By Nikki Rollo PhD, LMFT
Love and Forgiveness is not for the faint-hearted. – Meher Baba
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think about forgiveness? Maybe you have images of tears, hugging, and restoration of a relationship. Or maybe you actually feel repulsed by the idea of forgiving someone who has really hurt you. To be honest, in thinking about writing this blog and contemplating the spiritual principle of forgiveness in my own life, I did not envision rainbows and hugs. In fact, I realized I had much more resistance to the idea than I expected…which of course meant I needed to dive in deeper and explore the meaning and purpose of forgiveness.
I love the statement that forgiveness is not for the faint-hearted because most times when I have been wounded and am presented with the opportunity to practice forgiveness, it is not my first instinct. It often times just feels really hard to do! It brings up feelings of vulnerability and I usually sense myself getting a bit resistant to the idea that forgiveness is the right path. In fact, the idea of a hard shell around me, protecting me, just feels SO much safer! And at the same time, I recognize that living a full and meaningful life often requires doing the harder thing.
So, in service of doing the harder thing, let’s go a little deeper together into the principle of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a complex and challenging spiritual principle. It might help to start with what forgiveness is not in order to better understand what forgiveness is.
- Forgiveness is not balance on the scales of justice
I read this somewhere once and it really hit home for me. For those of us who have been wounded deeply by others either emotionally or physically, accepting that the wound and the act of forgiveness are two separate things can bring a sense of freedom. It is more about grace and mercy than about justice.
- Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing wrong doing or harmful behavior
In other words, by extending forgiveness, we are not saying that what happened was ok or that the person is free to act that way toward us again. We can recognize that the wrong-doer is human and made a mistake, yet still hold a belief that the person should have acted differently.
- Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness
Sometimes we can hold onto our resentments as a way of attempting to demonstrate strength, boundaries, self-respect, etc. However, forgiveness in its purest form is actually an act of great courage and requires significant strength, compassion, and love for self as well as for the offender.
- Forgiveness is not a discounting of the depth of our suffering
While it is important to honor the depth of our pain, it is also necessary to find freedom from suffering and open our hearts to peace. Forgiveness can be the path to a release for our soul.
Now that we know what forgiveness is not, let’s look at what true forgiveness looks like.
- Forgiveness is a practice of extending grace when others may not be deserving of it
Forgiveness is a practice. It takes time, dedication, and courage. It may not be something that comes naturally to us when we have been wounded – the urge to protect ourselves in every way is a powerful emotion. Forgiveness is a choice that takes conscious effort and practice, even when it is scary or difficult.
The path to forgiveness allows us the opportunity to release shame, anger, resentment and desire for vengeance in service of making space for peace and love in our hearts.
- Forgiveness is a gift to yourself
When we hold on to hurts and stay in a place of anger and fear, we limit our ability to deeply connect with others. We are inherently social creatures and relationships are necessary for us to survive and thrive in our lives. When true forgiveness takes place, our inner beings are more peaceful and we have a greater capacity to connect with others in a meaningful way.
Some questions you might have about forgiveness:
Do I have to talk to the person who hurt me?
I think it is important to note that the practice of forgiveness requires no interaction between the victim and the offender. It is a “revision in judgment” (Moody-Adams, 2015), which means it is distinct from the concept of reconciliation, where we actively repair a relationship with another person. Forgiveness is a “unilateral” action, meaning we can do it internally, alone, and without the participation or consent of the other person.
It is possible to forgive from a distance. It can still happen if you do not get an apology from the person who hurt you. And, you are not obligated to speak to or relate to the person again. It is really not about them – remember it is a gift you give yourself. It is about releasing anger, resentment, and shame, so you have space in your heart to live your life to the fullest capacity.
What about forgiving and forgetting?
We might have heard the phrase, “forgive and forget”. In this life, there are some wrongs that have been done that simply will not be forgotten, and perhaps shouldn’t be. We remember as a way of ensuring we do not experience the same pain twice. We remember as a way of honoring our journey. We remember as a way of bringing our narrative from darkness to light, perhaps helping another human suffering along the path of life. Forgiveness does not automatically bring with it forgetting. While there are some things we might desire to forget, potential for transformation and healing also lies in the remembering. Yet, this remembering can take a different quality – one with less sharpness and anger, and one with more gratitude for the peace that has come into our lives.
Wrapping it Up
Jack Kornfield says forgiveness is, “for the beauty of your own soul”. He also tells us that it is not a quick process, but rather a deep practice of the heart. So, it takes time. It takes patience. It takes dedication and commitment. It takes openness to taking it one step at a time from a place of courage to develop the capacity for forgiveness.
Stay tuned for the next blog post about extending forgiveness toward yourself on your recovery journey.
Enright, Robert. http://internationalforgiveness.com/
Kornfield, J. (2009). The wise heart. Bantam Books: New York.
Moody-adams, M. (2015). The enigma of forgiveness. Journal of Value Inquiry,49(1-2), 161-180.
Pattakos, A. (2009). The meaning and power of forgiveness*. Interbeing, 3(1), 21-22.