Is an apology necessary before you can forgive someone? Absolutely not.
Of course, forgiveness is a decision that only you can make for yourself, at a time you are ready, but, despite what you may have heard, there is no rule that says someone has to apologize prior to forgiveness. And the benefits of forgiving are many, for ourselves and for the people in our lives.
Long before I ever entered the field of conflict transformation, I had been on a spiritual path, finding forgiveness of myself and others crucial tools for healing. I quickly realized that many of my conflict coaching clients and students were holding on to grudges or resentments, as I had. And I knew that no tools or skills, no matter how valuable, would help them resolve a conflict unless they, too, could let go.
So, I began teaching forgiveness practices and skills to my conflict management students. One piece of the training was what I called forgiveness myth busting. I would run through a list of common misconceptions about forgiveness and “demystify” each of them.
One Myth: You can’t forgive someone unless they apologize first.
Truth: Apologies are lovely, but if you are holding on to bitterness, you are the one being harmed. A better goal than waiting for an apology or for revenge, is to find a way to let go, without an apology if necessary.
How can you do you forgive without an apology?
You have to believe it is worthwhile to let go. I do guided visualizations with clients and students, and ask them to look at the impact holding the resentment or grudge is having on them. It is rarely good! It affects your engagement with life and your physical health. I offer an experience of what it feels like to let go.
Forgiveness is actually something we do for ourselves, so we won’t be filled with bitterness. It isn’t about the other person deserving or earning forgiveness, it is about giving ourselves the gift of a peaceful heart. And it is about finding compassion for the other person’s life and story, known or unknown.
Rather than depending on the actions of another person, you can give yourself what you need. As Shawne Duperon, who worked on The Forgiveness Project with Desmond Tutu, said, “Forgiveness is accepting the apology you will never receive.”
This quote resonates deeply with me, because I did accept an apology I would never ever have received.
When I was a tenured professor at a community college, my students were great, but it was a toxic, back biting, and prejudiced environment. I was bullied and mobbed there by administrators and other faculty. As well as doing my best to stick up for myself in practical ways, I also used all the spiritual tools I could. When I realized my powerless rage and bitterness were eating me up inside, I knew I needed to turn to forgiveness. While I was still at the college, I prayed for the healing of all the perpetrators. I prayed to release bitterness, rage, resentment, so I could be free.
And when I left and they sent me a stiff say nothing letter thanking me for my service, I wrote my own letter, just for me, thanking myself for everything I contributed while I was there, and apologizing in detail for their bad treatment of me. I wrote it, and then I truly claimed it, and the apology I gave myself, that I never would have received from them, helped me heal and let go.
We never have to forgive anyone or anything if we don’t want to, but from my own experience and that of my clients, every bit of forgiveness is well worth the effort. It increases joy, well being, and serenity! I wish that for all of you.
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