Forgiveness is not a concept. It’s a process. And, if you choose not to forgive at the end of that process, it doesn’t mean that you are unhealed. It doesn’t mean that you are a lesser human. It doesn’t mean you are not spiritual or evolved. It doesn’t mean you will come back in the next lifetime to live it out again. It may just mean that forgiveness is not actually in your integrity. The assumption that forgiving the abuser is the benchmark of a completed emotional and karmic process is the mistake. The real benchmark of resolution is whether you have gone through your emotional process authentically and have arrived at a place where the negative charge around the experience has dissipated. Perhaps you will learn some lessons, or perhaps you will eventually be legitimately liberated from the memories. Perhaps you will work it through so completely that you have very little energetic charge around the events. Or perhaps you will actually realize that forgiveness is not essential to your healing, and not your responsibility. The point is that focusing on our responsibility to forgive a wrongdoer sidetracks the whole process. Your sole responsibility is to arrive at whatever destination is true to you. ~ Jeff Brown
It’s a process where I want to assert that being able to say “I forgive them” is NOT a requirement, or even necessarily the goal.
I remember the first client whose forgiveness torture had caused them distress for decades. They had been told over and over and over again that they needed to “forgive” in order to be able to move on. Pressured to forgive by siblings who wanted everything “restored to normal.” Pressured by pastors. Pressured by therapists. Even their massage therapist had weighed in that they “needed to forgive” before their body would heal.
This did not feel true to me.
Our approach was to respect truths about what happened and the enormous impact those actions inflicted on them had had on the course of their life. It was to accept unwanted realities – NOT accept that the behaviors were acceptable. It was to bring loving comfort to their inner child (and their inner children across many times and ages).
It was, and it is in my heart, to be with what was, what is now, and with a deeply sacred awareness of what matters to the person who has been harmed… and how they want to live NOW from what matters.
I remember what she said to me, when I asked about forgiveness after we’d been clear that it was not “necessary” nor her goal:
Forgiveness is not for me to bestow in this. For me, I need the boundary that holding a place of “unforgivable” gives me. Forgiveness is outside my personal realm… perhaps held by those who can see the larger picture with compassion for the persons who abused me. But that is God’s business, not mine. Mine is to live my life and BE… Be very different from the ways I had been treated.
Looking at Jeff Brown’s quote above, I believe there is a lot of wisdom for us who want emotional freedom for all. My client, and many dozen since, did NOT need to forgive in order to heal. They did not need to bestow anything on their abusers. Such efforts (pressures really) had, indeed, sidetracked the whole process.
As I feel into the healing I’ve done from abuse I suffered, I recognize that there were many ways that I had confused acceptance and awareness with “forgiveness.” It would have been so much easier if I had known that healing would flow to me more readily when I allowed myself to share an awareness of what happened with someone safe. And that accepting the reality of the dynamics that had been at place (manipulation, pretended “consent”) I could (and have) gotten really clear about what CONSENT feels like, and what it doesn’t.
Consent matters to me in a non-fearful yet courageous way. It has been integrated into my life and work. It’s true that consent would not be, perhaps, as intimately dear to me as it is if it wasn’t for what I had gone through as a teenage boy for three years.
I’m grateful for that learning… and the teaching and sharing that does, in my case, flow from it… however beautifully imperfectly.
I write all this guessing that some people have a different experience of Forgiveness, indeed. That it was the Forgiving that freed them. Please know nothing I’m offering here, or Jeff is, is meant to diminish or distract from that truth for you.
It’s an invitation to hold Forgiveness with more curiosity rather than a “requirement.” Because there is so much evidence that it is not required.
The past couple days I’ve been going through some of the audios of the Childhood Trauma course and I just finished the Bullying session and decided to do my own tapping on things I perceived as bullying from others. It started with one thing, then another, but they weren’t big things but they did have a big impact on me and how I thought.
Something either you or Cathy said about believing that teenager or kid for all these years really resonated with me. Why would I listen to the version of PC when he was a teenager with wacky hormones as all teenagers and adopt that false belief? I did go through calling it something silly he said and I did go through forgiving his teenager person and also forgiving my teenage person for believing him for all these decades.
I did this for several significant (well, what I saw as big things that weren’t really) events where I did adopt those false beliefs and claimed them as my own. I decided to throw them away because they weren’t valid. Releasing forgiveness is something I found very freeing. Without that forgiveness, the offense or what have you, seemed to leave me tied to that false belief and them.
In the end, it resulted in me thinking about my dad and doing A LOT of forgiving him for all sorts of things back when I was a child, a young adult, an adult, and now. It’s allowing me to release a lot.
My back feels very tired and now I need my husband to give me a back massage, but I think I’ve been carrying the weight of all these false beliefs and offenses on my shoulder like Atlas carried the world. Forgiveness doesn’t release the offense or saying it was alright, rather it’s releasing me of the unhealthy ties and giving me freedom.
But, forgiveness IS a process. I’m sure there is more to work on.
I’m so glad for your relief, @dorisv! And to personal peace-bringing processes.
These forgiveness posts were very helpful to me. And Rick, thank you for your vulnerability about your past. My language and understanding around forgiveness came from Catholic teachings where there was no real safety or true accountability. You either forgive as God instructs you to (a sign of spiritual strength and actually a requirement to get into Heaven) or you seek forgiveness to wash away your sins (regardless of whether you have the awareness, tools, or resources to make sure you do not harm someone again like that). Very black and white. I also learned to rush this process to clean things up, meaning rush myself or the other person into forgiveness. Knowing that forgiveness is not the only way to emotional freedom is really helpful. And I hadn’t thought about how it puts the focus on the harmdoer and sidetracks. My asking for forgiveness from others makes things about me and my relief. I want the focus to be on what they authentically need to heal from how I impacted them. And what I need to heal about myself that caused their pain.
What you’re describing is what I’ve come to know as Restorative Practices. It seeks to address the harms felt and caused by all parties – which would include friends and community impacts… and intends for there to be re-integration with community support.
Our adversarial model of guilt/harm is incompatible with that. We try and go black/white, when harm never really is. As I touched on (deeply) in the Blaming… topic, once we get into any kind of compassionate exploration, it is never ever so clear.
The actual spiritual message of forgiveness embraces, for me, a recognition that we “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
These days I might re-craft this more as “I accept that I trespass and am trespassed against… and that is not where our We-space chooses to end. It’s where love begins… and emotional labor from us All is called forth… seeking restoration of grace and connection and deeper safety and respect and freedom for all.”
Victim/victimizer and blame and guilt are easier. They let people choose sides. Restoration is about the ecosystem, to which we are all intimately connected.
Thank you @Dru