I recently had the honor of speaking to the GEMS young ladies group of Saint Sabina in the Englewood community of Chicago.

During our session we focused on apologies and forgiveness – because often forgiving someone is the hardest thing to do. As a matter of fact, people often ask me how and why I have been so forgiving of those in my life, especially my family, that have hurt me so much throughout my life. The answer is easy – I never did it for them, I did it for me.

So many people are holding on forgiveness because they are waiting for an apology or an acceptance of responsibility from the person that hurt them – only to find they never get it, therefore they never forgive. As a result, they carry the hurt or resentment forever, while the other party carries on without a worry.

Forgiveness is mainly for your benefit, not for the benefit of the person you are forgiving. As long as you are feeling like a victim, you are carrying a heavy burden. Forgiveness allows you to put the burden down. And simply walk away from it. Free.

Choosing not to forgive gets us stuck in our own past, preventing moving forward. Without forgiveness you are constantly stuck in your own past. Many people waste years of their lives in bitterness and resentment when they could, through forgiveness, have lived that time in joy.

HOWEVER – here is why it is SO hard!

Human behavior suggests that people are hardwired to retaliate when they have been hurt by another person. Our pride or self-esteem is injured. Our expectations or dreams are disappointed. We lose something very valuable to us and want recompense for the damages.

Now, some will say that there are certain situations where forgiveness is impossible, and as a victim of sexual assault, I can certainly understand this. However, in speaking from my own experience, I can tell you that I was full of anger and had incredibly poor relationships with family, friends, and romantically until I decided that forgiveness was necessary. Of course I didn’t forget, but I needed to set myself free and accept that it was not my place to “punish” my assailant.

I say all of this to say – if you want to live your fullest life – you have to forgive. Never for the person that hurt you, but always for yourself!

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