I have been asked many times over the years if forgiveness is necessary for emotional healing. My quick answer is: self-forgivness is necessary, forgiving others is not.
Forgiveness helps when you no longer need the anger to keep you safe…
Anger is a very useful emotion. It fuels our actions to keep us safe, and to push destructive people away. Forgiveness is counter-productive, in my opinion, when the person continues the harmful behavior.
I find that once someone is safe, and well away from danger that forgiveness can be helpful, although is not necessary for healing. I have forgiven some people who have caused me trauma in the past. Usually, after they change their behavior. Some others I have forgiven because I realized that they were doing the best they could.
However, expressing anger also helps change freeze responses in our bodies. Anger can help us change self-negating patterns into self-care patterns. Don’t let an eagerness for forgiveness get in the way of righteous anger. Righteous anger is when we have a full right to be angry and the anger can help us create a better life for ourselves and others.
Even self-forgiveness may not come easily. Sometimes I need to change a behavior before I can forgive myself for having done it. Particularly behaviors that hurt others.
Ironically, I’ve found that the hardest things to forgive myself for was being powerless when someone else was hurting me. Just accepting that I can be that powerless at any point in life can be very difficult. When I have been able to forgive myself “for being human” this way I heal faster and become stronger.
Essentially, you have to use your own inner wisdom to decide when forgiveness is right for you.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- Am I safer and healthier after forgiving?
- Am I now ready to let go of this anger and defensiveness?
- What do I still blame myself for that objectively wasn’t my fault?
- Where do I blame others when objectively I can see that it wasn’t really their fault?
- Is someone sincerely asking for forgiveness and is acting in a respectful way to me now?