I hate, hate, hate how our culture mis-attributed the concept of forgiveness. Traditionally, and religiously, forgiveness is something that a transgressor had to ASK for. There’s this idea that anger is toxic, and you have to forgive everyone. This is something that has been twisted in the metaphysical, neo-Eastern tradition.
Anger (and other non-happy emotions) are here to help us
Anger and frustration lets us know that there is a problem, that we may need to take an action. It helps us set boundaries with those we might not set boundaries with. It replaces paralyzing fear with a feeling that incites us to action.
Then there is a point where our anger no longer serves us
And that point usually comes after we are no longer actively being harmed. And that harm has been acknowledged and validated by our community (best case) or, at minimum, by ourselves.
It is at that point that we can accept the things we cannot change and have the courage to change the things we can. And it is here, right here, that I think “forgiveness” was substituted for “acceptance” by our culture.
You need to accept what happened
Accept that this person is who they are and will not likely change. Let go of your expectations for them, for changing them, for the dream of what you believed could have been or should have been.
And maybe one day you’ll want to forgive them, that is completely up to you and not a requirement for healing.
But forgiveness is not mandatory
But we need to, as a society, stop insisting that a result of healing (forgiveness) is the cause of healing. Because it isn’t. And that it is required for happiness and enlightenment. Because it isn’t. And that people who are angry and are not able to forgive are deficient. Because they aren’t.
Only you know if you are at the point in your healing where holding on to your anger is helpful or hurtful. Only you know if this is toxic for you. But you won’t be willing to let go of your anger as long as it meets your emotional needs for control, for safety, for boundary setting-mojo. The next step for you may be exploring how to do these things without being compelled by anger.
Basically, what I am saying is that you don’t need to forgive and forget, you need to let go and move on.
Comments on Why you actually DON’T need to forgive and forget
Thank you for sharing this. I left my house this morning angry at myself for still struggling with forgiveness. There couldn’t be a more perfect time for me to consider a different viewpoint.
This is SO true!! Sound like the patriarchy trying to maintain a hold!! I love that you brought this up. The transgressor should be asking for forgiveness- love it
The idea that forgetting is necessary in order to forgive may be a common misconception in the world, in the minds of the “millennial’s”, but for those of us who use the Bible as the source of our truth, it is not.
When speaking of human forgiveness, the word “forgive” is used over 100 times in the OT & the NT. And in studying how the word is used in it’s context, at no time is it linked with the word “forget” though in one particular verse (Psalm 103:12) indicates that when God in His immense grace forgives me, He does set that iniquity, actually translated from “rebellion” far away from me, perhaps out of my own memory. The verse says, “As far as the East is from the West: so far hath He removed our sins [rebellion; transgressions] from us.”
Considering that NASA has stated that our known universe is 156 million light years wide (east to west?) and a light year is 5.9 TRILLION miles, a bit of impossible math would show us that the number of miles between the East and the West is, in the human capacity, an incalculable number. But elsewhere in the Bible, “forgive” and “forgiveness” are a necessity when it comes to RECEIVING His forgiveness. I could list dozens of verses that make this declaration, but only one is necessary for me. It is Matthew 6:14-15 and it is the Word of Christ Jesus as He spoke to His disciples (Matthew 5:1-2), His disciples who were “followers.” He said, ““For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
That statement tells me that though I may choose not to forgive those who have hurt me, said unkind things to me or about me, who have abused me, slighted me, even threatened me, if I want God’s forgiveness, I must forgive. And since (I believe) that we are created in God’s image, if He can put my sin 156 million X 5.9 TRILLION miles from me, that is like saying “out of sight, out of mind”, so can I. Personal testimony: I have a brother who was about 8 years old when I was born. My parents had wanted a 2nd child much sooner but were unable to conceive as soon as they would have liked. My Mother told me that they had nearly given up when they learned the good news that she was pregnant. My Mother was 40 and my Dad was 50. So the birth of their daughter was a joyous occasion. Not so for my brother. As the “only” child to that point he had enjoyed undivided attention and had been given a lot more latitude then he was going to enjoy now that he had to share the limelight with his “bratty” sister.
Over the years he would do many despicable things to me. Once he even tried to kill me by throwing a javelin at me, missing my head only by inches. As a teen, I actually ran away from home because of things he had done. When he finally moved out on his own, his abuse ceased. But still, over the years he never forgave me for my birth, something I had no control over.
