Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), or forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).
I often hear and read about forgiveness being the ultimate sign of moving on. Other things I hear are that people cannot truly heal without forgiveness and being a forgiving person is a big part of being a truly loving person. I’m very curious about this. More than that, I have serious reservations about it.
I’d like to break down the definition of forgiveness through some painful scenarios. To truly forgive, we must undergo a change in feeling about an offense such as being physically abused. And, we must have a change in attitude about a boyfriend sleeping with another woman in our bed every time we’re at the hospital getting treatments for breast cancer. The loner who killed our son wants forgiveness, to be wished well. Forgiveness requires us making that leap as well.
Several thoughts cross my mind in this philosophical space.
1. Even if our feelings or attitudes about the offense change, forgiveness requires that we let go of vengefulness towards the offender and wish them well. This is what forgiveness is. There is no such thing as forgiving an offense.
Maria can look at an incident (hurtful words from Mark in a heated verbal exchange) and have a change of feeling or attitude about it. At one point, Mark’s words hurt her tremendously but as time has passed and Mark has apologized, she can feel less pain or anger about the incident. Maria cannot forgive the incident, however, she may only forgive Mark. But should she? What if Mark was the perpetrator of several incidents, several offenses? What if Maria does not believe Mark’s apologies are sincere?
2. Emotional intelligence, maturity and moving on. Am I the bigger person if and only if I forgive? Can one move on without forgiveness?
Sally may never forgive Jon for the constant verbal abuse that he inflicted upon her. He is an adult after all and was cognizant of each and every word that came out of his mouth. She may never be able to forget since some of the words were so fierce (cunt, whore) and the environment (in front of the kids) so inappropriate. She will certainly not excuse nor condone nor reconcile either. This does not mean that she cannot move on.
You will not find a formal definition for moving on, but a generally accepted one is the act of letting go of the past in order to focus on the future. Can Sally not let go of Jon and focus on her future without forgiving him?
Why do I write about this? Am I wholly opposed to forgiveness? Do I think forgiveness is an unnecessary step in the evolutionary path of humanity? Am I but an angry man that has been hurt too many times to see forgiveness as an option? No, no and no.
But, I do think there are times when forgiveness is not only unnecessary but unhealthy.
- What of the offender that is forgiven and offends again?
- What if the effort and energy required to reach forgiveness drain the victim?
- What if the forgiveness stems from pressure and expectations and thus carries less sincerity?
I do think we, as a society, put too much emphasis and thus an undue burden on victims with regards to forgiveness.
- One can be hurt by an incident and remove the incident from their stream of conscious
- One can be hurt by a person and remove the person from their stream of conscious
- One can take each day one step at a time and heal from within or with the help of time, their friends, their family and positive experiences
- One can decide not to forgive and not hate the offender
A courageous, mindful, focused soul can do each and every one of these things and it is not easy. Must they also carry the pressures of forgiveness? Can we not afford this same mindful soul the judgment to determine whether forgiveness is the answer? After all, they lived through the offense executed by the offender. We are but observers of life, casting stones without context.
I read a quote that really encapsulated the short-sightedness of forgiveness and love: “Forgiveness is the final form of love”. If love were truly present, why would the offender commit an offense that required forgiveness?
I read an additional quote that brought forgiveness and life together: “It takes a strong person to say sorry and an even stronger person to forgive”. Am I to understand that the victim is weaker than the offender, regardless of the offense, if they do not forgive? This sounds like another form of victim shaming, no?
If you’re the victim, forgive only if your head and heart tell you to.
More from DivorcedMoms.com
- The F-Word: Four Things Forgiveness Isn’t
- What is Forgiveness?
- Can You Forgive? Can You Be Forgiven?
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Wonderful article with some amazing insights. Yes, let’s get off that forgiveness gimmick. I understand the ‘conceptual logic’ behind it and yet in my case, it makes me feel victimized by it all over again. A true representation of adding insult to injury. Surely there’s got to be a better way. Thank you for that article.
Chris Armstrong says
Thank you very much. I wrote this article because I think forgiveness is not as black and white as the philosophical quotes would suggest.
Thank you for articulating this so well. I believe there is acceptance and ability to move forward. I have heard forgiveness defines as “grace.” As if the inability to forgive is somehow less than.
I have not forgiven some heinous things, but I still live an authentic, fruitful and HAPPY life. What has happened, has happened. It’s not ok. It’s not going to go away and it’s not our fault. Moving forward is the best we can do.
I;m not sure I can ever forgive my husband for walking out of my 35 year marriage without a clue to me that he wasn’t happy and nothing was ever said Knowing now the “who and what” I married and the fact he is what he is, a narcissisit is all I can do to move on. My reqading about the narcissist character defect has enabled me to know that it was his issues and his inability to deal with emotions and lack of applogy to me. I loved someone who could not ever love, who could never say they were sorry for anything, who could never show empathym, who was a deceiver, manipulator and intimidator has allowed me to see that I can move on better thatn before,
Now in the throws of divorcing him with only a few more weeks left to go is what is halping me to moveon again. I am 58 years old and spent my entire adult life with him so it makes it a bit more difficcult to begin all over again. But time heals all owunds and in time, many years from now, I can look bac at this time in my life as a hurdle I overcame, with more happiness that ever before. I married the wrong man and stay eons too long in the marriage to him.
Thank you SO much for this article! I have never come across anyone who shares my viewpoint on this over-rated concept of “forgiveness” before! Why forgive/condone/excuse anyone who made the choice to deliberately hurt you??? Some situations and offenses are simply beyond the realm of forgiveness and I see no merit in allowing a person you loved and trusted to repeat the offense! Well said!!!