How do you know when you've forgiven someone?
February 12, 2015 12:24 PM   Subscribe

What are some signs that you've completely forgiven someone who has hurt you? I'm trying to compile a more exhaustive list for myself.

I had a relationship end badly some time ago, and I think part of healing from it (and being a kinder person generally) includes a process of thinking more seriously than I have before about forgiveness. A deeper, more personal approach to such things is relatively new to me, so I'm looking for outside perspectives; particularly on situations where it is not possible to apologize or make amends.

I am looking more for internal stuff related to how forgiving someone affects your thoughts and emotions, rather than external, relational, or transactional stuff like the presence or absence of apologies etc.

What I feel confident about so far:

- not labelling or casting value judgments on past behavior (ie. "He was using me"; "she was a narcissist"); instead thinking to myself "there was suffering there, despite trying our best and caring for each other."

- being able to take responsibility for at least 40% of the outcome.

- knowing I could pass them on the street, smile, and genuinely hope their life is going well.

- being able to name what I learned and what I am grateful for from each interaction

- being able to remember good and bad things about the person with relative balance
posted by unstrungharp to Human Relations (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
When they've:
1. apologized
2. made amends / made up for what they did
3. prevented whatever it was from happening again
It's often better to be alone than in bad company.
posted by sninctown at 12:34 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

When thinking about them is no longer stressful.
posted by Gneisskate at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2015 [19 favorites]

For me, it's kind of like anxiety. I notice when I'm anxious. I never notice when I'm not. I never seem to reach a point where I think "I have forgiven this person". I just sort of realise at some later point in time.

The acid test seems to be when I think about that person and think "huh, haven't thought about them in a while", rather than thinking about them and having a revenge fantasy.
posted by Solomon at 2:06 PM on February 12, 2015 [10 favorites]

being able to remember good and bad things about the person with relative balance

rather than thinking about them and having a revenge fantasy

I've recently become able to do those two things and it has helped immensely.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:20 PM on February 12, 2015

The acid test seems to be when I think about that person and think "huh, haven't thought about them in a while", rather than thinking about them and having a revenge fantasy.

Yup. For me, this is exactly it. And/or when you can't remember why you were angry in the first place.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:47 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Recalling somebody or something that they care about and hoping the person/something is still a meaningful part of their life.

Being able to let your memories of that person sit alongside other, similar memories of people and situations (presupposes that you can allow yourself to make those parallels); no longer needing to compartmentalize your experiences as a protective defence.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:12 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

For me, it has been time, distance, and perspective. I am no longer the person who was in that relationship. I've been through therapy, and moved on. I don't get tense if someone happens to mention them. I don't dwell on them, and I don't Google them. I simply don't care anymore.

I am in a healthy relationship now, the exact opposite of what it was before. No one tells me how to dress, who to socialize with, what to eat (biggie for moi), or makes snide comments about other people. Genuine love and respect, and sense of humor. Honesty. Even if we disagree, we can talk about it honestly.

I appreciate several aspects of that relationship, learning how to cook vegetarian, for example. Some travel that I might not have done on my own. And having learned that this person treated many other people the same way, kind of also puts me at the 40%, as you say. Different energy levels, I guess, and my energy is going up and up from now on, and I am who I used to be before I got entangled in someone else's miasma. I have better relationships with my family as well. Looking forward to the future, no looking back!

You have to forgive yourself and if you want, the other person. I fucked up, he fucked up royally. We all fuck up sometimes. Life goes on. I think it is a question of time and replacing those thoughts with other thoughts. I keep really busy with learning new things, daily chores, activities, etc. And it just gets replaced after a while, those hard nasty edges get softened, and eventually, they melt away like snow in the Spring.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:26 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have found myself in a similar situation, so I'm right there with you. I have a legitimate reason to be extraordinarily angry at my ex. I have suffered a lot because of her actions and how she responded to a stressful event in my life.
I am looking more for internal stuff related to how forgiving someone affects your thoughts and emotions, rather than external, relational, or transactional stuff like the presence or absence of apologies etc.
I think this is less important than the question of why you forgive someone.

