Forgiveness.  That is one powerful word.  Yet, for all its power, many people don’t understand it.  I know I didn’t for the longest time.

Here are my favorite myths about forgiveness:

Myth 1: Forgiveness is something we do for someone else: “I forgive you.”

Truth: Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. “I forgive for me.”

Forgiveness is not about the person who may be at fault: it’s about the victim of the behavior, the one who holds on to anger, thoughts of revenge, flashbacks of the event and so on.  For months after the “incident”, whatever it is, you’re thinking about it, “I can’t believe s/he did that…” over and over…. “I oughtta….”  Does the person you’re constantly thinking about have any idea you’re steaming over what they did?  Probably not.

As my dad always says, “Don’t let so-and-so live rent free in  your head.”  Same goes for your heart.

Myth 2: Forgiveness is about condoning or approving of the behavior or incident.

Truth: Forgiveness is about freeing ourselves from the aftermath of the behavior or incident.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with condonation or approval of a certain behavior or incident.  Forgiveness has everything to do . . . with you.  You are freeing yourself from the prison of your anger.  Heck, the person you are “forgiving” doesn’t even need to know about it.  If you choose to let them know, great, but they really don’t need to know for you to forgive.

Failure to forgive can imply a denial of the past.  When you forgive for you, you are accepting the past as it actually and factually occurred. Accepting what happened is not the same as approving of it or condoning it.  Accepting what happened means that you acknowledge the fact that so-and-so did something to you.  Once that acceptance is there, you can work through the aftermath towards healing.

Myth 3: Forgiveness is about forgetting like it never happened.

Truth: Forgiveness is about accepting the facts of what happened and working through that acceptance towards a higher level of humanity.

We cannot change the past.  It’s happened.  Denial or refusal to accept what happened does not do anyone any favors.  Now, the human brain does have a wonderful self-preservation skill of disassociation, where our brains conveniently and brilliantly hide ugly truths from the rest of our brain until the rest of the brain is ready to deal with them.

When we forgive, we accept the facts of the past, and are then able to learn from them.  We can learn to empathize with the part of society that is victimized in the same way.  We can learn how to defend and empower ourselves so it doesn’t happen again.  We can teach others to do the same and prevent it from happening to other people.

I want to be clear that I am NOT saying “forgive now.”  I am not saying remember now.  If you know someone who is in denial of something that happened or does not remember, I am definitely not suggesting to remind them with an instruction to accept and forgive.

I am saying that forgiveness is a process, and it’s about the victim not the perpetrator.  Being that it is a process, we must respect that recollection happens when the mind is ready, and forgiveness happens when the heart is ready.

If you’ve read my blogs on my anger towards different people regarding the loss of my oldest, best friend, then you know I am still working on forgiving.  For me, it’s not my mind that is not ready, it’s my heart.  I am still holding on to anger that is not doing me any favors and letting people live rent free in my head.  I think of them and my blood pressure spikes, my heart rate increases, and I begin to ruminate and dwell.  Nothing happens to the targets of my anger!

Yet, I am just not ready to forgive completely.  There’s no logic to it.  It’s just the timing of my heart.  So I respect it. At the same time, I know I must let go.  So, I come back to it now and then to check, testing it to see if it’s time.  When it’s time, I’ll know, I’ll let go, and I’ll be free from this particular prison.