12/12/2011 12:18 pm ET | Updated Feb 11, 2012

Family Matters

Embedded into the symbolism of the upcoming holidays and the new year is the concept of "forgiveness." Forgiveness is defined as the intentional act of excusing a person for his/her intended or unintended hurtful actions or statements. It is the active process of deciding that there is too much to lose in time, energy or joy by staying angry or hurt by someone else.

Forgiveness is not forgetting the hurtful deeds of others.

Nor is forgiveness the process of abandoning wariness or self-protectiveness. There may be good reasons to remain reasonably self-protective around certain people or situations. I think that forgiveness starts with one's self. Ask yourself, "What did I do or say this year that I regret?" Take the opportunity to learn from your missteps and hurtful actions.

The best thing that anyone of us can do with an action or statement that we now regret is to forgive ourselves, learn from our experience, apologize sincerely (if doing so is appropriate and available), and do better next time. A one-time apology to a loved one that we have hurt may not be enough to be forgiven. The real test of our resolve to do better is measured by the sustained improvements in our statements, attitudes and behaviors.

"To forgive or not to forgive...? That is the question." As this year comes to a close, and we attend parties and celebrations with family members and loved ones, we may be asking ourselves this question. I think that the best way to decide whether to forgive yourself or others is to ask yourself two questions: (1) What personal statements, attitudes and behaviors are in my long-term best interests?" and (2) What do I want my relationship with the other person to be in the future?"

When we forgive ourselves for our mistakes, we are often freed up to feel better about ourselves. Also, forgiving another, especially a loved one, often resolves a tension or estrangement between us and the loved one. The relief you feel from granting yourself forgiveness or choosing to forgive a loved one may be the most powerful gift you can give yourself and your loved one this Holiday Season. Learning when and how to forgive yourself and others are ways to move into the new year with relief and optimism.