The first time I heard that in order to let go and move on, that I had to forgive those who hurt me, I thought it was the dumbest thing I had ever heard.
They hurt me. Destroyed my peace.
They are the reason I was scared to leave the house, why I can’t trust anyone, and why I can’t function like a normal human being!
Why in the world should I forgive them?
Same thing many of you are wondering, I’m sure.
But after a ton of traumas, earning my degree, and seeming like my life was one big ball of “let’s see how else we can screw over Ashly”, I realized something.
I NEEDED to forgive the people who hurt me. Otherwise, I was never going to experience happiness in my life and would never move on.
Letting Anger Consume Me
Nelson Mandela once said “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies”.
He said this after he spent a great majority of his life in prison, for basically no reason, and somehow was able to cope with it and not let it traumatize him.
What he says is absolutely true.
I held on to anger for so long. If you haven’t read my story, I will give you a few tidbits.
My childhood is not something I look back on fondly. My parents, although different people now, had a lot of anger issues that they took out on me. I was stalked, and was almost kidnapped, when I was around 13/14, then was in a physically abusive relationship around the age of 16-21. I was raped when I was around 24.
Someone stalked me for years and tried to ruin me emotionally. I was sexually harassed at work and my job was threatened for reporting it. I injured my foot at work a few years later (yes, same job) and have a permanent disability now. The people I worked with, (some of who were my best friends) lied about witnessing it and refused to talk to me, because they were afraid of losing their jobs if they told the truth, which left me with no job, no money and nobody. The only person who stood by me my entire life, turned on me, and tried to turn everyone else against me based on a simple misunderstanding.
I never got an “I’m sorry” from any of the individuals who hurt me.
I was overcome with anger and hated the world.
And my life just kept getting worse and a slew of health problems and chronic pain came. I had PTSD, I couldn’t leave my house, I just couldn’t function anymore.
Starting to See a Pattern
With my life getting worse, it was easy to slip into the victim state. I just blamed the world for being a crappy place and that other people were just out to hurt me.
By me being angry at the people who have hurt me, it became a habit.
Have you ever noticed that when you are angry, everyone seems to be out to hurt you or make you mad?
This is because you start interpreting actions differently.
You start seeing little things in people’s actions that make you feel they were ill intended, when they really weren’t.
When you get hurt, and don’t forgive, you start to see tiny things that subconsciously reminds your brain of the incident when you were hurt.
It can be something tiny, like maybe the person said something or smiled just like the person who hurt you. So you then think that new person’s actions are meant to harm you and start reading their actions as ill intended.
It’s a survival instinct for your brain to check for cues like this, which is why it’s so easy. Unfortunately, our brain is wrong sometimes and forgiving is how you tell your brain to stop doing this with everyone you meet.
I used to read into everyone’s actions as being a way to harm me.
And that is why my life kept getting worse and I couldn’t move on. People kept explaining that their actions weren’t what I was interpreting them as, but I didn’t believe them.
I started to see a pattern.
I made it such a habit to stay angry at the people who hurt me, that the anger was affecting how I saw the world. It was affecting how I treated people, although I just believed I was treating people how they treated me.
But how does that work when you see someone’s actions as ill-intended, but they actually may not have been?
It means you probably treated that person like crap when they didn’t deserve it.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
Why Forgiving Others is Important
I want to be VERY clear.
The actual dictionary definition of “forgive” is to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake.
So because you forgive others for how they hurt you, it does NOT mean you condone or accept their actions.
It does not mean you have to forget their actions.
It does not mean you have to continue to be around them.
All it means is that you try to understand and heal from the pain they caused you, so you can stop looking at the world as a horrible place.
That you find peace.
That you don’t make anger into a habit and have it slip out to others who don’t deserve it without realizing it.
And you can view the world with a clear mind and be awesome for anything that comes your way in the future.
That way, if the person who hurt you is family or friends that you see all the time, you can still be around them if you need to and say hi without wishing them harm.
How to Forgive
1. Let Go of Expectations
I think one of the things we need to dive into more is the saying “I’m going to treat you how you treat me”.
This is such a wrong way to look at things (and yes, I have said this more times than I care to admit in my life).
That is you not forgiving something that happened in your past.
That is you placing your expectations on other people, telling them you are only going to love them, and be kind to them, if they act how YOU want them to act.
Is that fair?
Should we be doing that?
You will never be able to let go if you don’t stop expecting people to behave a certain way.
People behave a certain way because of how THEY feel inside.
So stop expecting people to act a certain way. By doing this, you are trying to control them.
Do you want people to love you only if you act a certain way?
So let’s stop doing this. Let’s stop trying to control other’s actions and just focus on OUR reactions.
Once you start treating people based off how kind YOU are, it becomes so much easier to forgive others who aren’t sorry, because you made kindness a habit.
2. Forgive Them Because You are Stronger
When you get hurt or traumatized, it can feel like the end of the world.
Your peace was destroyed!
But let me tell you something: The worst things that happened in our lives often lead to some of the best things.
If it weren’t for the guy who harassed and emotionally crippled me, I honestly would never have met my husband. I switched to night shift at my job because of that guy, and it was there where I met my husband, Aaron.
If it weren’t for my childhood, the attempted kidnapping, and physically abusive relationship, I never would have gotten my Psychology degree.
If it weren’t for all of the people who “screwed me over” and made me a scared victim, I never would have had to find ways to heal on my own, which means I never would have started this website that is designed to help so many others.
So the people who come into our lives can hurt us miserably. But we can become stronger because of it and follow paths we otherwise would never have found.
It is up to you how you choose to heal. You can find a path that makes you stronger, smarter, and help others, or you can find a path that prevents you from being healed.
