Forgiving Myself and Others . . . Why Bother?

Forgiveness will not be possible until compassion is born in your heart.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh


I recently had a rather intense conversation about forgiveness with a friend. She was adamant that there are some people that do not deserve forgiveness, ever. She went on to say that serial rapists and pedophiles do not deserve forgiveness period. And although there is very compelling evidence that forgiveness is good for the person who forgives, we came to an impasse.

I think a lot of us get stuck on the idea of what forgiveness actually means. Forgiveness is defined as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether you believe they actually deserve your forgiveness. Remember the act of forgiving is for you the forgiver, not the person you are forgiving.

Forgiveness does not mean that you gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offence against you. It does not mean forgetting nor excusing what has been done. It does not mean you have to reconcile with the person or release them from legal accountability.

As Anne Lamott puts it:

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare.” 

Forgiveness is for the forgiver. It brings the forgiver peace and hopefully freedom from anger.

It took years of therapy to be able to forgive my mother. I was convinced she did not deserve forgiveness. She chose alcohol over her own children, dying and leaving me motherless at the tender age of 16. But when I finally reached a place of letting it go, it was so liberating! I felt lighter and more energized than I had in my entire life. Forgiveness is so freeing. It loosens the knot in my stomach that comes from resentment and anger at another person.

I love Jack Kornfield’s definition of forgiveness:

“Forgiveness is, in particular, the capacity to let go, to release the suffering, the sorrows, the burdens of the pains and betrayals of the past, and instead to choose the mystery of love. Forgiveness shifts us from the small separate sense of ourselves to a capacity to renew, to let go, to live in love.”

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for happiness, health and peace. And studies have shown that forgiveness can lead to better relationships; greater psychological well-being; less stress; lower blood pressure; fewer symptoms of depression and a stronger immune system. Just to name a few of the health benefits.

But as we all know, it’s a helluva lot easier said than done. Fred Luskin is a pioneer in the science and practice of forgiveness. He offers us nine steps toward forgiveness:

1. Understand how you feel about what happened and be able to explain why the situation is not OK. Then discuss it with someone you trust.
2. Commit to yourself to feel better; remember forgiveness is for you and no one else.
3. Remember forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to reconcile with the person who upset you; it does not condone the action. In forgiveness you are seeking peace for yourself.
4. Recognize that the distress now is coming from the hurt feelings and physical upset you are currently suffering, not from what offended you or hurt you when it happened.
5. At the moment you feel upset, practice stress management to soothe your body’s fight or flight response. Take a deep breath.
6. Stop expecting things from other people that they do not choose to give you.
7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you.
8. Remember that living well is the best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving power over you to the person who caused you pain, look for the love, beauty, and kindness around you. Put more energy into appreciating what you have rather than attending to what you do not have.
9. Amend the way you look at your past so you remind yourself of your heroic choice to forgive.

One of the best ways I can get myself to a place of forgiveness when I’m feeling stuck is to journal. I write pages and pages about why I’m angry and resentful and hurt. I write until it’s all out. And then I usually talk about it, and occasionally even write an article about it about because as Anne Lamott tells us:

Now you get to tell it, because then it will become medicine – that we evolve; that life is stunning, wild, gorgeous, weird, brutal, hilarious and full of grace. That our parents were a bit insane, and that healing from this is taking a little bit longer than we had hoped. Tell it.

I’d like to close with a beautiful meditation on forgiveness with Jack Kornfield.

I’d love to hear about how you practice forgiveness.
And as always, thank you for taking the time to visit.  I appreciate it.

20 thoughts on “Forgiving Myself and Others . . . Why Bother?

  1. I practice forgiveness by recognizing the obvious anguish the perpetrator is/was in to be or do that which caused my anger. I must, today, let that go. Holding onto anger and resentment is toxic. By forgiving I am not condoning I am putting myself apart from the infraction, coming back to what is, away from what was. I also consider my own frailties and defects, admitting the worst I am capable of and understand that I too am forgiven. I am free in the moment to be kind and loving

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great word! Jesus commands us to forgive, it’s not always my first step, but when I do forgive ‘them’ and pray for them, I’m free. Sometimes ‘the person’ actually softens with you and there’s a change in them, when they know nothing of your internal thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve had trouble forgiving my rapists too. I can see how you want to explain forgiveness. I see how Christians do that… and then they end up tolerating and protecting the rapist and erasing the existence and silencing the voice of victims of rape. I am not vengeful. I am not vindictive. I think forgiveness of ourselves is more important for being imperfect and human. But forgiving others is up to God. Whatever that is. You can not ask rape survivors to forgive their rapists. Rapists kill soul. They murder spirit. I get stalked and trolled almost everyday by Rape-culture people online. I don’t want to forgive them. I want them to stop the sick behavior. I want them to be stopped.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I do understand why people say to forgive, so they don’t have to carry it.
    And I hope I wasn’t rude in my first comment.
    I just think we need to deal with the problems and not just “forgive” them. The catholic church recently has more data about the boys and girls being raped by priests, who preach forgiveness. Might there be a parallel, to the rapists preaching forgiveness to their victims?
    Maybe you will find this TedTalk of interest. I think a call to action is best.
    We can forgive later. or be forgiven later… but what is that? What is forgiveness? I can surrender to what I can not change. I can accept what I cannot change… but that’s not forgiveness.
    I hope you can help me understand how to embrace this “forgiving” thing because so far I seem to get in fights about it too. And I don’t wanna fight about it.
    Thanks for your time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the link and no I don’t think your comment was rude at all. I think forgiveness is ALL about healing oneself, not about letting the asshole off for his or her culpability. But as I said in my other comment, it’s a really hard one to navigate. I know what I strive for, but I don’t always achieve it. Thanks so much for your honesty and your willingness to speak candidly about a tough subject.

      Liked by 1 person

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