What is Forgiveness?

Louise Hay and Robert Holden, Ph.D. Discuss Forgiveness

Louise and I are well into our second day of conversations on forgiveness. The rain is still falling in San Diego. Strong gusts of wind blow against the windows. The low-flying clouds move fast through the air. Periodically, small patches of blue break through the ceiling of grey. The sun is up there somewhere. We’ve been indoors most of the time, doing our inner work, save for one trip to Whole Foods, to stock up for dinner. Our conversations have been intense, full of insight, and healing. There’s always something new to learn about forgiveness. A little willingness goes a long way.

“Louise, what is real forgiveness?” I ask, digging for more insights.

“Forgiveness is letting go,” she says.

“Letting go of what?”

“The past, guilt, resentment, fear, anger, anything that is not love,” she says.

“That feels good,” I tell her.

“Real forgiveness feels good,” says Louise, smiling. “So, what helps us to let go?”

“Well, in my case, what helped me was under-standing my parents’ childhoods,” she says.

“What did you learn?”

“My stepfather had a very troubled childhood. Both parents physically abused him. He was punished repeatedly for not doing well at school. He had a twin brother who went to an insane asylum. He never mentioned his mother. He fled from Switzerland to the United States at an early age. He ran away, like I had to.”

“How did this understanding help you?”

“Understanding doesn’t condone what happened,” she says emphatically. “Crucially, it gave me perspective. It helped me to have compassion for myself and, later on, for him as well. Most of all, it helped me to let go of the belief that it was all my fault.”

“Forgiveness really is letting go,” I say, as I let this sink in.

“Yes, it is,” she agrees.

Healing is a release from the past. Everyone’s past includes some disaster and pain. There is only one way to survive your past, and that is to practice forgiveness. Without forgiveness, you can’t get past your history. You feel stuck. Your life isn’t moving on, because you haven’t moved on. The present can’t comfort you because you’re not really here. The future looks like more of the same because you only see your past. In reality, the past is over, but it isn’t over in your mind. That’s why you’re still in pain.

Until you forgive, you will keep giving your future to the past.

However, forgiveness teaches you that, who you truly are has nothing to do with what happened in your past. Your experiences are not your identity. They can have a big effect on you, but they do not define you. What you did to another person or what they did to you is not the end of your story. When you can say, “I am not my past,” and “I am willing to forgive my past,” you can create a new future.

With forgiveness, a new chapter begins.