No Formula For Forgiveness

By: Alisa Tanaka, IATG ContributorApril 5, 2016


I’ve never been good at forgiveness. All the explanations of exactly how to forgive that I’ve come across have never (and I mean never) defined these concepts in a way that let me have a light bulb moment.


I thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d find an answer if I turned to social media. Maybe the thought was a naïve one on my part. I was hoping for an answer, a different answer than what I had seen before.


But that wasn’t the case.


When I asked Jamie Tworkowski (founder of the mental health nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms and New York Times bestselling author of If You Feel Too Much) how to forgive someone if the person who wronged you is (or was) a loved one, I was hoping for a practical answer, one I could start implementing the second I turned away from one of my many screens.


I bought those books, listened to those podcasts, watched those videos, talked to those people, all with the expectation that they would magically open up some kind of hidden door that would somehow lead to a shortcut that would have me on my knees while a chorus of “Hallelujahs” sounded everywhere.


Okay, maybe I’m being dramatic.


But I did expect some kind of shortcut. Some kind of straightforward, neatly packaged answer.  A neatly packaged answer was what I wanted, and a neatly packaged answer was not what I got.


After acknowledging that many people could relate to the question I had asked, he went on to add that it was a good conversation to have with a professional counselor.


Great conversation it may be, but that didn’t change the fact that the answer he gave wasn’t what I was looking for.


But what if counseling was a major part of the catalyst for the trauma you endured? I wanted to ask. What if you’ve tried the therapy-and-medicine route before, and nothing worked?


What if you can see that your loved one(s) had the best intentions, but you can’t move past the pain they caused you?


To answer this question, I took all of the advice given to me: I wrote letters that my loved ones will never see. I meditated. I tried every alternative healing method that I encountered.


I spoke to a therapist with my loved one in the room and one without them in the room. I wrote, read, and listened. The list is longer. And I did all of it.  I followed the formula and I still came up empty handed.


So now what?


I’d be lying if I said that I enjoy hefting this emotional boulder around with me everywhere; it’s exhausting, but I can’t just drop it like a hot potato. It’s a part of me.


And when things are a part of you, letting go of them is the scariest thing in the world.


Screw the 5-foot-long list on your wall that you’ve written, the countless books, podcasts, Buzzfeed articles, and Pinterest quotes. Most of the time, those things don’t provide an life-changing epiphany.


Letting go and forgiving are so much more complicated. There is no formula. You don’t find the numbers, enter said numbers into the formula, and emerge victorious with the right answer.


On one level, you understand why you should forgive. The resentment eats at you if you hold onto it long enough. No one wants to live their life being angry and bitter.


On another level, you feel that if you forgive, you’ll be letting your loved one off the hook, that “moving on” means acting like it never happened. And the truth is that it did happen. It happened, and it was one of most painful things you’ve ever experienced in your life.


I’m not trying to say that that’s how everyone should feel about forgiveness and letting go. This is just how I feel about those things in particular.


Forgiving isn’t easy, especially if the person who wronged you is someone you love. Stepping into the unknown, into beliefs that preach everything you haven’t believed up until this point is the scariest thing in the world. You want to cling to the safety blanket of the pain because it’s familiar.


The people who wronged you will sometimes think that they acted in your best interest. They will try to help. But sometimes you have to move forward on your own, feeling every bit of your pain until you are ready to let it go.


On your own terms.

Let’s Chat!

What do you need from forgiveness and where have you turned to help find it? Have some honest conversation with your friends about forgiveness: why is it so hard, but also so necessary?


About Alisa

ALISA_TANAKA_writer_bio.jpgAlisa Tanaka graduated from Lewis & Clark College with a B.A. in Communications in 2012. When she’s not writing her blog, she can be found reading, volunteering, dreaming of traveling the world, trying to master the 5 languages she speaks, or playing with her puppy.



Every girl is a work in progress. If you need more help, click here.

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  • commented 2016-04-07 15:28:10 -0700
    Alisa, when you forgive, you love; and when you love, god’s light shines on you. X
  • commented 2016-04-07 10:40:02 -0700
    ‘On another level, you feel that if you forgive, you’ll be letting your loved one off the hook, that “moving on” means acting like it never happened. And the truth is that it did happen. It happened, and it was one of most painful things you’ve ever experienced in your life’

    Moving on and trying again, means your loved one that caused you pain will have learnt their lesson and be there to comfort you and regain your trust through showing you love. We all learn from our past failures. It may be a scary thought and feel risky to open yourself up. But by not taking a chance on the loved one you may miss out on the treasured characteristics they have adapted and gained through realising the pain they have caused you and wanting to do better. If you really love them, you should be able to find the courage to believe that they can change and be good for you.
    You also need to realise that they fully understand the pain they caused you and it plays over and over in their mind also. They are hurting just as much as you because of the pain they caused you. Move forward together, while healing each other and realise your past failings will make your future together a bigger success than without it.
    If you don’t fail, you don’t learn. If you don’t learn, you’ll never change. Stars can’t shine without darkness. God bless
  • commented 2016-04-07 08:12:33 -0700
    Your article specifically says “had the best intenton”…what if they never even had any good intentions? Someone who sets out to destroy other people?
  • followed this page 2016-03-27 17:44:26 -0700

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