I have always been led to believe that in order to move on with my life that it is crucial to forgive other people. Many, many articles have been written about what that kind of forgiveness is. We have been told that forgiveness does not mean condoning, it isn’t forgetting, it’s not even really about the other person. This is all certainly true and I would ascribe to this view of forgiveness. But is forgiveness the only option?
I no longer think so. I have met many people who have been wounded by others so deeply that they cannot even imagine forgiving. Even after going through the list of what forgiveness is not they continue to believe that they may never be able to take that step. The pain is too deep. The sorrow is too real. The anger is too intense. Short of the intervention of a deity, asking a person to forgive when these emotions are in play may not be in their best interests and will most likely involve a high level of cognitive dissonance. Asking them to “fake it til you make it” may be asking too much.
So is there hope?
Absolutely. Good counseling understands that people need to make change slowly. Radical decisions and grandiose change is often not real or lasting. Everyone wants a magic pill but they eventually realize that deep psychological transformation takes time and a great deal of hard work. Forgiving someone who has raped or molested you is often impossible, given how you feel right now.
And that is the real issue, actually – how you feel right now. Staying hurt and bitter just prolongs your misery and keeps you in the cycle of pain and abuse. That person who wronged you actually continues to wrong you, over and over again. It is no wonder, then, that many of us believe we can never get over such injury. We have no teachers, no idea, no examples to follow. Few people who are not vindictive or idealistic seem to talk much about what to do when you don’t feel you can forgive.
It may just be possible that you are asking far too much of yourself. You are expecting that you will be able to “get over” this, even though the intensity has never subsided and you have not been able to glean perspective, even after all these years. Such an expectation seems highly unrealistic to me, too much to hope for.
There is another route. I have found that helping someone gradually separate from the emotion of the situation and gain perspective slowly, very slowly, allows them to move beyond the raw pain of what has happened. With careful and continued support and insight I have known many people who have been able to loosen the “grip” of their hurt on their heart. Once they have been able to start the healing than words such as “forgiveness” or “healthy” no longer seem so ridiculous, so unattainable.
It is the emotion of the hurt that keeps us stuck, not the event itself. With time and the right people you can begin to heal.
Begin to believe that life can be different.
Begin to hope that you may yet have a chance to live.
Begin to experience freedom from the bondage that has broken you.
It may take a long time. It may be painful. It starts with hope.
17 thoughts on “Is Forgiveness The Only Option?”
I am not a person who holds a grudge and have always believed everyone has some good in them and everyone deserves the benefit of doubt and a 2nd chance.
In the first 50 years of my life I can honestly say there is not one person I hate or hold a grudge against. But 2 1/2 years out of an extremely abusive relationship that lasted 10 yrs I have finally met someone that hurt me so badly fforgiveness is not an option. I forgave him, he abused it and me begged forgiveness again, I gave it he abused it and then blamed me for my own abuse because I believed his lies.
He taunted me to kill myself because mo man would ever want a psycho bitch like me. He left me in a horrible financial mess, destroyed my BusNess and
Why can psychology not create a new word, or find an old one, that means to let the pain go, without the context of condoning, or absolute forgiveness attached to it (absolute, as in, when I think about forgiving a person it means that I will act like it didn’t happen, there are no longer any repercussion from their actions) . There is too much emotional baggage tagged onto the word “forgive”. (at least for myself)
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I think when it comes to ‘forgiveness’ it’s a matter of semantics. I wholeheartedly agree that in some cases it can take a long time to get to that ‘forgiveness’ thing; however, where I think many get caught up is in making forgiveness an external factor when in fact the first person that has to be forgiven is the self. When we’re dealing with major offenses such as rape, or some other serious offense, oftentimes, the first place a victim will go is ‘shame’ for not being able to avoid or protect themselves, sometimes even anger at SELF in addition to all the other natural normal reactions to TRAUMA…Addressing that is the most important step for healing. When I think about forgiveness, I don’t really view it in terms of a pardon but rather a ‘release’ or a surrendering, a choosing to let go. That choice cannot be made, nor should it be a topic UNTIL the issues are sorted out. There are people who walk this plane who do really bad things to people, they get a charge out of it and they lack remorse…it hurts us to walk around with that wound unresolved. I don’t think anyone can put a time frame on the process; however, I am rather fond of the word ‘indifference’ in terms of simply releasing someone from my realm that has committed a major transgression. I think for some the word “forgiveness” almost feels like some kind of “moral requirement” and in some respects an unwritten covert control mechanism by some invisible preacher…another “MUST DO” we are to perform in order to be a ‘good person’ by someone else’s standards. I think it’s B.S. Forgiveness (not my favorite term) or whatever one wishes to call it, is for the SELF. Anything extra is a bonus. It has nothing to do with the offender. It is a means of releasing anything that psychologically binds us…it serves to set US free…when we’re ready to let go, and no one but the victim gets to say how or when…and what to call it.
I thought I’d done this. I sure spent the time, money and energy to deal with my wounds but they came back. I have this new therapist who is going to help me through what’s shaping up to be awhile new round of sadness, anger, and confusion. Blech. I did this already (ad nauseum) and don’t really want to do it again.
It is the emotion of the hurt that keeps us stuck, not the event itself.,<—– very true. the emotion attached to it is what gets us. While I think forgiveness is, in general, the best thing for the person, it's very hard to do when dealing with rape/molestation, esp. molestation. Those scars go SO deep and they're very twisted and tangled. I think in those case the biggest key to healing is to be able to shed the shame of it all. Great post!
Good thoughts. I could see this thought process being helpful for those who feel guilt over an inability to forgive.
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I recently learned that forgiving someone, or trusting them (again), doesn’t mean expecting they’ll never make a “mistake” again. That one took some time to really soak in. Thanks for sharing.
I found that, when trying the work a 12-step program, the insistence on forgiveness was something I struggled with greatly. The idea that, without forgiving those who have hurt us entirely, we won’t be able to maintain sobriety, is a dangerous and dysfunctional idea.
Thank you for this post and all of your wonderful writings.
Forgiveness is out of the question. But for me, working toward an ever-expanding understanding of *compassion* has been the most healing thing I ever could have done. It doesn’t require a person to take even the tiniest step that they’re not ready for, and each opening – each new insight is a very personal step towards wholeness.
I have found that I can forgive someone in my head and my heart, but I never forget what they did and keep my distance from them, especially if the act against was particularly heinous. I think any kind of forgiveness given is for yourself first. The perpetrator never even has to know you forgave them, but it helps that you know you did.
Perhaps forgiveness is merely the best option…if we cannot do that, then we need at least to find a way to understand things…hope is another idea entirely (delusion perhaps?)…anyway interesting!