Why Should You Forgive?
And What Does Forgiving Mean?
Why should you forgive the people who have hurt you? Before we can answer that, let's talk about what forgiving is. We all know the saying "forgive and forget." That seems to mean that we're supposed to erase the hurt from our memory, and that's true, in a way. But I've heard people talk about doing this in terms of returning to trust, and that is not at all the same thing.
To return to trust when someone has violated your trust would mean to pretend nothing happened, and pretending such a thing would be lying. There is nothing virtuous about self-deception. That's just asking for more, and that in itself would be wrong because, for one thing, it is wrong to tempt another human being into any behavior which requires forgiveness. Forgiving (and forgetting) means something else entirely.
To forget in this case means just that: forget it. Don't keep rehashing it in your mind or in conversation. Don't waste your time plotting revenge or demanding sympathy for the wrong done you. Let it go. Otherwise – and this is why you need to let it go – you begin to incorporate the wrong into yourself, to make it part of who you are. "He forgot to say 'thank you' becomes 'he never says thank you' becomes 'he's so ungrateful to me.' Hey, we're all human and we all make mistakes. Nobody on this planet would be talking to anybody else if we didn't keep forgiving each other. We can't afford to keep score.
If, however, someone consistently treats you badly, you might want to rethink your relationship with that person. There's an enormous difference between the sort of unintentional hurts that occur in all relationships, and the chronic hurts where one person consistently lies to, belittles or otherwise treads on another. An abusive partner is not likely to change, so, while forgetting the abuse is necessary, how are you going to do that if you don't put a stop to it first? Again, the idea is not to tolerate bad behavior, but to avoid letting it poison your spirit.
Why should you forgive? Because doing so is entirely to your own benefit. Forgiveness is the anti-toxin to all the wrongs done you. It's simple and it's hard. Forgiving requires that you: first, acknowledge the wrong. If you pretend it doesn't matter or deny that there was a wrong, you're not forgiving. Second, you have to release the wrong-doer to God or the Universe or whatever floats your boat. I like to say, "okay, God, he's your problem now, not mine.' Third, forget it. Let it go. It's over. Whether you choose to trust that person in the future depends on how egregious the wrong was, among other things. You might decide not to trust your spouse to be on time, but that shouldn’t stop you from trusting him in other situations. You might decide never to trust your spouse again if you find out he has had a string of affairs. Either way, you need to get on with life. It takes time, especially for some of the deeper wrongs, and it's better to acknowledge that you're having trouble forgiving than to paper it over and say it's forgotten or say it's forgiven when you're still in fact grinding your teeth. Forgiveness takes a lot of effort sometimes, but we can do it by remembering we are doing it for ourselves. We are refusing to be a slave to some past wrong, even if we have to take a file to those chains every day for years. It's worth the effort, to be free. And like anything else worth doing, it takes practice.