What is forgiveness? Definitions of forgiveness range from a more casual attitude of letting bygones be bygones to letting go of the past and all its hurts because all is and was as it should be.
Answers to the what is forgiveness question are often shaped by religious teachings and personal beliefs. Pardon and showing mercy to others (and receiving it ourselves) are key spiritual practices upon which our spiritual well-being depends.
Many people would agree that forgiveness, whether for ourselves or others, is a good thing, even when it is not easy. It shows the depth of the human spirit and its ability to rise above past hurts so we can move forward with our lives. It shows our desire to be connected with others, rather than separated by our perceptions and our differences.
On this page you will find several definitions of forgiveness, some traditional and others more 'radical'. Together they will help you develop a complete understanding of what forgiveness means to you and how it brings healing to yourself and others.
What is forgiveness? According to the thesaurus it is: absolution, charity, compassion, grace, mercy, reprieve, release, pardon, and respite. Its opposites are accusation, blame and punishment.
Common understandings of forgiveness include: letting someone off the hook, letting bygones be bygones, giving up a resentment, not holding someone accountable for what they did, or loving someone who hurt you anyway.
Forgiveness is a decision that comes from the mind and the heart. You acknowledge the hurt and the wrongdoing and you decide to release the offender from your judgment and condemnation. You release the anger and bitterness toward the person or yourself for what was said or done to you.
When you forgive, you may still have to deal with the situation, but you are free to make choices and responses from a place of empowerment, not woundedness.
Contrary to common belief, forgiveness is gift you give primarily to yourself. It is more about you than the one you forgive. Letting go of the past releases you from its negative bonds. When you continue to ruminate over wrongs, you are energetically tied to the past and the wrongdoer. Your precious energy goes to a time and event that now only exists in your mind, where nothing can be changed or created or healed.
Forgiveness cuts that cord and closes up that energy drain. It is a gift of freedom and healing for yourself and the one you forgive. When shown to yourself, it is a healing act of love and self-acceptance.
You may be familiar with the saying, "Forgive and forget". Forgetting is not forgiving. You may remember the hurt for some time, and depending on the circumstance, that may be a good thing.
Forgiveness is not excusing or condoning the misdeed or making excuses for the person who committed the wrong. Nor is it letting someone off the hook without consequences, although you may choose to do so. That is pardon. Pardon is not the same as forgiving, nor may it be in your power or best interest to do so. For example, you may forgive the person who robbed you, but they still have to go to jail.
An apology or making amends may be part of the forgiveness process, but neither are required for forgiveness.
In his book, Radical Forgiveness, Making Room for the Miracle, Colin Tipping answers the what is forgiveness question in a very different way. He teaches that that there was no wrongdoing to forgive because all is as it should be. You may need to go through a process to release anger, gain understanding, and let go of the past, but forgiveness as we often think of it is not necessary because there is nothing to forgive. There are no mistakes.
According to this view, it is possible that the person who 'wronged you' was acting to balance a karmic debt, to fulfill a soul contract, or to help you learn a life lesson from the experience. Viewed this way, we realize that from a spiritual perspective, what happened was part of the Divine plan.
Another aspect of radical forgiveness is that we act as mirrors for each other. When we blame someone for being the way they are, and having traits we do not like, it is because we know at some level that we have that same undesirable, unwanted trait within us.
As long as we focus on these faults in another, we can avoid looking at our own egos and shortcomings. When we perceive that we have been wronged by another, it serves to shift the focus back to ourselves where we can acknowledge and heal our repressed feelings.
Like radical forgiveness, the course offers a definition of forgiveness that involves refraining from judgment.
A Course in Miracles says that an unforgiving thought represents a closed mind that is protecting its distorted and untrue projections and judgments. Projection is a common psychological defense mechanism. You project, or believe that others share the same beliefs, thoughts, behaviors and ideas as you do. For example, you may be believe that someone is untrustworthy, despite evidence to the contrary, because that is one of your acknowledged, or unacknowledged traits.
Forgiveness recognizes what you thought your brother did to you has not occurred. It does not pardon sins and make them real. It sees there was no sin. And in that view are all your sins forgiven.
It goes on to say:
Forgiveness... is still, and quietly does nothing. It offends no aspect of reality, nor seeks to twist it to appearances it likes. It merely looks, and waits, and judges not. He who would not forgive must judge, for he must justify his failure to forgive. But he who would forgive himself must learn to welcome truth exactly as it is.
So what is forgiveness? How you choose to answer that question will affect who and when you choose to forgive, as well as the process you use to forgive yourself and others.
Regardless of the words you use to define it, true forgiveness - the letting go of the past with all its hurts, bitterness, resentment and grudges about what you did or what was done to you, is very healing to body, mind and spirit. It is a key to inner peace and spiritual well-being.