How to Forgive, Forget, and Let Go (And Be Way Holier Than Jesus)

how to forgiveForgiveness might be the hardest thing.  When you’re hurt.  When you’re wronged.  When they’re deserving of your contempt, your hatred, your vengeance.

But…

Browsing online tonight, I came upon something – a plea from a father looking for help with his son, a boy he had become estranged from for many years following his divorce.

The kid had been sent to live with him recently because the mother had developed an addiction to whatever substance and was no longer able to care for herself, let alone another.

After all that neglect, and all that abandonment, the now teenage kid has problems.

He acts out.  He has relationships with older men.  He hates the father, and tells him every day – both in his words, and his actions.

Everyone online began chiming in with parenting advice – how he has to be firmer, he has to talk to the boy, he has to establish rules and enforce them.

Some said he has to listen, or pray, give up, or send him off.  A lot just ripped him apart – blaming him for everything, as if he’d purposely been absent from the kid’s life all those years his ex-wife refused to let him see him.

Most, though, just felt pretty sorry for him, and sorry for what had become of his family.

They saw a home pretty much wrecked and broken; a child doing everything he could to ruin his life; a father crying out, desperate to help a troubled and spiraling son.

I saw the kid most of all.

I saw a kid who needs help dealing with what’s been dealt to him.

A teen with the ability to be better, but too stuck in the pain of his past to let himself be so.

A boy who’d need forgiveness, if he’s ever to become a man.

Here was a child whose family had completely disintegrated in a matter of a few years, though a family that was obviously never healthy to begin with.

For the entirety of his childhood, he was witness to the fighting of his parents.  He saw their anger and scorn, their vengeance and hate.

He was subject to their neglect, the object of their abandonment.

And I’m sure it sucked.

But despite it all, at least there was a continuity and familiarity to it.  And so he was largely able to handle it for awhile, despite his parents’ fighting, despite their mistakes.

But then, his parents divorce.  His father leaves for years.  And his mother develops an addiction.  And suddenly there’s no food on the table, no one home when he gets home, no one to depend upon, trust, believe in.

A broken home.  Bad freaking parents.

And when his mother finally hits rock-bottom, he’s shipped to (of all people) the man who abandoned him.  And now everyday this man – essentially a stranger despite being his father – tells him he loves him, and that he’s ready to be now what he was not before…

A father.

And the thing is…he’s sincere.  It really did seem so.

The father does care.  He does love him.  He does want – more than anything – to see their lives improve, to see them be and become closer.

But, do you think the son believes him?  Do you think he trusts him?  Does he have a reason to at all?

No.

He hasn’t forgiven him.  He hasn’t let go.

He doesn’t want to.

Forgiveness, though…

…is a weird thing.  We demand it all the time.  We demand apologies all the time – from loved ones, from strangers, from companies even too.

But we never truly accept these apoligies.  We never forgive.

The woman who discovers her husband’s infidelity demands he make amends.  She establishes conditions on taking him back.  She sets rules for his future conduct.  She asks for an apology – a sincere and genuine admission of his guilt and remorse – and a promise that he will be better.

He gives her all this.  Maybe he doesn’t mean it.  But maybe – like so often’s the case – he truly does.

But ever since they “worked it out” she’s become more possessive.  She checks his phone, his emails, his alibis.  She demands to know where he is and who he’s with.  And worse yet, in every mundane argument – about bills, about the house, about the kids – she brings up the affair as leverage.

“You did that, and so you owe me this.”

“How can I trust you now?”

“You cheated.”

No matter what happens and who’s at fault he is always to blame – because it was him who did that horrible thing however long ago.

He’s reminded, then, of what he did everyday, both of his own personal guilt, and because she holds it over him at every possible opportunity.

Was there forgiveness?

-

The boy in the story was mistreated and abandoned.

His father left him.  His mother couldn’t care for him.  When the parents separated, they lied to him and used him as means of revenge on each other.  His life, his feelings, his well-being were always secondary to their hate of each other.  Now his father has returned and genuinely wants to repair what’s been done.  He’s apologized and done everything he can think of to make it right, but the boy continues to act out.  He’s made his father’s suffering the sole purpose of his life, and he’s doing a damn good job.

Was there forgiveness?

-

When I was younger, I was pretty much the same kinda jerk.

When someone would piss me off, I would simply shut down.  I wouldn’t hide from them.  I wouldn’t even necessarily avoid them.  But I stopped talking to them, and I held this emotionless, cold face if they’d speak to me.  In my mind, they didn’t even deserve an expression, an acknowledgment, my attention at all.  They became a ghost to me, and it would stay that way – I would stay that way – sometimes for weeks, until whatever arbitrary conditions in my mind had been met, or until I simply couldn’t stand the energy it took being so pissed off.

