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Is forgiveness the poison, or the antidote?

"I can never forgive him."

How many times have you heard that?

We all want our own mistakes to be forgiven. But how many of us truly want to forgive? Especially on the big stuff.

Every time I write about forgiveness I get angry letters from people virtually shouting: Why should he/she be forgiven? What they did was wrong.

I would never minimize anyone's pain, but that's kind of the point of forgiveness. If they hadn't done something wrong, there would be no need to forgive them.

The whole act of forgiveness is predicated on the understanding that the other person committed a transgression.

I think one reason we're often reluctant to grant someone the grace of forgiveness is because we don't want to validate their bad behavior. We might forgive a spouse who forgets to bring home the dry cleaning. But if someone cheats on you, steals from you or does something even worse, we want them to have to pay for their actions.

And if they refuse to own up to it, forgiveness is even harder to find.

So how do you forgive a person who shows no remorse? And why would you want to?

Here's the big secret about forgiveness, you don't do it for them, you do it for you.

It's been said that denying forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. When you refuse to forgive nothing bad happens to them, but a lot of bad things happen to you.

Think of the most resentful, angry, unhappy person you know. I bet they can rattle off a list of all the people who have done them wrong. Some of them probably have it written down.

Doesn't that sound like a fun way to go through life?

I have no idea how people forgive drunk drivers who mow down their children or spouses who cheat.

But they do, and I notice that the common denominator among people who can forgive is peace.

When someone does something awful to you, they take power away from you. But when you forgive them, you take it back.

Think about it, if someone sincerely apologizes and asks you for forgiveness, don't you feel better? Of course you do, because you feel heard and in charge of what happens next.

But you don't have to wait for them to show remorse to start.

If you're struggling to forgive someone, and they haven't owned up to their mistake, find a sympathetic ear, speak the hurt out loud, let the other person validate it, and begin the process of moving on.

Yes, you deserve to have your hurt acknowledged. But the person who caused it doesn't have to be involved.

For what it's worth, in all likelihood whoever hurt you probably had some hurts done to them and they were just simply paying it forward. That can be hard to hear, and it doesn't mitigate whatever they did to you.

But it does illustrate why it's in your best interest to stop the chain of pain. Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting, but it does give you the power to move on.

Because who wants to spend the rest of their life with a belly full of poison?

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect." Contact her at www.forgetperfect.com.