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Dear Stavroula

Ask Stavroula: The Power and Difficulty of Forgiveness

"Sorry seems to be the hardest word," sings Elton John – and it seems he is right. The word ‘sorry’ is not always easy to say and it is even more difficult, when it is done, for forgiveness to follow.

Many of us believe that whether or not we forgive someone who has hurt us depends on their own behavior. In reality, however, forgiveness is a very personal matter that has more to do with our own needs than with the behavior of the other. And almost always the process of forgiveness requires effort and great struggle, first of all with ourselves.

Why, then, is it so difficult for us to forgive someone who has hurt us?

It seems that our ability to forgive has to do with some of our best-hidden and most intense emotions, because in this process are involved not only our experiences but also our self-esteem, the image we have of ourselves. It also has to do with our childhood and how we learned to manage negative emotions from childhood.

When someone hurts us, rejects us, or offends us, our first reaction is to feel anger that can even reach the level of hatred. In fact, it seems that even our most beloved people do not escape this reaction. In fact, this anger often takes the form of a desire for revenge. How many times have we not said the phrase "I want to cut him out of my life" or "I will pay him back with the same currency, so he understands."

Sometimes we even get to the point of breaking up with the person who hurt us. However, even this does not relieve us of the pain caused by the other's behavior. Even if we let time pass, what we have not forgiven continues to exist within us, like an open wound that bleeds at every opportunity. And the more we reproduce the trauma in our memory, the more persistent, deeper, more annoying it becomes.

So the more we do not forgive, the more we remain stuck in the past and the more we degrade ourselves and our relationships. In fact, if we are people who generally do not forgive others, there is a liklihood in the long run that we cannot enjoy our lives.

What can we do to reach redemptive forgiveness?

The first step to learning to forgive is to understand the negative emotions we experienced. We tend to protect ourselves from any negative feelings, which is why it is not easy for us to admit that we are hurt. But this way we deny the problem and shove it under the rug.

The second is to renounce the role of victim. It is convenient to always blame others for what happens to us – it relieves us of responsibilities and other unpleasant burdens. But this way we always have a distorted picture of reality.

It is also very important to try to understand that behind every behavior that bothers us there are reasons that we may not be aware of, causes that may be due to how one grew up.

Finally, what we usually find difficult to forgive in others, the behavior that causes us very strong emotions, may exist in some way in us. Let us not forget that each of us has weaknesses and flaws and in our own way might have hurt someone in the past or might hurt someone else in the future.

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