Now, as an adult I was faced with the dilemma of Matthew 6:14-15…did I want God’s forgiveness? The answer was a resounding YES, so I set my mind and heart to see my brother as God did, as a lost sheep, one whom the owner of would go after (Luke 15:4), to pursue with determination as if it was the owners only sheep.
Do I want to hang out with my brother, no. Do I think he has forgiven me for being born? No. He may even hold hard feeling toward the memory of our parents, but in truth that is his problem. The bottom line is, yes, forgiveness is not only necessary but it is the smart thing to do. Funny thing I heard last evening…a retired cop said that he had in his early days on the force had come to realize that even the most dedicated atheist will speak of heaven, when they insist there is no God. So for anyone who thinks their destination will one day be heaven, they might consider being forgiving to those who have hurt them!!
If someone reading this considers heaven their final destination, don’t miss out because you failed to do the one thing that brings God’s forgiveness…
I do not really see a reason to attribute anything and everything negative to millennials when many thing including this are routed further in history.
Assuming all millennials do not use the Bible as truth is wrong as well. While I myself am not religious (lapsed catholic parents and I never picked it up in any deep way) I have many friends and family who are and do have that experience. Please check your biases, because the rest of your post is a very well thought out analysis and was very nice to read outside of that.
Out of my own curiosity I found the phrase came up in a couple of great 16th century works.
King Lear: “Pray you now, forget and forgive.”
Don Quixote: “Let us forget and forgive injuries.”
Dear Mary, First of all, I did not “attribute anything and everything negative to millennial’s.” What I did say was, “forgetting MAY BE A COMMON MISCONCEPTION IN THE WORLD, IN THE MINDS OF THE “MILLENNIAL’S” BUT FOR THOSE OF US WHO USE THE BIBLE AS THE SOURCE OF OUR TRUTH IT IS NOT.”
I apologize. What I should have said was that “forgetting as a necessary part of forgiveness is a common misconception by many in the world, even some of those much younger than myself”….if I had said it that way would that have pleased you?
If you read what I said carefully and in context, you will see that I made no assumptions but said of the “misconception” that it COULD BE common in the world [and/or] in the minds of the millennial’s. I didn’t say it was nor did I say that those mentioned necessarily ignored what the Bible says. The original post was linking forgiving WITH a necessity to forget. I merely said that is a misconception. Forgiveness stands alone. It requires nothing more than a commitment to do so. Contrary to what many believe, all people in general including millennial’s, there is healing in forgiveness and there is much sorrow in the contra ry. There is evidence (medical) that the greatest source of bitterness in a person heart and mind comes from unforgiveness. Whether one chooses to believe that or not is not the issue, that unforgiveness does do damage is the issue.
And BTW, to consider the words of King Lear and Don Quixote is like believing that every romantic encounter can end in “they lived happily ever after”…
Considering both King Lear (Shakespeare) and Don Quixote de la Mancha (Miguel de Cervantes & Salvador Dali) are fictional characters, both as mad as a hatter (another fictional character) the thoughts expressed by them have little bearing on either forgiveness or forgetting. Besides, forgiveness, which is in truth a conscious act, is not fiction nor a fairytale. The bitterness than fills the human heart, that can and does make that heart sick, that is born in unforgiveness can only be liberated by forgiving. Read what I said to “Crystal Dawn” about my own experience. I think you will have a much clearer understanding of what I said.
God bless you.
Lucy, I wanted to address the passage that you cite (Matthew 6:14-15) because what I’ve found in my study of the bible is that sometimes there’s a translation that’s been accepted by a culture because we like the implied, societally acceptable meaning of it. The word used in that sentence (ἀφίημι) can be translated as “forgive” but it can also be “let go of”, “put away from”, or “permit”. The definition of forgiveness is given as “letting go of [resentment/anger]” (see the OED) which accords nicely with the greek in this case. However, that definition also fits very well with the way that this article talks about acceptance: “Let go of your expectations for them, for changing them, for the dream of what you believed could have been or should have been.” It also fits very well with the way that you talk about your experiences. “Now so many years later I have resolved in my heart the feelings of anger I once had for my brother…” and “The idea that forgetting is necessary in order to forgive may be a common misconception in the world…”
Our current cultural definition of “forgiveness” (which I believe is what is used in the article, despite the lack of a specific definition) encompasses some of that same meaning, but also draws on such touchstones such as Shakespeare & Cervantes (because literature shapes culture and vice versa) in adding a component of “forgetting” or invalidating the feelings that arose from the experiences and created the original resentment. Often it involves some sort of reconciliation, personal or social, even at the expense of the person originally hurt. This, I believe, is what the author of the article is taking issue with, and also what you are disputing in your response. Having read both your thoughts and Hayden’s carefully, it seems that you’re voicing the same sentiment in different terms.
