January 22, 2015

How to Ask For Forgiveness.


Recently, I got an unexpected message from someone from my past.

Namely, it was someone I’d had a bad relationship with and had no desire to ever be in contact again.

The purpose of his contacting me was to ask for forgiveness.

As I read his words, a flush of memories came back—bad memories that I had tried to clear my mind of for several years.

While part of me was touched he took the time to reach out to me, the other part of me wasn’t happy in the least. The truth was, I had moved past our relationship a long time ago, but I was not happy that he contacted me. I had no desire to dredge up those unpleasant memories or read, what I saw as a re-writing of history.

To put it bluntly, he may have wanted forgiveness, but I was not prepared to give it, at least not on the terms that he wanted.

Asking for forgiveness is popular.

There are numerous, books, articles and videos about it.

However, there is a right way and a wrong way to ask for it and many attempts are wrong.

The worst case scenario, the result can be more painful with the re-opening of old wounds, we thought has been healed over.

I have asked for forgiveness and had others have asked it of me—I have been on both sides of the fence. While every situation is different and ranges in degree of severity, there are some guidelines of asking for forgiveness.

Asking for forgiveness isn’t something we should take lightly or jump into without being mindful.

Just as the road to hell is often paved with good intentions, so can the road we take to forgiveness.

Therefore, before we pick up the phone or sit down to pen that letter or email, keep the following in mind:

1. What do we want when we say we want forgiveness?

While on the surface this may sound like one of those dumb questions, the truth is many of us seek forgiveness with a specific goal or outcome in mind: we want the person on the other end to accept it and/or to say they are over whatever we did.

However, in many cases they may not be.

Everyone is different and there are, arguably, some things that aren’t forgivable or may take a very long time to forgive

Are you prepared for the other person to say no? Are you prepared for them to be upset or angry?

If  “no” is the answer to either of these question then it may be a sign we aren’t ready to start asking for forgiveness.

2. How will  our life be different if the person does accept our forgiveness?

In my experience, people who have sought forgiveness and got it were letdown or not nearly as happy as they expected to be after being forgiven.

Sometimes there is a tendency to mistake forgiveness with being absolved of past behavior or bad deeds.

Forgiveness is not the same as saying, “What happened didn’t matter” or “It wasn’t that bad”. In fact, someone may indeed give sincere forgiveness while reminding us just how badly we acted. For some, the truth may be too painful.

If we aren’t ready to accept the hard truth, then it’s probably better not to seek out forgiveness.

3. How much or how little detail should be mentioned?

When one is asking for forgiveness, it is important that we say exactly what we want forgiveness for. However, especially in the cases were abuse or extreme betrayal of trust occurred, diving directly in specifics with a lot of details can be  traumatic for the victim and make them feel like they are re-living the event all over.

Like saying, “I’m sorry I cheated” is different than saying, “I’m sorry I cheated on you with your friend and lied about it to you on your birthday.” It’s better to leave it up to the victim if they want more or specific detail or want to talk at length about the incident.

When in doubt, less is more.

Asking for forgiveness is not an easy task.

No one can predict what will happen nor can iforgiveness be guaranteed, no matter how sincere our intentions.

In addition to asking ourselves these above questions, we also need to be prepared for not getting the forgiveness we seek nor at least not in the way we envision it.

In these cases, it is better to move on than to try and persuade someone to accept our forgiveness. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is make our case, accept the results and move on.

At the very least, asking for forgiveness can help us work on something just as important as the forgiveness of others—self-forgiveness.


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Author: Kimberly Lo

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr

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