We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
– Albert Einstein
Never Forgive Him
She showed up at my front door before work at 7am this morning with the most troubled, despondent expression on her face (which is not typical of her disposition). “I’m sorry I didn’t call,” she said. “But I haven’t slept all night, and I really need to talk to someone. I just need some advice.”
I invited her in and poured her a cup of coffee. “So, what’s on your mind?” I asked.
“Last night my husband told me something about his college years that he never told me before,” she said in a shaky voice. “And I completely disagree with his actions. It’s horrible, really… and I just can’t stop thinking about it! I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive him.”
“Well, before you tell me anything else, let me ask you this: Why do you think your husband confided in you? I mean, why do you think he told you, now?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I guess he finally trusted me enough to tell me.”
“Did he commit a crime?” I asked.
“Was anyone physically or emotionally hurt by his actions?”
“No, not really.”
“So, how do you feel about him right now? Do you still love him?”
“Of course I do,” she replied.
“And whatever he did back in college, do you think he learned his lesson? Or do you think he would do it again?”
“Oh, I’m fairly certain he learned a big lesson,” she replied. “He actually teared up about it when he told me—he said he’s still ashamed of himself.”
“Okay, so let me get this straight then… Last night your husband finally felt that he trusted you enough to tell you about a dark secret from his college years. And although somewhat unsettling, he didn’t hurt anyone, and you think he learned his lesson, which means he grew emotionally from the experience. And to top it off, you’re still completely in love with him. So, what exactly can you never forgive him for?”
She sat in silence for a few seconds, made a crooked half smile, and then shook her head. I mimicked her facial expressions and shook my head back at her.
Then she started laughing. And so did I.
More About Us, Less About Them
Sometimes the problems we have with others—our spouse, parents, siblings, etc.—don’t really have much to do with them at all, because these problems are actually about us.
And that’s okay. It simply means these little predicaments will be easier to solve. We are, after all, in charge of our own decisions. We get to decide whether we want to keep our head cluttered with events from the past, or instead open our minds to the positive realities unfolding in front of us.
All we need is the willingness to look at things a little differently—letting go of “what happened” and “what should never have been,” and instead focusing our energy on “what is” and “what could be possible.”
Because, as my friend discovered this morning, sometimes the only problem standing in our way is the one we created in our head.
Does anything really need to be forgiven here?
That’s a question I challenge you to ask yourself first, whenever you feel like my friend felt when she arrived at my doorstep this morning. It’s a simple question that can provide a necessary dose of perspective when your emotions are surging. And, it’s a practice Marc and I often discuss with our course students and live event attendees when forgiveness is at stake in their personal relationships.
The bottom line is that letting go of the need to forgive every misstep and mistake a person makes can be mentally and emotionally freeing for everyone involved.
Truly, there is an obvious shift in our hearts and minds that happens when we go from feeling hurt and upset to peaceful and loving, but it’s not necessarily forgiveness that’s taking place, it’s just the realization that there was nothing to forgive in the first place. Because mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom, and sometimes they just need to be accepted with no strings attached.
To help you wrap your head around this concept, try to look at your situation from a distance. Imagine a more seasoned, wiser and more compassionate version of yourself sitting at the mountaintop of life, looking down and watching as the younger-minded, present version of you stumbles your way through life.
You see yourself holding on to false beliefs and making obvious errors of judgment as you maneuver through life’s many obstacles. You watch the children of the world growing up in challenging times that test their sense of self-confidence, yet they push forward bravely. You see the coming generation radiating with passion and love as they fail forward, learning through their mistakes.
And you have to wonder: Would this wiser version of yourself conclude that almost everyone in their own unique way was doing their very best? And if everyone is trying to do their best, what really needs to be forgiven? Not being perfect?
Obviously, there is NOT a one-size-fits-all answer to anything in life, and forgiveness is no exception. Some situations are far more complicated than others. But in any case, let’s do our best to challenge our minds with a necessary dose of perspective whenever our emotions are surging. Let’s learn from our mistakes, and let others learn from theirs. Let’s embrace our imperfections, and let others embrace theirs…
And, let’s begin again, together, with a little more acceptance, compassion, and peace of mind.