Megan, From all of the comments, I truly believe that most people in their heart of hearts believe in forgiveness and certainly do not want to carry a burden of bitterness, anger and unforgiveness. The term “baggage” comes to mind in this regard and I don’t believe that anyone wants to carry around in their life baggage that would easily be unloaded. I am not nor will I ever be a Greek or Hebrew scholar so for me to enter into a discussion about the various meanings of a particular word in the Bible would be a waste of time, and truly foolish.
I am certain you know more about all of that than I do.
I read the Bible as I would the newspaper. I read carefully using a literal translation, generally NKJV or MEV. I do not pick a verse out of context but read generally read an entire chapter or more to understand clearly what is being said.
I read “prayerfully” expecting the Holy Spirit to guide me into His truth and I read “objectively.” Human nature tries to give us preset ideas of what it means and that leads to error. Finally, I read bearing in mind that the Author of the Bible was God and though He used men to pen the words, the subject, topic and the words were His. Forgiveness is always difficult for humans, as we do not have the capacity that God does. But to carry unforgiveness is (in my thoughts) a serious and very dangerous thing to do. However a person defines “forgiveness” is not the issue, the greater problem is for those who refuse to even try to forgive.
I can’t make the sins of those who have hurt me, even my own brother’s, of no effect in the world. But I can make sure I am not affected by what (he) they have done or said.
My life is nearing the end and I have no intention of carrying any burdens with me that can so easily be left behind! If it were common knowledge what my brother actually has done to me over the years, most people would doubt what I just said. But forgiveness is NOT forgetting. Yes, it can mean just letting something go or put away from, and in human terms that is likely about all that we can do.
Matthew 6 is more about His kind of forgiveness and while it is a pattern for forgiving (the human kind mentioned in the previous paragraph) and if it is read, in context with the previous chapter (the sermon on the mount) and the chapter following about judging others, seeking Him and the gates, one can see that the “forgiveness” that is referenced is not simply letting go or putting something away from the one injured It is His forgiveness which is far more than that. His forgiveness is first of all, permanent and complete. It requires nothing more than a simple, “Lord God forgive me”….it does not require a change because by receiving His forgiveness the changing begins because of His presence within the one forgiven.
His forgiveness invites Him to begin a life long process that is at first just a bit of minor fix – ups, but then He begins to shake the very foundation and all the while the past injuries are moved out to the farthest place imaginable from us. That is what is meant by Psalm 103:12.
I don’t know if he carries any guilt or not, but I pray for my brother before all others because I want him to be free.
Blessing to you.
I’m not sure that I follow what you’re trying to say here. I was trying to point out that it the way that you, Hayden, and your interpretation of the Bible were talking about letting go of anger seemed to be the same or nearly so. I wasn’t challenging your reading of the Bible, nor your personal experiences. I applaud your ability to set aside your anger towards your brother – that takes a lot of strength.
I think that this article is useful to many people because it takes a predominant cultural narrative and says that it might not be the only way that people can reach a place of peace with themselves and their experiences. This is one of the things that the Offbeat Empire does best.
Your responses to Crystal Dawn and W below were phrased in a way that implied that their choices to not work towards “forgiveness” was a bad life choice, and that’s something that we try not to do here. I recommend that you take a look at the comment policy. You are always welcome to tell your own story, and even offer advice, but please think carefully about comments that others might find judgmental, especially when it might just come down to people using different definitions of the same word.
It takes far greater strength to recognize and remember that your offender didn’t give you the value you’re entitled to, without forgiving them, and that they do not deserve respect from you. Let’s remember that. It doesn’t matter what the opposition says. You CAN heal without forgiving.
I’ve never felt a burden for being angry or bitter at someone who did me harm… It’s easy to dislike then and never trust, believe, or engage with then again… My life usually greatly improves when I move away from these people
I love that you pointed out that forgiveness does NOT (need to or should) equal acceptance. This is something I struggle with still. I am beginning to slowly replace it with let go, because I too can hold on to past wrongs and let it “eat my lunch”, but just for today I will try to let go of that..
