The first and most important thing when learning forgiveness is to define the term. Most problems with forgiveness comes from misunderstanding the word or confusing it with other words. To keep clear, we will reference several different definitions to help give you the full concept.
One of my favorite definitions from Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky. She calls forgiveness a shift in thinking towards the other person. Here are the definition of “forgive” from dictionary.com:
- to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
- to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
- to grant pardon to (a person).
- to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies.
- to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.
Synonyms include: See excuse, absolve, or acquit.
It is not surprising we are having difficulty with forgiveness after reading through those five definitions, or even seeing the synonym “excuse” up there. The leading psychologist in the field of forgiveness have focused on giving us better understanding of the word. Much of their research is focused on helping the world understand that forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not:
- excusing: demeans the offense
- condoning: is ignoring the problem
- trusting: is about the future, not the past
- reconciliation: is about trust
- justice: is not relinquished when you forgive
- revenge: is when you take justice into your own hands
Unfortunately dictionary.com kept their best definition of forgiveness at the bottom of the page. It reads, “The modern sense of “to give up desire or power to punish”. When I traveled over to Merriam-Webster I found what I was looking for:
- to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone)
- to stop feeling anger about (something) : to forgive someone for (something wrong
- to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)
The key word above is “feeling”. Feelings can control us, make us trapped. Anger is a trap, as well as disappointment, depression, and a sense of martyrdom. To forgive is to change how we feel about something so that we are no longer controlled by negative feelings.
Question: Were you confusing forgiveness with other words?