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What it Really Means to Forgive and Let Go

Forgiveness” and “letting go” – two processes we usually think about in terms of how they impact someone else. That we might do for another. But in reality – although we may not consciously realize it – each of these things is something very powerful that we do for ourselves. 

Yes, when we forgive someone who has hurt or disappointed us, it might feel like we are freeing them of the burden of their wrongdoing. That is not the case at all.

We know that forgiveness doesn’t mean that the wrongdoing was okay, nor does it relieve the other person of responsibility for their actions. 

By truly forgiving, we are actually freeing ourselves of the burden of carrying hurt or anger. We allow ourselves peace by not letting the hurt or anger have power over us any longer. A lesser known detail about forgiveness is that it can be extended without the other person even knowing that we are forgiving them. This underscores that forgiveness is for us, and it is deeply HEALING for us. 

Similarly, when we let go of people or things that no longer serve us in a positive way, this may seem like something that we do for them, or because a certain thing is too difficult to attain or hold. But once again, when we let go, and genuinely move on, we GROW. We elevate ourselves by recognizing who and what are (and are not) meant for us. And in doing so, we are lighter, happier and more open to connecting with those who are (and what is) meant for us.

I learned this from personal experience when I was just 16. One day, out of the blue, my best friend since middle school decided that we should part ways for a while and pursue our own friendships. For all practical purposes, she “broke up” with me. High school is a time of self discovery, she had a new boyfriend and I have no doubt she wanted to develop a new group of friends that centered around him. But at the time it was devastating, both to my heart and to my sense of trust. How could someone I loved so much, and who had loved me, do this?  

It took many tears, comforting conversations with other friends and – most of all – with my mom, before I was able to let go of this best friend. Of course we saw each other at school and the polite “hellos” and smiles just felt forced and weird. For nearly a year we each went our separate ways, developing our own other close friendships. I could feel myself growing and finding new parts of myself, and also discovering that a few of my friends that I’d devoted more time to were actually real treasures. 

Then there was a plot twist. My old best friend reached out. Not to be “best friends” again, but to reconnect. And perhaps most meaningful of all, she apologized to me. She explained where she’d been when she asked to cut ties, and admitted that she went about it in the wrong way. She apologized for hurting me. 

This was a pivotal moment! 

For one thing, her genuine caring and regret softened my heart, and helped it to heal in ways that just letting her go couldn’t fully accomplish. And then I was given a choice between refusing her apology and trying to cause her pain similar to what she had caused me, and being a bigger person and accepting her apology. I chose the second option — I forgave her. No, I didn’t tell her it was okay, nor did I say that how she’d treated me was fine. I forgave and let go of (most of) the hurt I’d carried. I let her back into my life, but with wisdom and strength I hadn’t had before. We are friends to this day. The years that have passed make our love for each other stronger than the hurt that came between us for a while.  

My friends, real forgiveness and letting go takes lots of inner work on our part. Sometimes it may feel too painful or overwhelming. But trust me when I say that it’s worth the effort…these are priceless gifts we give to ourselves. 

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