Dear Crystal Dawn, We all have been hurt by someone at one time or another. If we stir up long forgotten memories we can find all sorts of things that others have done or said. Some things are really painful, others not so much. Always is the fact that if we are seeking forgiveness for things we ourselves have done or said and even if the Bible is not believed, there is a common idiom that speaks of the returning consequences (or compensation) for what is done, either bad or good: “What goes around comes around.”
The original post mentioned that there was no particular danger in not forgiving nor any special healing in the act of forgiving. But I argue that strongly. Many psychologists and psychiatrists would argue as well. There is nothing more injurious to the human heart and emotions than bitterness. And nothing spawns bitterness faster than unforgiveness. I can only relate to others what I myself have experienced and I know that holding unforgiveness did me more harm than good. It effected so many aspects of my life that had links to and through my brother to my childhood, even to trying to raise up in me anger toward my parents for what may have seemed like they intentionally ignored his actions toward me. But nothing could have been farther from the truth. Now so many years later I have resolved in my heart the feelings of anger I once had for my brother and though I have not seen him in over 15 years, I do pray for him. I don’t know where he is or how he is, though occasionally I do take a peek at his Facebook page.
In the beginning, as I was trying to walk in forgiveness toward him, I made it sort of a morning ritual that as I began my morning washing my face and combing my hair, I would look at my reflection in the mirror, think of my parents and how much they had loved their son. I would make the conscious promise to myself that during that day (just one day at a time) I would remember how they had loved him, how they had loved me, and promise to love him too and to forgive him. It wasn’t always easy but over time it began to become just a natural part of my day. Now, so many years later, I can think of him without the pain of remembering his actions and words. It is an amazingly liberating feeling.
God will bless your efforts.
I think of how I deal with my negative emotions as emotional composting. I try to bury (or balance out, if you prefer, since so many people think of burying emotions as bad), my negative feelings and experiences with more positive experiences, just as someone composting dog poop or humanure might bury that in green and brown plant matter until the harmful microbes are destroyed and all that is left is rich, useful dirt to grow things in.
The more positive experiences I can put on my pile, the more I forget about the negative ones and the less hold they have on me until they just melt away to nothing.
This isn’t as useful a strategy when I am stuck in a situation where I have to deal with a harmful person all the time, though (like at work or at home). It helps, but the thing that helps the most is getting away from that harmful person.
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to HaydenT for posting this! I have been wrestling with this for a looong time, and am overjoyed to find out I’m not necessarily a monster for being cautious to forgive.
I get that people screw up. Christ, I screw up all the time. And when I do, I own up to it, take my lumps, and consciously try to modify my behavior. But when the shoe is on the other foot, I’d like the same. Honestly, I’d like nothing more than to emotionally unclench and be my good-natured self again. I *want* to forgive you. See that? That’s my hand reaching out to you. Please reach for it.
And yeah, some things are trivial. Or unavoidable. And that sometimes you have to give someone the benefit of the doubt. If you’ve earned a “pass” I’ll give it to you.
And to those folks who have dealt with me in good faith, a deep and sincere thank you. You are what makes society worth living in. I’m happy to forgive you.
But there are people who will take advantage. Insincere apologies. No effort to modify behavior. Denials of ever having done anything wrong. Indifference. Evasiveness. Selective recall. And my favorite: DARVO (deny, accuse, reverse victim and offender).
(I’ll give every reasonable break, but if you try to play me, go mate with yourself.)
Sadly, there’s not much one can do if you’re being played. And what you *can* do is wicked hard:
Accept reality. Let go. Move on.
But forgiving? No. That’s too much to ask for, let alone expect. Not now. Someday? Maybe. Maybe not. No promises.
And forgetting? So that I can be hurt again? Is “welcome” written on my forehead, because I’m being mistaken for a doormat.
I will not be manipulated into enabling shitty behavior, popular opinion be damned.
I’ll meet you halfway…but only halfway. I’m already hurting – don’t add insult to injury by guilting me into doing all the heavy-lifting of easing your aching conscience.
W, You are confusing the responsibility of others with the necessity of your own.