Popular wisdom says you should forgive someone because being angry for a long time has a negative effect on your mental state. This is the amoral justification for forgiveness. The person might still deserve to be hated, but you can decide to let them off the hook for no reason other than your own self-preservation. Just clear the negative karma because getting "even" with this person would be a ruinous pursuit.

Then there's the moral angle. This is the idea that we should forgive one another because it's a virtuous thing to do and there is a moral order (religious, secular, or a personal philosophy – YMMV) that demands that we do so. You might summarize one version of this view as:

We're all human. We are limited. We are limited in how much we can love, limited in how much we can care for one another, limited by our pain, limited in how much of another's pain we can bear. We fail. We fuck up. Every one of us. We all do the best we can with the resources available to us. Some of us better than others, but we all have our limits. We hurt one another. Nobody has not hurt someone. You might reflect on times you hurt someone who cared about you.

All of that is well and good. But in practice it's really hard to actually let go when you feel someone has harmed you. We have an inherent belief that when people have wronged us, then bad things should happen to those people to even it out.

I think the first step to moving on from this is just to accept it. There's a pattern repeating in your thinking. Like a loop in your mind. You're thinking: "I have been wronged by this person, they owe me something". Let those thoughts come, don't resist them, but don't engage them either. Focus on something else. Personal development or volunteering or just trying to be nicer to the people around you.

This is just my personal theory, but I think we really forgive people when the thought-loop that feeds our hatred for them dissipates. Give it time. Reflect on the humanity of this person, and your own humanity. Relax.
posted by deathpanels at 6:01 PM on February 12, 2015 [14 favorites]

I think that it's when you feel absolutely neither one way or the other about the person. When you've made 100% peace with what your relationship was at the at the time and frankly when you don't think about it very much.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:23 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think it's when you gain a kind of empathy with the way the error of behaviour or judgment happened.

My first husband had an affair with a woman at our tennis club and left our marriage, never admitting to the affair, ever. Even 20 years later. He had many affairs, hook ups, whatevers. His affairs were felt by me to be him doing something *to me* and against me. But 20 years later I can see: he was 30, didn't know that non-monogamy/polyamory is a choice he could have made more openly had he known more about that lifestyle, I knew he had a roving eye and, thinking narcissistically that I was The One, I still married him. His behaviour hurt me deeply, but I've somehow translated the behaviour from the being done-to-me into a different action: simply something he did.

I don't give much of damn about this person now, and I have turned the attention to how I forgive myself, stop beating myself up with my naïveté, ignorance and blind trust. I did the best with the skills n information I had at the time. And yay me, I walked at my earliest convenience.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:40 PM on February 12, 2015 [11 favorites]

I teach an essay by the great June Callwood, "Forgiveness," in one of my classes, and I think it might be helpful.

"The starting place, some therapists say, is to accept that something appalling has happened, and it hurts. Denial, a recourse more favoured by men than by women, won’t help. The next step they say, is to develop an off switch. When fury threatens to make the brain reel, people should grasp for distractions. Brooding about revenge only serves to unhinge reason. If people don’t rid themselves of wrath, personal growth stops cold. The hard part comes at the end of the process. The choices are to enter a state of forgiveness, which is a triumph of generosity, or just to put the matter in a box, cover it with a lid, place a brick on the lid, and move on. In healthy people, a perverse state of mind eventually wears itself out."
posted by ilana at 7:21 PM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've always said that forgiveness is overrated. But I also acknowledge that it is a tricky word because the way someone like Eckhart Tolle uses that word and the way most people use that word are very different.

When Eckhart Tolle uses the word forgiveness he's really just talking about acceptance.

Let me tell you a story. There was a lot of emotional abuse I had to deal with growing up with my parents- especially my father. I hated him for it all my life, but I always told myself- him- and everyone around me that I had forgiven him and that all was well. I did this mainly because my parents TOLD me that not forgiving was evil. (I learned as I grew older that this is something abusers like to do. They will insist on forgiveness and tell you that by not forgiving you are not being 'enlightened' or a good person when really they just want to not deal with the consequences of their behavior towards you, so they insist on your 'forgiveness'... which in this case just means being a doormat and allowing everything that they did to you to go unanswered.)