Afterthoughts & Questions…
As I’m wrapping up this short essay, I’m reminded of a quote Marc wrote in our New York Times bestselling book:
“Forgive yourself for the bad decisions you made, for the times you lacked understanding, for the choices that hurt others and yourself. Forgive yourself, for being young and reckless. These are all vital lessons. And what matters most right now is your willingness to grow from them.”
Don’t you just love that compassionate sentiment? I sincerely wish such compassion for myself and for everyone else.
. . .
And finally, I’d love to know what YOU think of this essay.
Did it resonate with you?
What’s on your mind right now?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Thank you for emailing me the link to this essay. There is no doubt in my mind that we have a tendency to set up “rules” about how the world should be and how others should act. And oftentimes these rules are one-sided and a bit close-minded. We get upset because someone doesn’t behave the way we expect. Although some rules do make sense–like you point out—“don’t hurt others”–other rules we come up with are just completely arbitrary. The problem is just in our heads sometimes, and it’s great to be reminded of this.
Ps. I just purchased early bird tickets to your Think Better, Live Better 2019 conference. I attended back in 2016 and I’m looking forward to attending again.
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for the thoughtful response. We are looking forward to seeing you at TBLB 2019 in San Diego. 🙂
James Hanes says
Such a great point about forgiveness and acceptance of others and ourselves. It really does come down to choice and perspective on most days. How are we going to choose to view situations? And how we are going to choose to allow old events to impact our present reality and experiences? Sometimes it’s simply about getting out of our own way, and allowing others the space to save face. Great essay! And I’m also reading your book right now too, and LOVING it! Thank you both.
Marc Chernoff says
Thank you for the positive feedback, James. It’s so nice to hear you’re enjoying our newest book, too. 🙂
M&A, I just wanted to quickly say that I’m excited to attend your 2019 conference. I literally just got tickets when the email for this post came through. And I’m so glad I just took a moment to read it. I’ve never been to one of your conference events before, but this post reaffirms my hunch that I’m going to appreciate it.
I so agree with the premise here! Sometimes taking a step back and realizing the complete situation helps. It is also important to try to not judge people based on their pasts. Forgiveness is letting go.
Marc Chernoff says
Hi Monica. We are sincerely looking forward to meeting you in San Diego in February. 🙂
I need to forgive myself for my poor parenting. I was harsh, overwhelmed and not safe for my kids.
I think I need clarity when it comes to what forgiveness looks like when healing is still happening. When I am still reaping what I have sown.
What does it look like to forgive myself when my kids have not completely forgiven me?
I think I confuse forgiving myself with not wanting to feel the pain of the damage I did.
I have been in a similar circumstance. My 28 year old son still has anger about a decision I made affecting him when he was young. Just recently, I received some clarity about it and this is what I told him: the decision I made then was what I thought was best for you and your brother. You may not be happy with it, but I did the best I could out of my love for you both. I’ve beaten myself up for it for a long time, but I can’t do that anymore. I’ve apologized and explained my reasons for the last time. If you still have problems with this after all this time and can’t let go, perhaps you should talk to someone who can help you do that. This has brought me some much needed peace and I hope it helps you too.
John Dean says
Damn…you are good!!!!! I will get you that outline.
The most talented person I have ever met. (Not smartest..but talented)..lol
Lisa Duerlinger says
I really liked the suggestion to imagine yourself on top of a mountain looking down… Seeing the bigger picture. I’m struggling with my attitude toward three young girls at work who spend a great deal of time on social media and doing online shopping instead of working. We all work for a non-profit organization, so to me, getting paid for doing nothing is the same as stealing. The boss tends to just look the other way…I think she just wants to be liked. It’s a frustrating situation, and I’m trying to extend grace to these girls, so your essay was helpful for my situation. Thank you.
Perla Milner says
Good morning.., just when I needed this… thank you so much for guiding my thoughts to forgiving myself in order to move on.?
The lesson learned from this story make sense but what if you can’t step back and let go of a past event.
I’m currently dealing with regret in my life and as much as this story make sense and can be applied to my situation, the past keeps tearing me down. It’s not as simple as just letting go when the regret has taking your life over.