When you said, “But there are people who will take advantage. Insincere apologies. No effort to modify behavior. Denials of ever having done anything wrong. Indifference. Evasiveness. Selective recall. And my favorite: DARVO (deny, accuse, reverse victim and offender).” you are absolutely correct. There are millions of people who are like that. In fact, there are likely more people who do not deserve another’s “forgiveness” than do. But that does not negate the necessity of forgiveness.
Set aside the biblical reason to forgive, a quick search for “does unforgiveness make you sick” yielded 630,000 results. So apparently there are a lot of folks who are possibly dealing with the physical and emotional effects of unforgiveness.
I compare forgiveness with smiling and an unforgiving person with a frown…it takes fewer facial muscles to smile than it does to frown. And the effects of forgiveness are much better for me (for everyone) than unforgiveness.
Be forewarned, if you carry around unforgiveness, it will eventually become a very intolerable burden.
I once actually hated my own brother. But by making the decision to forgive him (even though he never asked) knowing in truth he is a sociopath (possibly worse) I can think of him now and then with no regrets. I can’t speak for him, for his motives or his mental, physical, emotional or spiritual condition. But I know I have done what was necessary for my own mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health. I hold no bitterness toward my brother or several other people who in my past (some recent, some long past) have hurt me. I can’t say that it is all “forgotten”, for I made no particular effort to forget, but forgiven? Yes, without a doubt. And I learned a long time ago that just because I can remember a particular injury, like any old scar, rarely is there any pain remaining.
I wish you well, W.
Lucy, let’s look at it this hypothetically:
If we’re both riding the bus and it lurches, causing you to jab me really hard with the point of your umbrella, and you say, “I’m sorry, W” but make no effort to prevent it from happening again, are you really sorry?
And should I forgive you and say, “That’s okay, Lucy,” and continue to let you stab me over and over again until one of us disembarks?
No and no. That’s not healthy for either if us. Especially if it’s higher stakes than an umbrella-jab.
I can accept that you may not change. I can let go of my grudge with you. And yes, I can move on with my life. I’ve done it a thousand times. I wouldn’t have lived this long if I hadn’t.
But all of that is acceptance. As the OP said, acceptance isn’t forgiveness.
Like respect, forgiveness means nothing unless it has been EARNED. I’m not gifting it to you. It’s not interpersonal tricks-or-treats that I hand out to anybody. And none of that makes me bad, or sick, or unhappy, or burdened, or grudgy, or in any way “less”.
You want to earn my forgiveness? Great! Glad to hear it! Let’s talk mending fences!
You can’t be bothered to earn it? Then it’s just not my problem to fix.
(End of hypotheticals)
Lucy, maybe we’re working with different definitions of the same words. Heck, maybe you’re just a nicer person than I am (it wouldn’t surprise me). While I’m not you, it’s OK for me to be me.
For me, a historically good-natured kid (who has had that trait taken advantage of more times than I can count), I don’t see my cautiousness to absolve as a frowny-faced unforgiveness that drags me down or makes me sick. Quite the opposite, actually. Once I move on (and I do), I think of it as liberating, as it sets healthy boundaries that ensure my spiritual well-being.
Yes, it’s terrific to let go of those ugly, soul-eating emotions. But it’s very much possible to do so without saying, “That’s okay” to someone who doesn’t care that they did a number on me.
If you agree, lovely. If you disagree, that’s fine, too. And truly, thank you for your kind thoughts and wishes. But please re-read HaydenT’s original post before suggesting that it’s “necessary” for me to forgive. It’s really not.
With love (and a smile),
Reply to W, I guess I will have to qualify my statements. For the most part, my comments have been directed at those who are walking as Christians. Christianity does change things in the heart and mind of the believer. It requires forgiveness. In the book of Matthew 6 alone, the word “forgive” (not counting forgiveness) is used 9 times. Each time the original word is used it means the same…it means “leave, FORGIVE, suffer (allow or let) forsake, let alone.
So regardless of how one wants to define at act of forgiving, at no time is it defined as EASY.
Oddly, forgiving and forgiveness have been the subject of several Bible teachings I have heard this past week on Christian radio. And one statement was a constant in all, and that was this…simply put, if anyone considers the actions of another (sin) unforgivable then they are placing themselves higher than the God of the universe Who willingly forgives all who ask for forgiveness.
