It is a fact of life -- you are not perfect. You will hurt someone, let them down, betray their trust or otherwise create a problem that requires someone to forgive you for an error or weakness. In like manner, others will hurt you and require you to forgive. Accepting forgiveness is sometimes the more difficult side of the coin because you must acknowledge -- at least to yourself -- that you've done something that requires it, but learning how to effectively and graciously accept forgiveness for your transgressions is part of being a whole, healthy person.
Acknowledge that you did something that requires forgiveness, even if you feel that you were in the right. Don't let your pride get in the way, and don't attempt to justify what you did or lay the blame on someone else. Accept that the person who feels you wronged him is willing to lay the matter to rest rather than allowing bitterness or anger to harm your relationship. If you also carry some anger and hurt regarding the issue, consider that you can completely wipe the slate clean for both of you by accepting his forgiveness and by forgiving him in return.
Apologize for whatever responsibility you had in creating the hurt. You do not need to rehearse the situation or add commentary. You can simply say, “I’m sorry that you were hurt. I accept your forgiveness and appreciate your willingness to offer it.” If you were hurt during the previous exchange, you could add, “I don’t hold any of what happened against you. I’m glad we are putting this to rest.”
Offer a handshake, hug or whatever physical connection seems appropriate to your relationship. If you don’t feel comfortable making a physical connection, at least offer a smile.
Forgive yourself for whatever part you had in the matter. Sometimes this is the hardest part -- especially when the wrong was something major. Accept that you are human and you don’t always do what is right. Acknowledge that you are a person like all others, and you have failings, but don't harbor guilt. Say to yourself, “She has forgiven me. I forgive me.” Let it go, learn from it and live a better life because you are forgiven.
Make amends if you feel it is important to the relationship and to your integrity. If you took something that wasn’t yours, return or replace it. If you betrayed a trust, work hard to earn it back. Making amends communicates your sincere wish to restore the relationship and to avoid a repetition of whatever caused the problem. It is a way to take full responsibility for your action, explains Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist and teacher of Buddhist mindfulness.
Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.
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