But one day I decided to stop the charade with myself. I realized and thought to myself- No I don't forgive them. I don't forgive them at all. And just like that it was like a huge weight was lifted off of me and these shackles that I didn't even know were binding me evaporated into thin air. I realized that those shackles were the building resentment that I had always carried inside towards them. But when I accepted my true feelings of resentment towards them rather than burying it, it was like the resentment finally lifted and went away. I no longer hated them. I didn't love them, but I didn't hate them either. I was just happily indifferent towards them. I stopped all contact with my parents and only when my mother called in frantic mood (because she felt her control slipping away when I wasn't contacting them) did I calmly tell her that I didn't appreciate the way I was treated growing up and continued to be treated now as an adult. Then she started on her tirade about how I was going to go to hell for not having forgiveness and kept saying "You HAVE to forgive us. You Have to forgive us." And I remember smiling to myself and saying... "Actually... no I don't". And I hung up the phone. That was about 10 years ago and I happily haven't spoken to them since. There was so much freedom in just saying that, rather than constricting myself to the belief that supposed 'non-forgiveness' made me a bad person. It was only when I was able to finally say this that I was able to truly forgive.

I realized then that "forgiveness" the way the term is usually used is just a means of pretending to pardon someone for their behavior. Ultimately it doesn't matter whether you 'forgive' someone or not. What really matters is whether you accept what happened and accept that person as they are or not. Once you do this, all resentment and hatred goes away and you can see the person in a more objective light. I finally saw my parents for what they truly were and realized they were more of a hinderance in my life than a support, so I cut them off.- I did this not out of hatred for them, but out of love for me.

So when I hear Eckhart Tolle talk about how forgiveness is really just acceptance of what is... (and he also talks about how being truthful about your own negative feelings to yourself is a good way to remove those negative feelings.) I remember about what I went through and I get it.

My advice would be to stop trying to forgive. Forgiveness is something that happens on its own for the most part. You have no real control over that than you have control over feeling sad or happy. You can only control the thoughts that lead to those feelings, not the feelings themselves. forgiveness is a feeling process. Acceptance is a thinking process. You can control the thinking process. So rather than putting any energy into trying to forgive (overrated), but the energy into trying to simply accept (underrated). Accept the things that happened and accept however it is you feel about those things right now. Accept that you were blind and that the other person was probably just as blind if not more so. Once you allow more acceptance in, forgiveness will come of its own accord when you're ready for it.
posted by rancher at 8:10 PM on February 12, 2015 [10 favorites]

You don't tense up physically when they approach.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:57 AM on February 13, 2015

Janis Abrams Spring wrote a great book called How Can I Forgive You? that would probably be really good reading for you. She goes into great depth about the four possible options in the wake of Hirt and betrayal: cheap forgiveness, refusing to forgive, acceptance, and genuine forgiveness. Lots of thought provoking stuff there. Highly recommend.
posted by Sublimity at 9:34 AM on February 15, 2015

Two issues with forgiveness: True forgiveness and boundaries. Forgiving someone does not make them a good person. It does not make them a safe person. It will NOT ensure they treat you well. I can forgive Bob for hitting me, but I know Bob will hit me again if I see Bob. I shall not be around Bob then.

I can hold anger and bitterness and fear towards Bob for 5 or fifty years... but a certain point, that justifiable anger starts hurting myself. Like carrying around a hot coal to throw at Bob. I can sorta forgive, pretend its ok... but I believe true forgiveness comes when I can poke at those mental or physical wounds, hurts, and they don't trigger much emotion. Yes, it happened. Yes, it caused X Y Z pain and grief and fear, and cost me A and B. But it is, in fact, a historical event from my past. It was NOT fun, but I am not carrying that hot coal of anger with me now.

Another saying I've heard is you have forgiven when you give up fighting for a better past.
posted by Jacen at 12:58 PM on February 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

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