And immediately the subject arises, “what about those who do not ask”….The answer to that is, yes, forgiveness must be sought. I ask for His forgiveness daily. Not for the same sins, but knowing I am still a sinner, I ask Him to pardon my sins of that day, even though I knew He knew about them in advance.
How does that play out with those who have hurt us? My brother has never owned up to his mean & cruel behavior toward me. But because he is my brother, the flesh of my parents, I speak of forgiving him, even though he has never asked to be forgiven. I am not commanded to forgive someone who does not ask for forgiveness, any more than God will. But I AM commanded to love him.
There are several verses that support my decision, and bear in mind they are the Words of Christ Jesus, the very One on Whom I depend for my very breath…..
Matthew 5:7 (Sermon on the mount) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
(mercy means compassion) Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore be perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”
So there is the simple truth. Do I forgive all who harm me, or am I just required to love, bless and pray for them?
Well, in the case of my own brother, I committed myself to not only do the “required” love, bless and pray, but I elected to go one step farther and remind myself almost daily that I forgive him because he is the son of my parents , parents that I loved and who loved me and my brother. I guess it makes loving and forgiving him easier because I know they loved him.
For an additional understanding of how God views forgiveness, read Matthew 18:21-35 which is a parable of the unforgiving servant.
My final words on this subject are these: There is a wide gap between what people believe about forgiving and forgiveness. That gap will likely remain throughout the lives of those who can’t forgive, won’t forgive, don’t even want to forgive.
Regardless of one’s beliefs about God, I would quote my favorite author: “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” ― C.S. Lewis, _The Problem of Pain_ (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002BD2USY/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B002BD 2USY&linkCode=as2&tag=kevnetchrcu00-20) Lynda
It would be nice if we could please leave religion out of SOMETHING, just for once please. Not everything needs to be related back to the bible. Lets just be people, and relate to each other naturally, not over a set of rules or “guidance” in a book.
That said – THANK YOU so much Hayden (my partner’s name is Hayden so you must be a decent person :P). Me stumbling across this article came at the right time. Well anytime in the last 30 years would have been a good time but today was the day I found it. You are so right. I have always thought it was a bit rubbish to have to forgive everyone that has ever done you wrong (seriously wrong, not just cut you off in traffic) just in order to have some inner-peace. I can feel angry AND strong, AND be ok, knowing that the wrong-doer is worse off than I am. I can actually feel sorry for a perpetrator (to a degree) and take the attitude of “I’m glad I am not them”, meaning I am glad I know better than to hurt other people and I feel sorry for those who don’t have the same respect.
Thanks man, keep on keepin’ on 🙂
Thank you! I’ve been struggling to articulate this idea. I’m a grudge-holder: there are plenty of people who I haven’t forgiven, because they never apologized for whatever it was they fucked up. But that doesn’t mean I’m not over it. I don’t ever think about those people, they’re not really in my life anymore, and I don’t feel especially angry when I think about them unless I really try to muster it. But still, if they ever wanted back in, it would require an apology.
I also really appreciated this article. It’s something I’ve been trying to articulate for years. For me, at least, “let go and move on” is so much healthier. I’ve seen forgiveness deployed in some many unhealthy and abusive ways in my life. In particular, I have a couple of people in my life who have some really harmful and destructive behaviors. Each time they hurt me, they insist that I have to forgive them, which is just code for “pretend the whole thing never happened” which, of course, leads to a cycle of abusive behavior. It took me years and a good therapist to realize that while I didn’t want these two people out of my life, I didn’t have to ignore their crappy behavior. I set up firm boundaries and rules which will only every change if these folks change their behaviors towards me (which, frankly is really unlikely to happen). It takes a lot of strength to endure the guilt driven pleas that I should just “forgive” and go back to trusting these two. Forgiveness can be a nasty cycle. I’m actually much less angry and much happier when I simply acknowledge; this stuff happened, I can’t change it or the people involved, I can prevent it from happening again by maintaining boundaries. I have almost completely let go and am definitely moving on to healthier relationships. It’s a much happier way to be.
Gosh how I feel you. I have had Catholic doctrine twisted at me like you said, so that it becomes an integral part of abusive manipulation. Thanks, parents, for using my incapacity (and eventually refusal) to forgive and forget to add water to the victim-blaming wheel and make me feel unworthy and guilty and responsible for your behavior.
