‘Forgiveness’ is such an important part of being able to recover from psychological problems and live a healthy and successful life. Yet ‘Forgiveness’ is often misunderstood and can lead to a range of unhelpful behaviors and consequences causing unnecessary harm to ourselves and others. In this article I want to share with you what the true meaning of forgiveness is and reveal the 3 most damaging myths of forgiveness and how you can avoid the mistakes and heart ache these myths may cause.
What is the True Meaning of Forgiveness?
The concept of Forgiveness has its roots in ancient religious texts. In Ancient Greek scrolls, that would later lead to the modern Christian Bible, the word for forgiveness was ‘Aphieami’.
When translated directly into modern English ‘Aphieami’ means ‘to leave behind and move forwards’. This means that forgiveness, as described by notary Christian religious figures such as Jesus Christ, means to simply leave behind past hurts and bitterness and move forwards with life – a bit of a different definition then current dictionaries and some contemporary religious perspectives suggest.
According to some dictionary definitions, forgiveness means ‘to grant pardon for an offense or absolve them from the consequences.’ Some modern religious teachings on forgiveness also include the idea of pardoning or ‘turning the other cheek’. This suggests not only should we let go of past hurts and move forwards BUT ALSO we should restore a previous difficult relationship and give the person another chance… This is just one of the three myths of forgiveness that can cause a lot of harm…
The 3 Myths of Forgiveness
1. Forgiveness & Rituals
The Myth: To forgive someone you need to speak to them face-to-face and utter the words “I forgive you…”
The Fact: Forgiveness is an internal ‘letting go’ process and does not necessarily need to be spoken out to another person nor does a particular phrase need to be used. This is not to say that in some cases these rituals aren’t helpful but rather they are not essential in order to experience the healthy benefits of forgiveness.
2. Forgiveness & Reconciliation
The Myth: To forgive someone you must allow them back into your life and restore the relationship to how it was before the hurtful event occurred…
The Fact: Forgiveness is not about reconciliation. Reconciliation is more of a risk management decision. To reconcile or restore a relationship with someone who has hurt you is a risk management decision and should never be confused with the emotional process of ‘letting go of past hurts and moving forwards with life’. The decision to reconcile (or not) after a relationship has been damaged should be guided by a range of factors such as your life strategy, values and objective circumstances not from the act of forgiveness itself.
3. Forgiveness & the Law of Consequences
The Myth: When you forgive someone they are exonerated or pardoned from the mistakes of the past and no longer accountable for the consequences of their actions...
The Fact: Forgiveness is not about stopping necessary consequences of a person’s bad behavior. Pardoning someone is not a core part of the forgiveness process whereas no longer holding onto the emotional pain and blame towards them is. In forgiving yourself for mistakes and bad habits do not use this as an excuse to continue such behaviors or poor lifestyle choices. Many people struggling with their weight, smoking, drinking or other problems misunderstand self-forgiveness and thus accidentally reinforce bad habits instead of gently and persistently pursuing the self-discipline needed to make lasting change.
Putting Forgiveness into Practice: Changing Your Mindsets
Healthy Mindsets are the key to effectively applying Forgiveness in your life. When it comes to forgiveness, the Mindsets that can lead a person to become ‘stuck’ and unable to move forwards from an experience of bad behavior are Worry (fear that it will happen again and fear they will not be able to recover fully); Blame (wanting vengeance and punishment beyond merely setting limits for safety); and Demand (insisting that bad things should never happen to them and requiring certainty in an uncertain world).
From a Mindset perspective, Forgiveness is best reflected in the Healthy Mindsets of Acceptance, Responsibility and Encouragement. Acceptance of what has happened and any injustices that have occurred. Responsibility to make the most of your current and future life and let go of past hurts and injustices. And finally Encouragement – to stay positive and allow yourself the space and time to recover from past hurts and move forwards in life!
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