Does Forgiveness Help the Healing Process or Is it Just Another Crock of Crap Created by Guilt, Inc?
Trigger Warning: This article is NOT for Snowflakes, Karens, and Church Ladies
We’ve all been victims.
Occasionally, we’re specifically targeted. Other times, it’s the result of negative circumstances brought on by the actions of others.
Regardless of what you call it — luck, karma, or fate — we can suddenly find ourselves on the receiving end of a world of hurt. We might suffer a financial loss or an attack on our authority or character. In the worst instances, it’s a physical attack on ourselves or a loved one.
In the aftermath, we’re left with a hole in our lives.
At first, it seems impossible to repair. We’ve been damaged. We need mending.
And while we might decide to seek some form of compensation or damages, that’s just a token — a placation that acknowledges our innocence and penalizes the perpetrator for breaking the law.
We want to move on, return to “normal” and start living our lives again. But we can’t. We can’t get beyond the empty bank account, the fractured reputation, or the lost opportunity.
The questions continue to haunt us: “How could they do this to me? What did I ever do to them? I don’t deserve this, so why me?”
Anger and resentment boil up inside of us. We stew in a cauldron of our own frustration and self-torment. And we fan the fire by replaying the events over and over in our minds.
We rationalize our need for revenge by calling it justice.
We’re told to consider the popular notion that those who forgive are more evolved, more mature, grounded, and responsible.
Offering forgiveness shows others we’re the better person.
And that, my friends, is total bullshit.
From experience, I’ve found many so-called acts of forgiveness to be little more than a play for attention, done out of the need to gather gold stars and receive a culturally-approved halo for all to see.
Ever watched a court trial in which the wronged party publicly forgave the guilty party? At first, I wondered if these people had been blessed with some special gift of perspective that allowed them to neutralize the blame, accept the outcome, and move on with the rest of their lives.
But the more I’ve learned about mankind’s propensity for domination, violence, and ego gratification, the more I’ve come to suspect the true intentions of those so quick to sprinkle wrongdoers with compassion and absolution.
I mean, come on . . . Grieving parents offering their forgiveness to some remorseless monster who killed their daughter?
Sorry, not buying it.
Personally, I’ve struggled with the concept of forgiveness for decades.
It seemed unnatural.
There was no way I could bring myself to say, “I forgive you,” when the hurt was still there, the attack still fresh in my mind, the damage still obvious.
Too harsh, you say?
Depends on what’s been laid on your doorstep.
So rather than tell you how important it is to “unburden” yourself by releasing the anger, disappointment, and frustration with an insincere act of forgiveness, I want to concentrate on the internal process — the nuts and bolts of “practical” forgiveness — as it influences our ability to move forward in our lives and have unbiased relationships with others.
“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” — Anne Lamott
Forgiveness is one of those squishy terms that’s been popularized by an external perspective.
In the conventional sense, forgiving others is really a misnomer. We put such importance on lifting the shackles of guilt from others, that we really don’t understand what we’re really doing . . .
We’re trying to forgive ourselves.
We’re using the perpetrator as a surrogate for our own need to be forgiven — to substantiate our innocence and convince our conscience that we didn’t deserve to receive such harmful consequences.
It would be ironic if it wasn’t so sad. Even as innocent victims, we are likely to blame ourselves for being at the wrong place and time, or for being distracted and not seeing the obvious danger, or for being too open and trusting too soon.
“The act of forgiveness takes place in our own mind. It really has nothing to do with the other person.” — Louise Hay
That’s why the most important outcome of forgiveness comes from resolving YOUR guilt — not the guilt of others who have harmed you.
In fact, it’s entirely possible to forgive someone without them knowing it — because they may not deserve to know.
Because frankly, some things are simply unforgivable.
Don’t believe me? Care to argue the point?
My twenty-three-year-old sister was attacked by sub-human scum who broke a Coke bottle over her head, then stabbed her multiple times with a commercial meat fork.
Should I forgive him?
Hey, why not? He was just some horny dude needing a quick piece of ass. Isn’t that a man’s biological imperative — to dominate a woman’s body? All men feel that way on occasion, right? So you can’t really blame the fellow, right?
My dad didn’t feel that way. And while I’ll save you the gut-wrenching details, let’s just say that offering forgiveness to this heartless animal wasn’t the first thing that came to my father’s mind.
“Forgiveness isn’t approving what happened. It’s choosing to rise above it.” — Robin Sharma
Unfortunately, increased vulnerability is often the long-term aftermath of being harmed.
You’re hesitant to get back out there because you’re afraid you’ll be attacked — again. Your logic is impeccable . . . it happened once, there’s a chance it will happen again.
Unfortunately, that’s true.
But considering how much more prepared you are to deal with those who don’t have your best interests at heart, the chances are much lower. Your experience has raised your awareness, and you’re much better at recognizing the red flags.
That fact alone will go a long way in preventing the same kind of actions from happening again.
Practical Forgiveness is all about you.
After decades of dealing with those who have focused their ill-will on me, I’ve come up with a useful and practical definition for forgiveness that’s effective and puts the emphasis on repairing the life of the victim — where it belongs.
“Practical forgiveness” means no longer spending my time thinking about revenge, or compensation, or finding some way to get pay-back.
Instead, I may choose to never associate with the offending party, or I’ll ignore their attempts at communication. If I decide to allow their limited presence in my world, it’s only on my own protective terms — meaning their response or opinion is appropriately discounted, or is no longer important to me.
I’ve also accepted the fact that it’s okay not to feel a single thread of sympathy towards those who intentionally try to harm me. I don’t need society’s altruism award for best portrayal of false bravado and insincere posturing.
Here’s the Takeaway . . .
Our enemies — by default or intention — will continue to seek advantage by lying, cheating, or stealing . . . or worse.
Responding to these attacks with an overt display of forgiveness is unlikely to change them, their future actions, or their opinion about us.
My response to catching my detractors with their hand in the cookie jar?
It ranges from restricted contact to complete exile. In most cases, I simply cannot have them present — physically or mentally — in my life. Period. End of story.
In exercising practical forgiveness, I may remember the incident and acknowledge the existence of the perpetrator, but it ends there. I’m no longer motivated to extract vengeance. I have better things to do with my time.
Final thought . . .
When considering whether to forgive or not, keep in mind that there is no more powerful and beneficial act than forgiving yourself — especially when you were not to blame.
Thanks for reading,
Roger A. Reid, Ph.D. is a certified NLP trainer with degrees in engineering and business. Roger is the author of Better Mondays and Speak Up, and host of Success Point 360 Podcast, offering tips and strategies for achieving higher levels of career success and personal fulfillment in the real world.
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