We all have experiences that are deeply painful or frighten us. Some feel anguish from loved ones; others from a stranger. Some people feel taken advantage of in their most vulnerable states, while others experience violent assault. Some have had the intensity of a single trauma while others have sustained years of pain until the circumstances could finally change. In all these situations, the thing most needed now is the ability to move on. Part of moving on ultimately means to forgive.

What is does it mean to forgive? In a formal way, forgiving is the act of releasing all claim to punishment. It means to pardon or cancel any debt. To forgive is to withdraw intention to exact harm from that which has hurt.

Sounds pretty simple and straightforward, right? Yet, can forgiveness be found for the person who has stolen money or raped? How can you pardon the uncle who sexually abused you as a child, or the spouse who beat you for twenty years? What about Holocaust survivors? Should “we” just cancel the apparent debt?

Some circles teach people to fight back: “Don’t be a victim” is the motto. Some people are taught that if you get angry enough, you can rid yourself of pain. “If you make that person (place or thing) pay, then all can be forgotten.” Extracting punishment is seen as the means for closure. The idea is that once some level of rebuking has occurred, disengagement becomes psychologically doable.

But what if retribution or reprimand is unlikely or impossible? What do people do whose offender(s) have died or cannot be located? What about those people who are not in a position to fight back because it may endanger them? And what of the individual who cannot constitutionally participate in seeking revenge? What can these people do instead?

Forgiveness is not always easy. Releasing any claim to punish can be viewed as endorsing the transgression or giving up ones integrity: “If I forgive my dad for hurting me, then it invalidates my experience.” “If I don’t feel badly toward a painful situation, then it makes what happened okay.” Sometimes people cannot forgive because they fear that if they do, somehow the experience will reoccur. Not forgiving can be one of the ways a person regains the experience of control.

Sometimes it is helpful to recognize what it means to not forgive: To choose to remain steadfast in anger or resentment. In simple terms, not forgiving means that you maintain a connection to that which has harmed you.

One way of looking at not forgiving is in terms of its cost to you. When you maintain anger in order to deal with a circumstance, you engage your sympathetic nervous system. Your adrenals remain in high gear. This, in turn, taxes your immune system, which then leaves you vulnerable to disease. Thus, your “dis-ease” with the circumstance creates disease. This is a form of violence that is expressed through your own body. Think about it.

Another personal cost of not forgiving is the toll on our creative intelligence. When we remain resentful, our brains are mandated into more restrictive thinking processes. Subconscious mechanisms continue to process the event that hurts, even though we are not aware of it, and this consumes inspirational channels. This is true, whether or not we are consciously attending (or thinking) of the hurtful event. Not forgiving deprives us of access to inspiration and enthusiasm, which are necessary means for insight and constructive change.

Forgiveness is not an intellectual pursuit. It is not about logic or rationalizing anything. It is a place of peace, independent of circumstance. Forgiveness is reclaiming the heart from a place of closure. It is choosing to be vulnerable again. The nice thing is that you can be vulnerable and still have the benefit of previous experience. This is what discernment is all about. If you touch a hot stove and it burns you, you had best not touch it again. You don’t get angry at the stove!

Forgiveness is a choice. It is about becoming free of attachment. As Mark Twain so eloquently expressed, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it”. It is “giving in place of”.

Like most everyone, I have struggled with forgiveness. Sometimes events have seemed so substantial that I believed I had every right to be angry. I justified the maintenance of anger through rational thinking. The events of harm or threat seemed warranted. I believed I could not, nor should not, feel serenity. Interestingly, however, the moment I decided something different, it was so. As I placed my attention on acceptance, circumstances changed. I began to see I did not have to be bound to what had gone before. Paul Boese wrote, “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”

We all have experienced things, which hurt, frighten us, or DID not make sense. The amazing thing about human nature is the resilience of the human spirit.
The question is what do you want to do once it is over?

Don’t practice forgiveness because you’ll probably be healthier. Don’t be forgiving because it looks good, or might indicate you are “more enlightened.” Don’t forgive because it might be “the right thing” to do. Rather, my suggestion is that you make an informed choice. Recognize your feelings and then choose forgiveness. Forgive because you will be released from being repeatedly taken back. Forgive because you open yourself up to the Divine presence, where new possibilities are reality.

Author's Bio: 

Elizabeth Wallmann-Filley is an educator, counselor, and healing practitioner, with more than 25 years experience in the fields of Hypnotherapy, Energy Medicine and Psychology, and Life Coaching. She has given presentations and workshops in Europe and international conferences coast to coast. Elizabeth is an active member of the Association of Comprehensive Energy Psychology (www.energypsych.org), the Institute of Noetic Sciences (www.noetic.org), and the International Association of Reiki Practitioners (www.iarp.org), as well as The American Counseling Association and The Hypnotherapist Union (Local 492). She is the host and producer of a local TV show: “Conscious Living”, airing at 9:00 PM on Channel 12, Tuesday and Saturday in the Anchorage, Alaska area. For more information, contact 275-3397.