“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” ~Catherine Ponder
Somewhere in the middle of my freshman year of college, my best friend from high school broke up with me. Out of nowhere, she just stopped talking to me. I tried relentlessly to reconnect, but she stopped responding and never gave me an answer why.
For years it was the most painful heartbreak I had going in my life. It’s still what I consider my worst breakup. And it haunted me until I decided to forgive her.
Forgiveness sounded ludicrous to me at first, but eventually, the pain of carrying the grudge seemed like it might be worse than the pain of setting it down.
I heard a number of people in my life, including one of my yoga teachers, talk about the power of forgiveness. While I didn’t get there right away, I started to marinate on the idea of forgiving my former friend.
I became curious about what acceptance and non-attachment could look like with someone who had really hurt me. It took months after deciding that I wanted to forgive. Until one night, I was ready.
I drafted the email, did a small amount of Internet stalking, and sent it. I apologized for my role in the breakdown of our friendship, offered my forgiveness, and wished her well. I gave her the best last gift I could: to set my grudge down.
What surprised me was what I gained in the process.
1. Space and quiet
Forgiving gives us the space and quiet to invest in new people and nourishing ideas.
Once I let go, I stopped spinning the story in my mind over and over. My mind simply didn’t need to keep hanging on to the old narrative any more. It had space to cover new ground rather than rehashing yesterday’s news.
When I forgave my friend, I was also able to forgive myself for some past mistakes. Forgiveness requires practice, like anything else. It’s like developing a new muscle.
If I could let go of my greatest hurt, I could surely offer that same reprieve to myself. I’m now gentler with myself when I make mistakes. I know that offering myself compassion and then moving on from the situation is not only possible but much more loving.
3. Trust in others
I don’t see friendship through the same lens any more. I have more faith in the people in my life and understand that while friendships end, it’s not the end of the world. I live in my relationships more presently.
I don’t waste an opportunity to tell the people in my life what they mean to me. I trust in my friends. It took me a long time to get there, but forgiveness gave me back that capacity to trust in the people around me. By letting go of bitterness and cynicism, you too will be better able to trust in others again.
When I created the conditions for forgiveness and resolution, I was able to see our relationship clearly. I could also see the places where I was responsible and can now address those tendencies.
I also could see that the hurt was a relatively small part of our relationship. Most of it was filled with laughter, and being able to see that has been very healing. Forgiveness allows us to appreciate the good, without the lens of resentment over it.
I’m personally thankful for the memories and what I learned through that friendship. I’m grateful that I had this experience and for all the joy that our friendship brought me. I’ve grown a lot, and that wouldn’t have been possible without the process I’ve been through.
Forgiveness polished the hurt off my heart, and now all that’s left is gratitude. I also appreciate the preciousness of my new friendships and make a greater effort to actively nurture them.
We always gain something, even if it’s not immediately obvious. Forgiveness gives us the opportunity to recognize and appreciate that.
Forgiveness is a delicate thing, and very personal. I would never argue that you should forgive someone. But, if you are interested in exploring what forgiveness might mean in your circumstance, I invite you to get quiet first.
Cultivate a little bit of compassion for yourself, foremost, and meet this undertaking with curiosity (rather than an outcome in mind). What could that forgiveness look like? What might pave the way for forgiveness to be possible?
Before you can forgive others, you may need to forgive yourself for past hurts you’ve inflicted. Forgiveness is really a gift that you’re giving yourself; it’s not about absolution for the other person or excusing anything.
Ultimately, forgiveness takes a lot of non-attachment: to the initial incident, to anger, and to a desired response to this forgiveness. You may not get the answer or outcome you’re looking for, and that’s okay. The process (and it can be a long process) and the act of forgiveness are what matter here.
While I never heard back from this former friend, that felt surprisingly okay. I wasn’t attached to an outcome; I just wanted to stop carrying the load. So I did, and that was that.
Not having to carry that grudge has been a huge gift to me. I’ve learned so much about myself that I would never have otherwise—like knowing that I have the courage to forgive and see what’s on the other side. And that I get to choose to be free. You can too.