Sometimes they wouldn’t even know what they did.  It was most often something they had just said, likely something about me being shy or unable to talk to people, or maybe something that made me feel weak and useless, as I did feel inside.  They’d get angry, asking me what was wrong and why I was acting like that.  And it just made me angrier that they couldn’t figure it out themselves.

There was no forgiveness.

But…

…I would not be the man I am today without forgiveness.

I would not be able to function, to smile, to be happy, if I still held inside every grudge, every mistake, every wrong never avenged.  And you cannot overcome your personal broken home without forgiveness.

You can’t move on if you continue to dwell upon the past.  You can’t be healed when you pick at wounds long since made whole.  You can’t claim to be innocent if you forever exploit what has befallen you and those who’ve hurt you as the means and ammunition to exact suffering on those people, or any other.

Most think forgiveness is simply accepting an apology, and so that’s what they do.  They demand an apology.  They argue, and blame, and guilt, and they receive it.  They tell the other that everything is fine and that they can both now “move on”.

But they don’t.

Because in their minds, the wrong committed has created a debt to be repaid, and whether now or in the future, they feel a need and a right to be made whole.

So they ignore the person (as I did), or act out (as the boy does), or abandon their trust in their partner (as the wife does) until that person “earns” that trust once more.

And so what was a single mistake made, or several mistakes made, in the foolishness of someone’s past, becomes a burden they bear forever, until the person wronged decides they have done enough, endured enough, suffered enough.

Or, maybe things do somewhat return to normal.  Maybe they do let it go.  But only for a time.  Only until they too commit their own wrong, at which point they say:

“But you did it to me first.”

What the fuck…

That is NOT forgiveness.  And it’s no more right than the wrong you feel you are righting.

Forgiving someone begins…

…with understanding everyone.

Because forgiveness is not possible without empathy.  Fixing your broken home is not possible without empathy.

Because, as a product of their own circumstances, as we all are, these people who hurt you became who they are, and – given their circumstances and beliefs – could have been no other.  They are who you would be if you had learned what they learned, experienced what they experienced, and lived the lives that they live.  If you were these people, put in that same situation, having become the people they are because of the things they have seen, you would behave as they behave and think as they think.  You would do just as they have done.  You would do the exact same thing.

“There but for the grace of God…”

This doesn’t mean they are without blame, of course.  Because actions have consequences.  And those who wrong others rightly suffer those consequences.

If the wife leaves the husband, for instance, because of what he has done and done to her – if that’s what she decides is best life for her and the proper punishment to him - then so be it.

He earned that fate.

But don’t feign forgiveness.

Don’t use forgiveness as a means of revenge, a weapon to be weilded, a card in your pocket.  Don’t accept someone’s sincere apology as a bludgeon against they you claim to have forgiven.

It’s wrong.  And it’s not forgiveness.

So, screw forgiveness…

Screw demanding apologies to collect and to stow.

Because the problem with forgiveness is that it’s an imaginary remedy for a problem which doesn’t exist.

We demand apologies because they cement in the relationship that they are wrong and that we are the victim.  We get a certain and perverse pleasure out of this, out of having wounds to lick, out of the power and authority that those wounds allow us to possess over the other person.

They commit a wrong, but we gain control.

They screw us over, but we are superior.

But the truest forgiveness comes from the acknowledgment that there is nothing to forgive; that another’s words, another’s behaviors, another’s decisions have no effect on our well-being – no matter how painful it may seem, or wrong they may be.

Because no matter what might have been said, or what might have been done; no matter what injury they may have caused, or scar they may have inflicted, you are still You.

They didn’t touch it truly.  They can never touch it truly.

That’s forgiveness.

That’s realizing that another’s words and actions can only cut so deep – as deep as you let it, as deep as you allow it, as deep as you choose to believe it.

But as people we rarely evoke such forgiveness – the only real forgiveness.

We never truly forgive, or forget, or let go.

We never let ourselves be the better person – our best person – choosing vengeance instead, and hatred instead; feigning our imagined or long since healed injuries for days, for months, for years.

To no one’s benefit.  To our own ruin.

Until we realize that forgiveness itself is useless.  Because forgiveness can only exist where there is a victim.

But you are not a victim.

Quit pretending to be one because someone called you a name, or broke your trust.

Quit feeling you’re owed sympathy or sadness because someone left, or never returned.

You are still You.

And if I have a broken heart today because of what someone has said or done to me yesterday, it is because I am – in some way – weak enough inside as to derive all sense of my happiness and comfort from their acceptance, their behaviors, their very presence in my life.

If I have a broken heart today, it is because I am weak enough to be even capable of such a broken heart – of such depression or anger based on the words and actions of another.

Fuck that.

It’s stupid.

Anger’s fine for a time.  A period of mourning is normal.  Hurt is understandable.

