“My husband/wife says they’re sorry, but how can I ever forgive them after what they did to me?” “I’ll never forgive my parents!” “Why should I forgive him? He still doesn’t admit he did anything wrong!” Other members of S-Anon have expressed these sentiments, and many of us have felt them ourselves. Why should we forgive? Does forgiving mean forgetting?
I met a woman whose husband had left her for another woman seven years previously. He was now remarried, and she had not seen him in years. But when she spoke about her pain and anger, it was as though the betrayal had occurred yesterday. She seemed to be stuck in a time warp. Because she had not let go of the past and forgiven her husband, she had been unable to move past her negative emotions and to get on with her life. Her ex-husband was still the focus of her inner life. She had continued to give him free rent in her head all these years.
It is easier to forgive another person when that person wants forgiveness. But even if they are dead, or remarried, or still acting out, we still need to forgive them. The reason is that we forgive them in order to have serenity in our own life. Forgiveness is being able to remember the past without experiencing the pain all over again. When we have forgiven someone, we can think about that person and what they did to us without losing our serenity. Without forgiveness, there is no peace of mind.
Forgiveness does not imply a willingness to continue tolerating the problem behavior. We may need to tell a partner, “I forgive you for what you did in the past, but I am unwilling to continue tolerating the same behavior in the future.” We may need to distance ourselves from the other person before we can forgive them. We may have forgiven our parents for childhood abuse but recognize that at our current stage of recovery it is best if we not visit them. We can pray that our Higher Power will make it possible someday to restore the relationship,
Forgiving is not excusing. Just because we may understand why someone else hurt us (“My father himself was abused as a child,” “My husband was under a lot of stress,” “My wife was lonely – I wasn’t home enough”) does not make the pain any less real, When we say, “There is nothing to forgive” we are denying the validity of our own experience. Before we can forgive, we must first acknowledge that a wrong was done to us, and we must allow ourselves to experience the pain it caused us and the anger that we still feel towards the person who caused itÍ. Only afterwards do we attempt to understand the other person’s motives.
The Twelve Promises tell us that “we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it, we will comprehend the word Serenity, and we will know Peace.” When we forgive, we open the door to the fulfillment of these promises.
Reprinted from the 199o Fall issue of S-Anews©.