Vail Relationships column: Forgiving someone who has hurt you
Editor’s note: This is one of Neil Rosenthal’s previously published columns.
Dear Neil: Our English class would be deeply indebted to you if would tell us exactly how to forgive those who have hurt us. Rarely do we receive pointers as to how to forgive.
Seeking in London, Ontario
Dear Seeking: The decision to forgive arises out of the desire for us to be at peace with ourselves and with others, and there isn’t a surefire way to do it. Rather, forgiveness is a multi-step process which normally happens in increments over time and which involves a decision to let go of our hurt and resentment.
To do this, you have to examine why you may be holding forgiveness back. Does some part of you object to forgiving the other person, so that you might still hold the offense over his or her head or because you want retribution or because you can’t get beyond the memory?
Forgiving someone means pardoning them while giving up your resentment and letting go of your urge to punish. We don’t have to know precisely how to forgive in order to take the first steps in doing so. It may help you to look at what your resentment is about concerning what occurred, what hurt you and what you’re afraid of.
You could explore how the event has shaped or changed you and what you’ve learned from the whole experience, as well as why you’ve been unwilling to let go of your grievance up till now. You might also look at what you want in your life from this moment onward — from that person or from other people in your life — especially from people close to you.
It will also be useful — and maybe essential — for you to look at what you are willing to forgive yourself for. Did you contribute in any way to what happened? One reason people have a hard time forgiving others is because they are unable to forgive themselves.
Forgiveness means choosing to open to all that is in our lives, including the painful things. Like healing any other wound, forgiving someone usually takes time. If you want to forgive, then redirect your attention and energy toward what creates satisfaction and happiness in your life, and reduce the investment you have in staying hurt, angry or vengeful. You thus choose to be forgiving, not for someone else but for yourself. It’s for your well being and peace of mind.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 25th year of publication. You can reach him at 303-758-8777, or email him through his website, http://www.neilrosenthal.com. The second edition of his book “Love, Sex and Staying Warm: Creating A Vital Relationship” recently hit the No. 1 best-seller list on Amazon its first day of release, both nationally and internationally.