Who’s Whose Prisoner?

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

~Lewis B. Smedes

A lot of us is walking around angry and bitter for different reason but it is always our choice. To forgive or not to forgive is the choice? The hardest thing for most people to do is forgive. I love the quote (above) because the act of forgiveness is not for the other person, it for you. Forgiveness sets you free. You see forgiveness is a conscious choice to let go of the poison of resentment, anger and revenge.  It doesn’t mean you are weak or the person has gotten away with injustice. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget or live in denial of the offence or hurt you feel but it does lessen the power it has over you and helps you to be free to focus on rebuilding your life and get more out of the positive parts of your life.

Anyone that has been victimised at some point has to come to a point to decide whether or not to forgive the perpetrator. To be honest, there is no grey area at all when it comes to making such a life-changing choice: Either you decide to forgive the person who has hurt you or you hold on to your bitterness and anger.  Many of my clients discover this when looking at the past hurts in relationships and abuse. They get to a place where they recognise that holding on to bitterness and anger has created further problems in their lives. And what I say to them, I will say to you: If you have been victimised, being able to forgive that person is the beginning of your true healing and happiness.

You may feel some resistance and it is probably because you may not have a clear understanding of what forgiveness is. I just want to clarify what forgiveness is not:

The same as reconciliation. Forgiveness is your response to someone who did you wrong. Reconciliation is when two or more people come together to work things out, usually the wrong-doer(s) and the victim(s) of the wrong doing. Although, people can reconcile after forgiveness, it is acceptable to forgive without re-establishing the relationship. Forgiveness is totally up to , with or without justice, and with or without the wrong doer begging for your forgiveness. In some cases, you will never hear or see remorse; for example, the person might be dead or no longer part of your life. It doesn’t mean that your forgiveness will give permission for that person to hurt you again but it does mean you no longer give free rent in your mind to someone who has hurt you so deeply.

Forgetting.  “Forgive and forget” is an old saying but doesn’t mean you have to forget even though you forgive. Focusing on forgetting a wrong might lead to denying or suppressing feelings about the situation that has impacted you negatively, which is not the same as forgiveness. True forgiveness is when you can remember the wrong that you have endured without feeling resentment and revenge. You do not have to forget in order to forgive.

Condoning or excusing. Forgiving someone does not minimise, justify, condone, or excuse the wrong that done to you. It is not about brushing aside the pain and negative feelings that injustice has caused. Forgiveness allows you to reflect, even empathise with the culprit, and learn how to take healthy steps towards protecting yourself.

Justice. Even though it may feel easier to hear an apology, you may not be always get that. You may pursue your right to bring someone to justice with or without forgiving someone who has hurt you. And if there is no justice in your eyes then you can still choose to forgive or not to forgive.

If you decide you want to forgive, to give up drinking the poison of trying to take revenge and holding on to bitterness, and you want to relinquish any powerful hold that the perpetrator may have over you; find a good and safe place where you can be alone with your thoughts. Now try following these four steps to forgive even when you feel like it is impossible. Remember, you are doing this for you:

  1. Think about or replay the situation that makes you angry. First thing you will need to do is accept that it happened. Accept how you feel about it and how it makes you want to react. In order to forgive, you need to acknowledge the reality of what occurred and how you were affected. How do you feel? How intense are the emotions from 0 (nothing) to 10 (incredible amount of pain)?
  2. Acknowledge the growth you are experiencing on your journey as a result of what happened. What can you learn about yourself, or about your needs and boundaries? Try to think of yourself of a survivor rather a victim, as survival means you are progress, proactive, and even growing from it.
  3. Now think about the other person. Please remember he or she who has wronged you is not perfect because all human beings have short comings. He or she acted from a place of fear, limited beliefs and a skewed frame of reference just like yourself and the rest of the human race. When you were hurt, the other person was trying to have a need met. What do you think this need was and why did the person go about it in such a hurtful way? This step is about empathising (being in their shoes), and not sympathy (feeling sorry/condoning).
  4. Finally, make a choice as to whether or not you want to tell the other person that you have forgiven him or her (if applicable), or say it out aloud. If you decide not to express forgiveness directly, then do it on your own. Say the words, “I forgive you,” aloud and then add as much explanation as you feel is merited. How do you feel? How intense are the emotions from 0 (nothing) to 10 (incredible amount of pain)? Have the emotions lessened? Keep doing this activity until the intensity lowers. You shall overcome!

I want to share a story with you about a person that went on a journey to forgiveness. Immaculee Ilibagiza is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide that took place in the mid-nineties. Political tensions rose between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes which resulted in the killings of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and Hutus who opposed the genocide. On Easter Sunday 1994, Ilibagiza and her family were gathered together and made the fateful decision to stay.

On April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana’s (a Hutu) plane was shot down, and everyone on board was killed. This started a massacre which targeted the Tutsi people. Ilibagiza and her younger brother, Vianney, managed to make their way to a local Hutu pastor’s home, who provided protection. When they arrived, they learned that Vianney could not stay. Ilibagiza along with seven other women hid in a small (1 square meter) bathroom for three months. When Ilibagiza finally left she learned that her entire family had been brutally murdered. While most people in her shoes desires revenge, Ilibagiza chose to forgive the people who killed her family as she felt the bitter feelings of rage destroying her. She was determined to let forgiveness, rather than hate, rule her life. Eventually, she met one of the murderers face-to-face and told him directly that she forgave him.

Ilibagiza is now living in America with her children, some of whom are adopted from Rwanda. She has written a best-selling book about her blood chilling experience, titled ‘Left to Tell’, and has made several television appearances. She has spoken at several conferences and founded the Left to Tell Charitable Fund to help children who have been orphaned through genocide. From the unimaginable pain she had suffered, Ilibagiza has done a great amount of good to make the world a little bit of a better place.

Here is my paradigm shifting question to explore and experience forgiveness in a different way:

  • If you do not forgive others, can you be expected to be forgiven by others?  This might make you feel angry to be asked this question but what if I told you that your act of forgiveness allows you to be forgiven by others! Many of us want to be forgiving quickly but when we are hurt, we do not want to forgive (quickly). You see the same grace we want to receive; you must show others as life is filled with karma. What we give out comes back to us, so what you get back you should find a way of give back.

If you don‘t forgive, it will stop you developing and achieving in life. Happy people understand the importance of forgiveness as they know holding onto bitterness manifests and affects all areas of their lives, such as their relationships, mental health and physical health, work performance, and personal growth.

Forgiveness is not within the human instinctual behaviour. Forgiveness is a result of spiritual maturation as forgiveness gives you spiritual eyes to see beyond your pain and empathise with the wrong-doer and move beyond the pain to a place of peace. Forgiveness is a spiritual act letting you see things from God’s point of view.

Be free today!


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