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The Power of Forgiveness

August 15, 2020

Forgiveness is a powerful thing, especially for survivors. It sets us free. When we are not able to forgive, we lock ourselves into a prison of our own making. The other person may not even be aware of our resentment and bitterness. They go free while we are obsessed with visions of revenge, whether we can carry them out or not.

Forgiveness is also very misunderstood. People will say, “forgive and forget” while not even recognizing that forgiving and forgetting are two separate things. That is why the word “and” is in that phrase. Forgiving is not forgetting. It is not pretending nothing happened. It is not trusting the one who hurt us. It does not even require having any kind of current relationship/connection with the person. If someone slipped you a date drug and raped you, does forgiving them really mean you should go out with them again? Of course not! Yet, that is the logical endpoint of “forgive and forget”! People do not realize what they are saying makes no sense!

Over the years, I have seen survivors locked in the prison of unforgiveness because they have been told they must trust the person completely and treat them as if they have done nothing to harm them. Naturally, this creates conflict within the person. How they can they forgive with that criteria? So, when they would ask me how I could forgive, I would explain how I see forgiveness in two levels.

One level is my releasing them from my desire for revenge. I remove myself from the self-imposed roles of judge, jury and executioner. (That does not mean I don’t participate in legal proceedings against them if it is appropriate.) I release them from taking up space in my head and heart. But I do not trust them and may not even have relationship with them. This person may or may not have even acknowledged their actions against me. They may or may not have asked for forgiveness.

The other level of forgiveness involves giving them a chance to prove themselves trustworthy again. This means the person seems to be genuinely sorrowful for what they have done and asked for forgiveness. I do not trust them immediately, of course, but give them a chance to earn it. In other words, I might allow someone who stole from me into my house, but I sure won’t leave my purse in the same room with them. It can take a long time to rebuild trust, if ever.

Those are two pretty rough divisions, but they really helped them to find the freedom of forgiving. Years later, I found Dr. Stephen Marmer on a Prager U video talking about forgiveness. He does a much better job and divides it into three categories. I highly recommend it. It is only about five minutes long. The video is on both YouTube and their site. You can download the transcript from their site. I am giving you the links to both.

This is the Prager U site where you can get the transcript to download. https://www.prageru.com/video/forgiveness/

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