At Down To Earth, we have noticed that one of the most difficult things to do is to truly forgive. Most people have some concept of what forgiveness is and that they should be doing it, but they don’t really know how to, or they think they are forgiving when they really are not.
At Down To Earth, we think there are three kinds of forgiveness and we call them saintly, uncomplicated, and complicated.
Many religions advocate that we simply forgive others for the bad things they do. No conditions, just forgive. At Down To Earth, we believe that’s a great idea and if you can do it, we applaud you. However, we also find that most human beings have a really tough time actually doing this.
Human beings that can’t manage the saintly forgiveness typically can manage the uncomplicated forgiveness. For this to occur, several things need to happen. First, the person who did the wrong must admit that he did wrong. Next, he must sincerely apologize for the wrong. Finally, he must state a believable plan for avoiding that wrong in the future. If those things occur, most people find it pretty easy to forgive. However, this is so heavily reliant on what the other person does that it doesn’t get a chance to happen all that often.
If someone has wronged you and they don’t spontaneously admit wrong, apologize, and demonstrate to you that they are unlikely to repeat their actions, then you’re facing complicated forgiveness. You can try the saintly forgiveness here, but chances are that you are going to hang onto some animosity and be haunted by this event indefinitely. The chances are also good that the offender will re-offend because he hasn’t really been confronted about his actions. He may be entirely unaware that something he did hurt you.
The first step in achieving complicated forgiveness is that the hurt person has to have the goal to resolve the situation, not to hurt the other person back. When we are hurt, we get angry, and we typically want to retaliate. If the injured party begins with accusations and attacks, it will only lead to destruction. If the injured party truly has the goal to make the situation better, he has the responsibility to inform the other person that he is hurt and explain in non-judgmental terms how it was that they got hurt.
If the offender isn’t feeling attacked, he will be able to listen and understand. If he understands, he will probably feel bad and apologize. The injured party must accept the apology in order to proceed. If the apology is accepted, the two of them can plan together how to prevent future recurrences.
We’ve been talking a lot about how to forgive other people that hurt you. However, the most difficult forgiveness to achieve is self-forgiveness. Why is this one the most difficult? Because in order to succeed, you have to admit to yourself that you did something wrong. That is really hard for people to do. Next is that you cannot dwell on the wrong and beat yourself up about it. That’s that path that leads to destruction. Many people get stuck at this step. They beat themselves up for a while and that feels so lousy that they just stop. They try to put it out of their minds and go on with their lives. However, they haven’t forgiven themselves and that event will continue to haunt them indefinitely. If you can boldly admit your wrong and apologize to yourself, then you have a clear mind to come up with a plan to avoid making that same mistake again. With a plan in mind, you feel much better and can truly move on instead of just fooling yourself that you are moving on.