The funny thing is, after years of just accepting and moving on, I think I actually HAVE forgiven. This post forced me to think deeper and I eventually googled « what is forgiveness. » This cool defination is the second result. « We forgive others when we let go of resentment and give up any claim to be compensated for the hurt or loss we have suffered. »
Letting go of anger and realizing some people won’t change or feel remorse sorta just happened over the years. At first I felt as the OP said, at this point estrangement was necessary. Eventually, I felt a kind of detachement with bursts of intense sadness or anger. Then I felt strong enough to make contact again while setting my boundaries. There were a couple incidents that hurt and sucked me back but now the serenity is back and it feels so good. I really wish everyone reaches that place of knowing you’ve been wronged, being aware it might happen again but letting go of hope that you will see retribution for it and knowing you can deal with whatever they try without getting sucked back in. I don’t feel positively towards my abusers, but I also don’t feel negatively. In fact, I don’t feel much towards them at all except a vague pity and it so much less draining!
I think forgiveness is a journey, one I didn’t even realize I was on until this post. Anger (and sadness) are normal parts of it, I believe; in fact I think that the stages of grief apply to any situation where you were badly hurt. So don’t forget and DO let yourself feel. Just don’t get stuck in the negative and it sounds like you are on the right track!
Thank you for this article. I have really been struggling to find my moral centre after myself, my husband and a close friend were driven out of a Youth Group we’ve run for the last few years. We have been made to feel unwelcome in this group and it was only through the support of the Vicar and his wife were we able to clear our names with parents and members.
As a Christian I really struggled, thinking “I just don’t think I can forgive these people”, and immediately getting the hit of guilt and the feeling that I was doing wrong to myself and others. But after reading this perspective, I feel like maybe it’s ok to put distance between myself and this situation before I even consider forgiving the people involved.
This is great, and actually came along at a time when I was having a lot of residual feelings about my ex. We’ve been broken up now for six years, I’ve been married for nearly two, but I still have so much anger towards him. The more time that passes gives me a clearer view into how much bullshit I accepted when we were together and it pisses me off all over again. I started examining that from the perspective of forgiving and forgetting but I just can’t. I don’t forgive him, and I have not forgotten. But I have moved on, and I’m trying to let go.
I also really liked the part about whether holding onto anger is helpful or hurtful. For me, it’s helpful, because the few times since our break up that he’s tried to reach out to me, that residual anger has helped me put up appropriate boundaries. The problem I face is when the anger turns inward like “How could you let yourself be treated like that?” That’s a struggle, but when I start going down that rabbit hole I think about how the experience of that relationship, the good and bad, brought me to this point in my life. This point in my life is really awesome and I would not be the same person without those experiences. So in a way, I’m grateful to the ex … even though I do not forgive him, and it’s great to hear someone else say that that’s okay!
I know this article is years old but I’m glad I found it when I did! Just a couple of days ago, I was doing a guided meditation on forgiveness. One thing that the teacher said was, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past.” That quote, I think from Jack Kornfield, is helping me forgive some people I literally haven’t seen or spoken to in years. The amount of anger I still have towards them is not good. I’m choosing to forgive them for me, not them. They’ll never know and I’ll never tell them, but I’ll be better off. Years ago, when they were in my life, I could not and should not have forgiven them, and I’m glad I didn’t. But now? It’s time.
Thank you. This forgiving is the ONLY way to heal began in a smarmy Chicken Soup for the Soul book and went viral. We would never prescribe a single prescription for every ill, like chemo for a skinned knee, but forgiveness has become a magic wonder pill. TV shows rape victims, parents of murdered kids, everybody who forgave – look what they went through! No reason you cant too!!!!
The problems: it can be another way to victimize, as we see above with the religious person who rails at victims – “bad you! You sin against God!” (2) again, the focus is off the offender and back on the victim, (3) abusers can use it to circle the wagons. (4) it is a punishment if the victim cannot or will not.
My family loooooves forgiveness. If you forgive, you forget. The abuser is protected, nobody has to endure discomfort at hearing the gory details, nobody will be publicly embarrassed. This means no therapy, because if you forgive you do not need it. Forgiveness should be about healing victims up, not hushing them up.
I get it all…the snide “bitterness” and what a poopy christian I am. To the lady above, pls keep your bible closed because I already got served. I got every verse spewed at me . My belief is I can let God deal with them. I do not have to grant forgiveness. I just deleted them from my life…… but that made ME the bad person. Forgiveness became another tool to punish me with.
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