It’s human.

But people rarely keep it at that.

They draw it out.  They keep the wound fresh as long as they can – months, years, a lifetime into the future so that their victim identity, their sob story, can endure.  So that they can say that what has become of their life is the fault of another, and thus absolve themselves of any responsibility for how they feel and how they are.

Let go, though…

Not just in word, but in reality.

Forget that shit that’s long since passed, and long since hurt.

Forget their words.  Forget their actions.  Forget them.

Or forgive them.

Truly forgive them.

There are no other options.  None other that help you or improve you.  None that heal you or free them.

Just forgive.

Because that day of hurt and pain is dead and gone.

You should be smiling now.

___

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About Adam Austyn

Adam is the founder of, and principal contributor to, The Last Broken Home, a site dedicated to the journey from teen depression to self esteem, as well as the effect, nature, and problems of our youth. If you're cool too, follow him on TWITTER and FACEBOOK!

18 Responses to How to Forgive, Forget, and Let Go (And Be Way Holier Than Jesus)

  1. Vanda Corna says:

    Hi, I found this website from stumbleupon. It is not blog post I would regularly read, but I liked your spin on it. Thanks for making an article worth reading!

    • Langlang says:

      My first real love broke up with me by shniwog me her new boyfriend after I came back from working up northern BC. No warning, nothing. Despondent for months, until one day I decided I was wasting my life over something I couldn’t change.I think the hardest thing for people to get over is not the person so much as the feeling you once had. It’s like kicking an addiction you know it’s not good for you, you can’t go back, but still: it’s there until it goes away. And it does.

      • Adam Austyn says:

        Yeah the old feeling is the hardest part, and that it seemingly disappeared from this other person overnight. You can’t help but think they’re like evil or something for what they’ve done, but you just realize they did what was best for them, as you would too, and it’s easier to forgive.

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Thanks!

  2. downfromtheledge says:

    “The problem with forgiveness is that it is an imaginary remedy for a problem which does not exist.” I keep reading that sentence over and over, taking it in a little more each time.

    Really, what is it that we hope will undo the past? Because that’s probably the only thing that would give us the feeling we’d like to have. There’s an illusion that something a person says or does can make up for what they have done in the past, but when you ask yourself what would really make a difference to you … it’s hard to find an answer. The sh*t is over and done with, like you said.

    I think all you’ve said is an interesting way to look at it, and it’s hard to take that look at yourself and see what you become when you allow the anger and bitterness to change you. I am only starting to find my way out of the darkness, but this helps.

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Totally agree. We just wish we could undo it, and since we can’t we feel this revenge is our only way of even coming close to making it right. It’s the only satisfaction we can muster from this thing that otherwise makes us sick and angry. Guess it’s a natural reaction, but obviously not too helpful really. Love your pretty damn insightful comments!

      • Piotr says:

        You are correct that ‘letting go’ is not easy, in fact it is the most dfuciiflt, yet necessary thing to do when you have been ‘offended’. It is the only way to life a life free of emotional bondage.I have been ‘offended’ in ways that I am most certain that you could never imagine, and I was determined for many years not to ‘let go’(forgive). I wanted to punish my ‘offenders’ and was afraid that my forgiveness would condone their vile acts.I have learned, through much suffering, that the only way to move forward was to ‘let go’ of the emotional ties that were keeping me from living my life to its happiest potential. I have never condoned, nor will I ever forget these vile acts, but they do not have power over me anymore.’Letting go’ is the ONLY way:)P.S. I did not learn this through any religion that I studied, but through the help of some very wise, and loving people that are in my life:)

      • Adam Austyn says:

        Understandable Piotr. You’ve obviously worked hard on letting go. For me forgetting has been the most valuable. Cause so long as it’s in the forefront of my mind, I think it’s hard not to let it affect you in my relationship with that person in some way.

    • Diana says:

      Two people inlstnaty come to mind when I think forgiveness My husband and my step-dad. All through high school, my step-dad (who has now admitted to this, since finding Christ) did everything in his power to make my life harder. I was already struggling with depression and self-esteem issues because I had just started to really make friends when they decided to get married. We had to move to the other side of the country. I had an even harder time making friends in California. I didn’t agree with a lot of things my peers were doing, I was extremely shy and just packed on another shell to hide my true self when we moved, and on top of that, my step-dad refused to ever let me leave the house without the rest of the family. He has changed a lot, but in some ways he hasn’t. I still have some problems with him, although I’ve learned better, more mature ways to deal with these problems. I’ve forgiven him for a lot but I am definitely still a long way from the end of that journey. As for my husband, we have just had a LOT f ups and extreme downs. With both people I listed, there was a lot of emotional/psychological abuse as well as small amounts of physical abuse. That is something that I have always been afraid of and felt I would never be able to forgive someone for. I CAN’T forgive someone for it. However, I have given it to God and he can cleanse that from our lives and our minds. Things are not fully resolved, but we are working to eliminate these things and to forgive and leave the past in the past.

