, and no more.” The rest of the time, you forget about them. We visited my grandfather twice a month because that was my dad’s “box” — he controlled the visits, he controlled the amount of interaction, and that allowed him to maintain the relationship without going completely crazy.

    Those visits never got perfect, but I felt a lot better knowing that it was ok for me to dislike my grandfather, that he was always going to be a difficult person, and these visits were necessary but unpleasant — like going to the dentist.

  5. I understand and I think the fact that you’re trying and processing is a big step towards forgiveness. Remember, it isn’t a one-time event, but a choice made each time the feelings of retribution rise up within. Over time, it will become easier to choose forgiveness and you put it into practice. It’s a work in process and takes lots of practice, I think. Then we have to forgive ourselves when we just can’t forgive the one who continues to injure. SO tough.

  6. Thanks everyone– a lot of your comments have helped me tremendously. Sometimes it helps to take a step back and listen to other view points.

    At this point, I think “accepting” him for who he is will bring the type of healing that I am seeking. I think acceptance is better than forgiveness at this point in time because the bottom line is this: He is who he is. He isn’t sorry, he doesn’t feel remorse and he keeps repeating the same behavior (or worse).

    Letting go of the expectations that he can be healthy is what I need to work on as I feel that the anger towards him is the main issue that I struggle with. He can’t meet the standards that my daughter’s deserve nor does he care to. With that said, the anger has served its purpose as it kept me strong and motivated during the battles of the past few years.

  7. I’m glad to read your last comment. I think there’s far too much emphasis on forgiveness, and it’s just not as important as so many other things we already have on our to-do list. Looking out for your best interest and your daughters’ is always first. If you don’t ever get to forgiveness, that’s okay, too. I don’t forgive my X, I accept he will not change. It simply doesn’t matter how I FEEL about that. The acceptance is what’s most important.