In a recent post, I said that if you want to have a really amazing life, forgive yourself and everyone else in your life for everything. Why?: Because an unwillingness to forgive often doesn’t hurt the person we refuse to forgive at all, but it always hurts us. As long as we don’t forgive, we are bound to the other person with bonds of pain or anger or a desire for revenge. Forgiving doesn’t mean finding a way to excuse someone. There may be no excuse in the world for what they did. But forgiving does mean giving up the desire to punish them. Holding on to the need to see them pay for their words or actions is holding on to the injury itself. Forgiveness releases us from the power a wrongful action still has over us and sets us free to heal and move on.
I was having a conversation with someone who had read this, who they are is not important, and she was lamenting about her disappointment that some of her children were unwilling to forgive her and, of course, there were a number of reasons for their unwillingness to do so. Because her situation is surely not unique, I want to write about what I would have liked to tell her had there been more time.
First, if you’re disappointed that anyone in your life is unwilling to forgive YOU, then you are clearly not forgiving THEM. What you’re wanting is for the other people to be the way you want them to be and unfortunately, that is not a choice you get to make. People are the way they are, they will do what they choose to do, and all you get to do is to practice the serenity prayer: grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
What you can do is discuss with them their grievances with you, give them an opportunity to communicate, listen with compassion with no need to explain or justify your behavior, apologize, and then ask if they are willing to forgive you. The decision is then theirs. If they choose not to forgive you, they are the ones that get to suffer, not you, as long as you’re willing to forgive them.
More importantly, you’re not responsible for anyone’s happiness other than your own. How you get to be happy is to follow the instructions I’ve been writing about, including this piece on forgiveness. When you’re willing to forgive, you get to be happy. But that includes being willing to let them not be happy. And I know it’s tough with close family members. There was a time, many years ago, when one of my daughters struggled with forgiving me. We tried to do what I’m writing about with her many many times, I would listen, she would communicate her upsets, I would apologize, but she couldn’t forgive. And it got so bad that the only possible choice for the sanity of both of us was for us to go our separate ways.
Was that a happy choice? Yes and no. It didn’t make me or her happy to have to make that choice, but we were both happier after the choice was made. She didn’t have to continue to confront her issues with me and I didn’t have to continue to deal with her unloving behavior. So one of the things I would say to any of you who are in this situation is that you have the right to set boundaries. If people are unwilling to forgive and continue to be angry or resentful, tell them to go and deal with it someplace else and not on or around you.
With my daughter, we both lived with this for over seven years while she worked out her own issues. Thankfully, she was able to get to a place of true forgiveness and now we have a truly amazing relationship. Now could I have counted on that happening? No. But I surely held out hope that it would and miraculously it did.
In conclusion, as I opened, if you want to have a truly amazing life, forgive others, even if they’re unwilling to forgive you, and give up the need to control anyone else or take responsibility for anyone else’s happiness. The greatest thing you can do for unhappy people is to not be one of them.