By Katie Bailey, MA, LPC
None of us can avoid it. In our broken world, things aren’t as they are supposed to be, and without a doubt, we will hurt each other. You will hurt others, and they will hurt you. Most of the time, these wounds are fairly shallow, and we can overcome them. What about the deeper cuts? What about betrayal, emotional manipulation, verbal and narcissistic abuse, or sexual assault, or any other truly gut-wrenching pain? What do we do with those? Do we have to forgive?
Many people think forgiveness means you say what the other person did to hurt you is okay, and that life will go back to the way it was before the offense happened. So often people hold onto their anger and refuse to forgive because they feel a greater sense of control – control that was taken from them when the wound was inflicted. It’s almost like refusing to forgive the offender is a punishment, and often, the only punishment the hurt person can inflict. Also holding back forgiveness makes many hurt people feel like their pain matters, and forces other people to acknowledge it. And sadly, many people get pressure from those around them, especially in church settings, to forgive – which can cause more pain on top of the original wound.
The problem is, holding onto the anger and digging in your heels only hurts you. Forgiveness is really for the person who was hurt, not the offender. Forgiveness does NOT mean:
· Your pain is gone or doesn’t matter.
· What the other person did is okay.
· Life will go back to “normal”, as if nothing ever happened.
· The one who hurt you gets no consequences.
Forgiveness means you choose not to be angry anymore, to not let the anger eat you up inside. Forgiveness is for YOU, the one who was hurt. It’s also a process – forgiveness is rarely and one and done kind of deal. It will be a choice you make over and over again.
What is reconciliation?
So yes, you do have to forgive for your own well-being, in order to move forward and not remain stuck in anger. However, do you have to reconcile? Not necessarily.
I think this is what many people get confused with forgiveness. The truth is, forgiveness and reconciliation are two very different things. Reconciliation means that you chose to repair the relationship. It might not be the same, but you chose to continue spend time with, share with, and be available to the person who hurt you. You repair the damage.
How do you know if you can reconcile? If the person who caused you harm is truly sorry, meaning you see lasting, prolonged behavior change – then reconciliation is possible. If that person simply says the words “I’m sorry”, but does nothing to actually change, then reconciliation does not make sense. We shouldn’t allow people to keep hurting us over and over. You may get pressure from others to reconcile, simply because it would make life easier for them. Or perhaps, they may tell you God wants you to reconcile. God does want us to have reconciled relationships, but not at the cost of our own emotional health. Do you have to forgive? Yes, for your own healing, you have to forgive. Do you have to reconcile? Not necessarily.
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Have you been deeply wounded by someone and feel stuck? Our therapists at Lime Tree Counseling want to help you work through these complicated issues of forgiveness and reconciliation. We specialize in PTSD & Trauma Therapy, Anxiety Counseling, & Christian Counseling. Whatever trauma and pain you’ve had, we want to help you discover healing and start living life as you were made to live. Please contact us today to set up an appointment, we want to hear from you!
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