Nicely said, makes sense! Thank you, although we do not live unaffected by our loved ones and may feel we offend them by living our best lives. As I grow older I am (as are many) more apt to step out of the caretaker roll for a bit of time to travel, hike, ski or explore even if my husband does not. I am acting on faith, not history that he will still love enough to be kind. I am not sure he will continue to “forgive” me or will ever want to experience these same adventures. He finds interests on his screens, he observes rather than participates. It is a life choice. Help,
I understand this. And so I don’t believe that “conditional love” is love at all. It was contempt and revenge, deceit and infidelity. I became so shredded that I had to leave to save my “self” even though I am not young and wasn’t certain that I would have the means to live independently. What faith did do was give me the courage to claim what was what was mine agressively and effectively. I wouldn’t say it feels like a victory, but I have what I need and I gained a measure of self respect.
I don’t really understand forgiveness…..Letting go for your own peace of mind isn’t the definition I grew up to understand, and emotional abuse is so damaging. So in that sense it is still out of my reach. I work on this. The guidance and encouragement from these emails, many friends and reading helps.
In the mean time I am, at last, the master of my fate and the captain of my soul, as the poem suggests, and I’m incredibly grateful for that every single day. It is no small thing.
Deanna Day Young says
I have to forgive myself. And I have to forgive my daughter. Jesus said we must forgive 70 x 7 and it didn’t mean keep track until you hit 490. It meant just keep forgiving. It’s hard sometimes. Sometimes we have to remove ourselves from certain situations but still forgive and then we are free. I heard a speaker once say that unforgiveness is like carrying around a 10 pound bag of flour and once you set it down, you are lighter and free. I want to be free!
Jennifer Tober says
About 5 yrs ago I went thru a horrible situation at work where an individual I worked with spread a horrible rumor about amogst the industry we work in. No one stood by my side. No one defended me or even showed me any support. It affected my life so detrimentaly that I have not worked in the business since then. No one will hire me. I have found no way to forgive it. I don’t know that I can. I’ve been forced to find a different career path that has taken me away from what I loved doing the most. How do I forgive this.
This article is beautiful. I thanked my boyfriend for sending me a Marcandangel.com article once. I subscribed and always look forward to your emails. Thanks so much for nourishing my soul with beautiful essays despite the madness of work. Thanks a lot!
I am 52. In a relationship that involves temper tantrums by my husband. Been that way for years.
I question myself about my decisions and judgement. Example; who am I to judge?
Nobody is perfect.
Caught in a dilemma to say the least…..
Sanket Pusalkar says
This post came to me at the time when i am angry with a friend of mine for something that he did. I know we will be fine after some time, but for now i feel angry about it and dont feel like sorting things myself.What to do when you know things will be alright but want some time for yourself to coll down about what happened.
Tami Howe says
Oh, this is the where the rubber meets the road! What is forgiveness, what needs to be forgiven, why we need to let things go, and how to decide which things fall into which categories. And finally…getting out of our own way and coming to terms with ourselves and our own feelings. After all, forgiving benefits the giver by dropping a bit more of that baggage that we all drag along. The forgiven need to come to their own terms with their own feelings. Which is really all any of us can do – manage our own reactions to events in our lives.
Nickeisha Williams says
I look forward to these emails each week, but I don’t always get the time to read. When I do it’s so worth it! I love your articles all the way from Kingston Jamaica
Wow. Recently, about 3 months ago, I completely cut off a best friend of 12 years. One of the biggest reasons, was I felt like I could no longer confide in him. Everything I would say seemed to lead to an argument and I am a very chill and easy going person. I don’t like to argue or debate, I am just okay with people confiding in each other and speaking their mind without anyone judging them or trying to make them feel less than they should.
After a while I realized, that my daily thoughts I would share to my best friend, were for some reason triggering him to try to tell me things like, “you shouldn’t have done that” or “now you know better” or “maybe you should change”. Those things are for me to decide. I have had many friends who have never acted this way and after I moved on, I feel very, very free. I am glad I cracked open my shell and searched, and found, new friends who may or may not be like minded but sure as hell I can confide in. I live by one rule, speak the truth and never lie to yourself, and sometimes, the truth is not what people want to hear.
One thing that helped me get over this “break up” is to write, I began writing and blogging again and so far it has helped a lot. I see why you guys write. Thank You.