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5 Myths About Forgiveness: Studio 5

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It’s a common saying that we should forgive and forget when someone offends us, but the truth is that there’s a little more to forgiveness than that. Throughout my years as a therapist, I’ve worked with many clients who struggled with the concept of forgiveness (what it means, how to do it, etc.). Whether it’s with minor offenses or severe abuse, we don’t always quite get the whole idea of forgiveness. I define forgiveness as ceasing to feel resentment toward someone who’s wronged us. Forgiveness is beautiful and can heal hearts and relationships, but I think we still may misunderstand it at times. Here are some common myths about forgiveness:

Myth: Forgiveness is Forgetting  

Forgiveness is about giving up a grudge and releasing negative energy, but not necessarily never thinking about what happened again. Particularly with individuals who’ve suffered abuse, it’s impractical (and unhealthy) to expect them to forget what they went through. Also, we so often learn from our experiences, so why would we want to forget the life lessons that may have come from a situation where we forgave someone? Occasionally thinking about what happened does not mean dwelling on it or drumming up that resentment again; what it means is that the incident may still be in our memory but it’s not in the forefront of our hearts and minds anymore.

Myth: Forgiveness Means Continuing the Relationship

It’s possible to forgive someone, to give up that hurt, and to not continue your relationship with him/her. For example, in the very difficult and traumatic instance of infidelity, a man may choose to let go of the pain of his wife being unfaithful while not also continuing the marriage (each family and situation is different, and I’m not necessarily advocating for divorce!). On an everyday level, even if you don’t make a clean break from someone emotionally, you still can set boundaries and choose to not spend as much time with him/her.

Myth: Forgiveness Means Not Feeling Mad or Hurt

In order to cease to feel resentment toward someone, you have to feel resentment first! Therapists are fond of saying that we should let ourselves experience that emotions that naturally come to us-anger, sadness, etc. If you find yourself in a situation where you want to eventually forgive another person, first allow yourself to really feel the impact of that individual’s behavior on you personally. The only way past it is through it, and part of forgiveness is processing those painful feelings.

Myth: Forgiveness Should Happen Immediately

There seems to be something admirable about those people who can immediately let go of others’ mistakes. While it’s okay to aspire to be like this, please understand that it’s not the norm to be able to do do that. It’s a gift for some, but for the majority of us, we need time to forgive others who’ve hurt us, and that’s okay. Be patient with yourself as you work to forgive.

Myth: Forgiveness Requires An Apology

An apology can certainly help bring restitution and reconciliation, but sadly it doesn’t always come, and it’s not required for forgiveness to take place. I’ve worked with clients in psychotherapy who are harboring hurt from a family member who has passed on. You can’t get an apology from someone who has died, but you can still grant yourself the gift of forgiveness to release that pain.

I’d like to continue this discussion about forgiveness and get your questions and feedback. Find me on Instagram (@drjuliehanks) or on Facebook, and tag your comment with #forgivenessmyths. Can’t wait to hear what everyone has to say!

About Dr. Julie Hanks, LCSW:
Dynamic self & relationship expert Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW loves to make a difference for women. She owns Wasatch Family Therapy and regularly contributes to KSL TV's Studio 5, and her advice has been featured nationally including Wall Street Journal, Parenting, Fox News, and others. Connect on Facebook & Twitter. Her books The Burnout Cure and The Assertiveness Guide are now available.

Comments

Kacee

Thank you for this! I’m in a situation where I don’t hold a grudge against someone who I needed to forgive, but I also no longer wish to be around this person so often. I love this person, and I am genuinely kind to this person when we do see eachother, but I feel that, since this person has not changed and is likely to do it again, it is better for me to love this person from afar. Sadly, because I’ve withdrawn from being around this person so much, many people around are taking it as a sign that I haven’t forgiven and have spoken to me about my “not forgiving.” I feel a peace from the Lord about my path in this situation, and I guess that’s what matters the most. Thanks for an awesome article.

Jared

Forgiveness is freedom. My favorite quote is from Byron Katie, “forgiveness is realising what you thought happened, didn’t” I’ve noticed it’s true for me but angers a lot of people who believe they were/ are victims.

Jenny

This was exactly what I needed to hear today. I am struggling with the balance of forgiving and setting boundaries with my brother. He has been cheating on his wife for 8 + years and our family found out about it in January. He and his wife are working through this with therapy so they are still together. He is now at a point where he is trying to restore trust and restitution with all of our siblings. My issue is not only the hurt he has put his own family through but the way he has treated me personally over the years. He has been in a very toxic cycle and I want to believe he is changing, but at the same time I want to give him a piece of my mind and let him know he can’t treat people like that. What is a healthy way of handling this conversation? He called me last week to talk about what he is going through, but I wasn’t somewhere that I could have a conversation like that. So I think he plans to call another day. Not sure this what you meant by continuing the conversation… May be a little to much.

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