    • Adam Austyn says:

      At least your trying Diana! Thanx for reading!

  3. Chris says:

    Yes Adam, I was actually smiling by the end of this article. And I see what you mean – what he did , he did it to himself, not to me. Why should I accept and carry any hurt because of his actions? Now I just need to deal with the thoughts that still bombard me

    Thank you for that new and refreshing take on forgiveness.

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Glad you liked it, Chris. The thoughts def suck but once you know you shouldn’t care, you can’t unknow it, and it gets harder and harder to keep being angry. Hopefully at least.

  4. lukkhi says:

    thanks adam,
    a different and a very helpful outlook.
    Am going through this crisis of separation.No amount of request is turning things for good.And sometimes the very though that he is not there ,makes me feel strange and so sad.
    But somehow I can relate all that with what you thought and have articulated.

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Thanks. I think of all things, a separation is probably the hardest to move on from. People get hurt, people die, misfortune happens, but it’s just so hard seeing someone’s love for you and care for you disappear. It’s just not easy to comprehend – and your mind keeps reminding you of how it used to be and you keep wondering why it can’t be like that again. It sucks…

      You seem though like you’re at least seeking out the right king of things to help. It’s the best first step. Good luck!

  5. Heather says:

    I agree that one must be able to “let go” to move on. But, I’d like to know others’ opinions on things that happened in childhood, things that were abusive, things that altered the mental chemistry and brain synapses’ abilities to make positive connections. Abuse that happens in early childhood will have that affect on neural development of a child. What about people who, in adulthood, suffer from PTSD because of ongoing childhood abuse? I don’t agree it is the fault of the abusee that he/she is experiencing unhappiness in adulthood because he/she is allowing it. How can you stop dwelling on the past when you’re brain has been programmed from an early age to trigger itself into a depression, or isolation, or anxiety, through an involuntary biological survival mechanism? I just think there is more to it than simply asking yourself how much of this am I allowing? It’s hard to forgive an abuser when you struggle with severe PTSD symptoms daily.

    For a majority of people though, this is a very healing way of looking at being wronged, and certainly a refreshing definition of “forgiveness.”

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Some obviously have a more difficult time with their past than others, but no person, ever, has been forced to think or believe a certain thing. No person has ever had their thoughts implanted in their head – negative or positive – like some kind of blank hardware. Which means at some level, to some degree, every belief you have was allowed by yourself – even if, at certain ages, we’re so vulnerable and impressionable that we believe that type of mental or emotional abuse to be immoral, and in some cases criminal.

      Obviously, though, no article could speak to every possible circumstance. But for the vast majority of people on this earth, their thoughts can be changed, their moods can be changed, their brains can be “reprogrammed”. Obviously someone laying naked, rocking in the fetal position at home is probably beyond the help of any article online. But excluding literal medical insanity, and certain mental and developmental disorders that cause people to – in a sense – lose touch with reality, most everyone else can change how they feel about whatever past experiences. They can sever the connection between a thought and the literal pain that thought causes, and can make it so the thought means, to them, less and less.

      The brain, when not medically fundamentally flawed, is capable of any adaption.

  6. Mary says:

    Hi Adam,
    I have tried various sites and hope you can listen. I have an adult daughter who is estranged from me. Her only explanation is I should know why. But I don’t. She was raised with values and it is like she is entitled to everything . She is disrespectful and hateful. She ignores her family and it is heartbreaking to have to apologize over and over again. She buys expensive gifts for her 2 year old nieces but never spends time with them. It is all about her. She makes her husbands family hers. What do you do when your daughter doesn’t want you? What do you say to say goodbye you will not hurt me ever again .

    • Adam Austyn says:

      Sorry to hear it, Mary. That’s tough.

      The thing is, I could give you the most logical arguments to make to her to help her see why she’s being unreasonable. And I could give you the most poetic words to say to her to help her feel why she’s being unfair. But the truth is, no one can be convinced to change when they don’t want to change.

      What I mean is, I’m sure you’ve talked to her, I’m sure you’ve explained to her, I’m sure you’ve pleaded with her, and most importantly, I’m sure you meant it all. But the difference has to come from her. It has to change in her. SHE has to realize on her own what’s she’s done and what she misses – by her own regret.

      And so I’d say don’t give up, don’t say some angry goodbye. Never stop being there for her. Never stop being available. Do every good deed though it may never be returned in kind simply because it’s the right thing to do, the loving thing to do. And don’t let the days you remain apart ruin you. Don’t let them discourage you.

      One day she may return. And if she never does, it was never because of you. You’ve been a Mom to be proud of.

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