By Patricia: I have spent many years working with recovering addicts. One of the hardest things for my clients was the concept of forgiveness. They did not know how to ask for forgiveness, how to grant forgiveness to others, and, most importantly, how to forgive themselves. Addicts always do harmful things to their families and loved ones and feel a lot of guilt and grief about what they did when they begin their recovery.
We all have the same issue to some degree – who hasn’t ever done something they feel guilty about and regret having done? How do we forgive ourselves? How do we gain forgiveness from others? How do we know when to forgive others who have harmed us?
So, what is forgiveness? Forgiveness is the act of forgiving, or of letting someone know that you do not hold their actions against them. However, true forgiveness is not free – it must be earned. How do you earn forgiveness? You must:
Regret what you did.
Reveal what you did.
Repair the damage you did. (to the greatest extent possible)
Remake yourself so the action never happens again.
This is a lot of things that have to happen before forgiveness is possible. If you give your forgiveness to someone, even yourself, before all this happens, it means that it will just happen again.
Regret what you did: First, you must realize that what you did was wrong, and that you hurt people by what you did. That hurt can be physical, financial, emotional or spiritual, or any combination of these. Even if you thought you were doing the right thing, if people were harmed by your actions, then you need to look at that and determine what, if anything, you are going to do about it. If you feel you were justified, you may not do anything. If you do nothing, you cannot ask for forgiveness from the person(s) you harmed. However, if you regret what you did, you may decide that you need to do something to address what you did.
Reveal what you did: Once you have determined that what you did was wrong, you need to reveal what you did. This is the part of the reason the Catholic church has a formalized confession process. Confessing what you did to someone other than yourself makes it real. Having said what you did to another person and talking about it with someone will help you figure out what damage you caused, why you did it, and start to determine what you can do to fix it (if anything). If you can do so without causing further harm to anyone, let everyone involved know you regret what you did. This can be in person, phone, even social media – only you can determine how to tell people you are sorry. If there was a lot of damage done, you may need a long conversation and may face a lot of anger while you are apologizing. This can be very difficult to face. Keep in mind what you are trying to accomplish and keep your own anger in check.
Repair the damage you did (to the greatest extent possible): When you have caused harm to someone, you will want to decide if that harm can be fixed, or at least minimized. Can you pay back any money involved? If you caused harm by spreading false information, can you tell everyone the truth without stirring things up and causing more harm? If you can fix what you did, in order to forgive yourself, you will need to do what you can to make things right again.
Remake yourself so the action never happens again: Whatever you did, what do you need to change about yourself to ensure you never do the same thing again. Did you spread gossip that caused harm? Teach yourself not to spread gossip. (This sounds so easy, but is difficult to do – changing your behavior takes a lot of hard work!) Did you take something without permission (or even with permission) and ruin it? Don’t borrow things unless you are certain you can return it unharmed. Whatever you did, figure out how and why you did it, then you have taken the first step toward ensuring you don’t make the same mistake again.
Anytime you gain forgiveness without any ramifications from the behavior, there is no reason to change the behavior. Repairing the damage, regretting what you did, these are vital steps in moving closer to the person you want to be. Each time you change yourself in response to a mistake you have made, you become a better person, a person you can be proud to be. Each time you change yourself a little to earn your forgiveness, you will have taken a small step. By taking several small steps to change yourself when you harm someone, you will have ended up taking a giant step toward being the person you want to be. Life is all about taking small steps toward your goals, and having them add up to giant steps toward being the best you can be.
Love and Light,