When forgiveness is nowhere near enough
The other day I had a long, deep conversation with one of my many brothers.
And about what it really is.
I greatly respect my brother as he has immersed himself in personal development and is taking it further than most. Among other things he’s in the process of apologising. Apologising to the people he’s hurt.
Hot D, I think that’s brave!
Back to our conversation.
We started discussing forgiveness.
Someone shared a quote with my brother a while ago: “By forgiving you remove your enemy’s power” and it really stuck with him. He’s been thinking about it for a VERY LONG time.
Because what is forgiveness really?
We only become aware of the concept of forgiveness when something significant enough has happened that may or may not be forgiven. That something significant likely involves transgression, betrayal, breaking of trust etc.
The idea of forgiving as removing power didn’t make sense to my brother. Or to me for that matter. It felt like something was missing in the equation.
And that is what he’d been chewing over for a very long time.
In order to work through it, he decided to start apologising. He was sorting through internal stuff and exploring forgiveness.
To give the people he’s hurt in his life the opportunity for closure and full healing.
Forgiveness + apology = emotional release
And he’s right.
Forgiveness in and of itself is rarely enough.
I’ve seen it numerous times in my practice. People who again and again think that it’s in the “forgiving” that the release and peace can be found. There’s this idea that “if only you can forgive me, then everything will be fine and dandy. All pain will disappear like dew at sunrise. We’re back on track. Everything’s forgotten and we can start over.”
That’s all fine and dandy but the fact remains that you still got burned.
And maybe you’ve been deeply scarred.
It is possible to forgive fairly easily. To forgive means that you’re saying “Yes, maybe I can learn to live with what you’ve done and our relationship is too important to me to throw in the towel, so I’ll give it another chance”.
But is that enough?
Is it ALWAYS enough?
In my experience, if ONLY the person who is doing the forgiving has to do the work, then they can get peace of mind.
So if I was the one who’s been hurt and I no longer hold a grudge, am not angry, unhappy or sad etc. then I can make peace with what happened.
That is, to accept what happened. (Accept is NOT the same as approving or condoning) Accepting that you were hurt and that the transgression is something that you have learned to live with, and it is now part of my life’s history.
You’re scarred. It hurt like hell. THIS you can recognise and accept, even though it’s hard.
You can process it. Mourn. Cry. Feel. Be furious. And a million other things. “Shut down” the episode in your mind. Find a box for it. Put a lid on it. Live on. Be reminded less and less about it as you go through life. You can move on.
And you can find peace.
And yes, once you’ve successfully worked through the “SHIT”, depending on the degree of hurt, then you can say that your forgiveness has “removed the power from the one who has hurt you”.
But then what?
Is that enough?
Let’s think about it this way:
Say you go to a restaurant and stuff yourself with extraordinary good gourmet food and go home happy and satisfied, only to wake up in the middle of the night feeling horribly sick and you throw up and also have other issues (which is a bad situation as most bathrooms only have one toilet you can use).
And EVEN though you’re back to yourself within a few days, you’re not likely to go to that restaurant ever again.
You’d be justified in considering going online and writing a really bad review on Yelp even though most of your experience was good?
So while you got through the crap (literally) and you’re now totally fine, there’s no way you can know for sure that it won’t happen again right?
Unless there are some assurances that it will never happen again. Like the chef who didn’t wash his hands has been fired. That they’ve changed the procedure for how they handle meat. Whatever.
It’s very much the same with the power of forgiveness.
You can work through the shit. Which I’ll strongly encourage you to do because any other option sucks. But you cannot create a good relationship to go back to if you’re the only one doing the work.
If the chef had said:
“Too bad. That’s just the way it is when you eat in my restaurant. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. Are you sure you just didn’t have a flu? Are you even sure it was our food that made you sick? Maybe you just have a sensitive stomach? It may be nothing we’ve done but all about you?”
Would you then want to go back there?
But what if the chef said:
“Oh how terrible! We’re SO sorry to hear you had a bad experience. Listen, first and foremost, we will compensate you for your meal. And then we’ll carefully look into what could have caused your food poisoning and please let us know if there’s anything we can do for you. Again, we are truly sorry and offer our most sincere apologies.”
This wouldn’t necessarily make you want to return to that restaurant but you would likely be less upset about the whole thing.
And that’s exactly the way it is with forgiveness and emotional release. AND it works this way with all your relationships – with your partner, parents, children and friends.
Forgiveness can jumpstart the process of acceptance and ultimate peace of mind.
It takes time.
Ultimately, your willingness and ability to open yourself up again to the person who has hurt you depends on how that person takes responsibility for their actions.
Then forgiveness can be the way to go. But to repair the damage done to the relationship, you have to get what you need from the other person too.
And often that is an apology and acknowledgment that they did you wrong and will do what’s needed to make things right again. Sorry. It won’t happen again. I am sorry.
And that’s why I really think that’s it’s brave that my brother is apologising and taking responsibility for his transgressions.
To give what he can so the people he’s hurt can move on. Maybe with a little more ease.
I hope this might inspire you because I was certainly inspired.
Maj Wismann – Clinical sexologist and couple’s therapist with private clinic since 2006 – Read about Maj here <—