3. Forgive Because Many People Can Change
I truly believe that many people can change if they want to.
I did it. My parents did it. I am proud that I am a completely different person than I was 5 years ago and my parents are totally different people than they were when I was a child. (Especially my mom)
This one is hard to believe, but I want to show another example.
My first long term boyfriend physically abused me.
After 5 years of it, I finally got stronger physically (thanks to my job), which in turn, made me feel stronger mentally, so had the strength to break up with him (literally and figuratively) and told him if I ever heard about him hurting another woman, I would hunt him down.
About 6 years after that, I got a message from his current girlfriend, who he had been with for 4 years at that point.
Why she was messaging me isn’t important, but I did get a chance to ask her if he ever hurt her or talked to her in a cruel way. She was very surprised and said no, he treated her really well and was the first nice guy she had ever dated and should she be worried?
I later confirmed her story through mutual friends who said they never saw bruises on her like they did with me, and she is outgoing and happy, which is not typical of someone being abused.
So it was proof to me that people could change. Learning he could change made me start to heal because I knew he wasn’t doing that to anyone else.
I’m not saying what he did to me was okay. But it’s a healing thing to know it stopped with me.
4. Forgive Because You May Misinterpret Their Actions
Have you ever been accused of something bad, or someone else thought your actions were pure evil when they weren’t?
This is what happened between me and the person I was closest to in life.
Neither one of us are bad people and set out to hurt the other. But because of things that happened in our past, we both saw each others’ actions in a negative light.
I felt she judged and criticized me every time I walked into a room. She thought I was yelling at her when I was upset about something that had nothing to do with her.
And both of us held our hurt inside for months.
Neither of us intended to judge or hurt each other, but that’s how we interpreted each others actions.
And it ruined our relationship.
I now understood her intentions weren’t to hurt me when I felt like she was judging me. She may not have realized she was doing that or that I would take it that way. And I would hope that she would eventually understand my intentions weren’t what she thought they were either.
So if someone’s actions bother you, talk to them about it immediately! You may find out their intentions were completely different than you thought. Doing this will prevent resentment from building up.
5. Forgive Because They Did Good Things Too
When people come into our lives, it is usually to teach us a lesson.
They most likely weren’t all bad, but unfortunately our minds latch on to the bad moments and that’s what we remember about them.
This option works well for family and friends, if they are the ones who treated you badly and aren’t apologizing.
For instance: The example I shared above about intentions, it also helped me that this person had been my confidant and best friend since I was a child. Which means she was there for me at times when no one else was.
With my parents, I had to search my childhood and understand it wasn’t 100% bad all the time. My dad would make me laugh sometimes. My mom came to most of my choir concerts. I knew, that despite the other stuff, that they did love me in their own way and as the years went on, they were better.
With my ex who abused me, it wasn’t 100% bad all the time. We had good moments, mostly at the beginning.
So while I am not excusing the bad actions, I feel it’s helpful to forgive them because good things happened too while being around them.
Remembering good memories that you can cherish will lessen the pain and help the anger subside.
6. Forgive Because They Lashed Out
Have you ever had a bad day and lashed out at someone just because they were there, or in your way?
We have all been there.
If this is something that happened to you, and it is a one off situation (they aren’t treating you like that all the time), don’t you think you should give them the benefit of the doubt and a second chance?
Wouldn’t you hope someone would do the same for you?
When we are angry, and act out, we justify our actions. Even towards people who don’t deserve our anger.
When we calm down, many times it is easier to see that we didn’t mean it.
You may notice many people will then try to explain their actions instead of apologizing after they had lashed out.
That is usually their way of apologizing, especially if they don’t believe in “I’m sorry” . They aren’t trying to justify their actions, they just are trying to explain why they were hurt.
As long as they will try to change their actions, consider that an I’m sorry without needing to hear the actual words.
7. Forgive Because It’s Not About You
This seems backwards, but the number one way I can move on is to find some kind of compassion for the person.
Can you imagine what it is like to hold on to such anger and feel so out of control that you have to rape someone? What kind of stuff must be going on in his head that he hates himself that much to lash out and want control like that?
The guy who calls and texts to emotionally hurt you, 10 years after you broke up? How sad do you think his life is to where he can’t let go?
The woman who sees negative everywhere she looks and lashes out at people? What kind of life is that to never be happy or feel joy about anything? How lonely that must be!
Again, NOT excusing their actions. I just can’t help but think about the torture going on in their own mind to do things like that.
When I get hurt by someone, I dive into their head and try to feel what they are thinking. And it is usually a really sad life, without happiness, that I see. And I feel a little bit of compassion and hope they get the help they need.
It makes me feel a sense of peace when someone hurts me and I can see their actions aren’t about me, it’s about them and what is going on in their heads.
I know a few people reading this may be appalled that I could find compassion for the people who raped and stalked me. But it really does help when you realize people are humans with emotions and make horrible decisions based off their own frame of mind. It has helped me so much in being able to forgive and let go.
Again, you do this because you deserve it, not because they do.
When people do things to you, try to let go of “me, me, me”.
This may take some time to do this. You will need to give yourself time to be angry and upset so you can process what happened.
Just don’t live there. After some time, start the process of forgiving so YOU can move on without anything weighing you down.
Just understand most of the time, it isn’t about you. It’s about what is going on in their own heads.
Sometimes you may be misinterpreting actions. They may be having an off day. They may have mental illnesses you aren’t aware of.
Don’t make anger a habit. Doing so will force us to make decisions based on our anger and start making decisions about people due to our anger.
Instead, try to understand why you are angry and try to understand the person who hurt you.
It’s only then you will be able to let go.
Think of this as a setback, and not your story. You choose how you heal.
You write your story. Don’t let your past write your future when you are the one with the pencil in your hand.