Codependents often forgive and forget, and continue to put themselves in harm’s way. They forgive and then rationalize or minimize their loved one’s abuse or addiction. This is their denial. They may even contribute to it by enabling. We should never deny, enable, or condone abuse.
Real forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget or condone another’s actions. In fact, we may decide to never see the person again. Nor does it mean we justify or play down the hurt caused. When we hold a grudge, hostility can sabotage our ability to enjoy the present and our future relationships. It actually has negative health consequences. It raises blood pressure, impairs digestion, and creates psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and mental and physical pain.
True forgiveness improves mental and physical functioning. We let go of resentment, releasing us from obsessive or recurring negative thoughts and any desire for revenge or that misfortune comes to the other person. Empathy and understanding help us forgive. We can then attempt to rebuild trust and may set boundaries around our partner’s conduct in the future. We’re able to make constructive changes and move on in peace.
The Timing of Forgiveness
Forgiveness too soon may deny anger needed for change. Justified anger affirms our self-respect and motivates us to protect ourselves with appropriate boundaries. It helps us cope with grief and let go. It can smooth the progress of separation from an abuser.
If we’ve been betrayed or rejected, it’s natural to feel pain. We need to experience it and cry without self-judgment. We need time to feel the hurt and loss and to heal. Once, we feel safe and have gone through the stages of loss, it’s easier to forgive.
Denial can make us forgive too soon or block forgiveness altogether. Denying, including minimization and rationalization, that someone is an addict or abuser encourages us to continually accept broken promises, avoid setting boundaries, or stay in a toxic relationship. Denying that a loved one isn’t the ideal we want or imagined only feeds our disappointment and resentment. Accepting reality opens the door to acceptance and forgiveness.
If forgiveness is withheld too long, it can impede completing the stages of grief and lead to bitterness. Many codependents are uncomfortable with feeling or showing anger. Instead, they’re preoccupied with resentment and replay negative scripts and events in their minds. Resentment can disappear when we give ourselves permission to allow our feelings of anger and sadness to flow.
How to Forgive
It takes conscious reflection, a decision, and often prayer to let go and forgive. The following are some suggestions:
• Be sure to work through the stages of grief.
• Keep in mind that forgiveness relieves you of pain. It’s medicine for you.
• Think about the ways that resentment negatively holds you back and affects your life.
• Consider your contribution to the situation.
• Try to see the person’s behavior and attitude from his or her point-of-view in the context of their life experience. Did he or she intentionally try to hurt you? In other words, develop empathy, but this doesn’t justify abuse or mean you should forget they’re capable of repeating it.
• Praying for the other person is effective.
Sometimes we must forgive ourselves before we’re ready to forgive someone else. We often blame others when we feel guilty. We can hold onto resentment to avoid accepting responsibility for our actions or to avoid feeling guilty. Although it’s important to reflect upon and take responsibility for our contribution to the problem, we need to forgive ourselves for any part we played. It may be harder to forgive ourselves than someone else.
Reconciliation may or may not follow forgiveness. Sometimes, we must clearly recognize that the person we care about won’t change. Letting go of unrealistic expectations sets the stage for acceptance of reality. We may decide to continue the relationship on less intimate terms or with different boundaries that protect you.
The other person might not be willing to forgive us. Other people’s anger hurts them, and our anger hurts us. Remember that forgiveness increases our integrity and peace of mind. It heals the cracks in our heart.