Sunday, August 31, 2008

I Don't Really Have To Forgive You

A month or so ago, I read a self-help book with an idea I had never heard of before. And I love hearing new ideas--even if I don't agree with them.

This idea though-- I almost immediately agreed with. Well, as soon as I read and digested it. The idea is that we don't have to forgive people. Most of the time, when we say we forgive someone, we're either rushing the healing process and/or we're denying our feelings.

There's even that saying. To err is human. To forgive divine . Okay, but the thing is. We're NOT divine. We're humans. Whether we face the fact or not, we get angry. And it's not easy to let go of that anger. It takes time. It takes an apology. And sometimes even with time and an apology, we can't forgive.

Is that fair though to the person who is apologizing? Aren't we allowed to make mistakes? Am I going to be hated forever just because I did one wrong thing?

When Kevin Rudd apologized on behalf of White Australians for what they did to the Indigenous people, is it fair that some people didn't accept the apology? Is it fair that some people are still angry? What do they owe to those who apologized, and what do those apologizing owe to those who are hurt?

What do we owe each other when there is pain between us?

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Well, for personal reasons. I currently have wonderful and amazing relationships in my life. Yet, I also have relationships that are in turmoil.

Just like everyone else in this world, I have had things said to me that hurt to the core. Reading the self-help book was a relief because I realized I didn't have to rush and forgive these people for saying these things. I don't have to ever forgive them.

But what does that mean? Does it mean I stop loving them? Do I hate them? Do I end our relationships? Do I act out in some passive aggressive way?

I don't think so. I still love most of these people. Although I still feel anger for what they said, I also appreciate all the nice things they've said. I know that I adore them, and I know I still want them in my life. I still like to laugh with them. I still like to hug them. I still like to go out and eat ice-cream with them.

What I'm beginning to realize now is that it's possible to love someone while still being angry at them at the same time.

If I can't forgive these people, what do I owe them? Do I owe them anything at all?

I guess it depends on what they've done and whether they've apologized.

I accept apologizes even if I don't forgive them. I guess that might sound like a contradiction. What is the difference between forgiving and accepting an apology?

In my opinion, forgiving says. I'm no longer hurt. I'm no longer angry. I'm ready to trust you again. I'm ready for our relationship to go back to where it used to be.

Accepting an apology says. I'm still hurt and angry, but I appreciate that you're sorry. I'm willing to try to talk things over with you, and when I'm ready we can work on mending our relationship. It also means, that at times, I can push my resentment out of my mind and just enjoy your company.

I don't think we are required to forgive, and I think it's liberating to finally understand that. But I don't think it's asking too much to accept an apology.

I'm a fairly upfront kind of person--the kind who will say what's on her mind. But I can't say that in 100% of cases, I immediately come forward and tell someone. Hey, you've hurt my feelings.

Sometimes I'm afraid I'll appear weak if I admit to feeling hurt by something someone said.

Sometimes, I'm afraid they'll scoff at me for overreacting. What? Do I have to walk on eggshells with you?

Sometimes I'm afraid they'll find pleasure in knowing they've hurt me. Maybe that's what they had wanted all along.

But if someone comes forward and says they think they might have hurt me and they're sorry....I will at least be honest and say something like Yes, you hurt my feelings and I'm angry. If asked directly, I don't think I would lie.

Forgiveness is not necessary for us to maintain positive relationships with people. But two other things are necessary.

They are:

A) the ability to recognize that we have hurt someone and apologize to them for it.
B) the ability and courage to admit we are hurt--to either accept an apology or ask for one.

If we can't have those two things, the relationship will be a mixture of dishonesty and passive-aggressive behavior. Then it's probably best to just say good-bye and go our own separate ways.


  1. I dunno that I agree with you here.

    For me, forgiveness means being ready to put aside being angry/resentful/hurt, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to trust that person again or want to have a relationship with them again.

    I actually think forgiveness is something we do for ourselves, not for the person apologising. We allow ourselves to let go of the hurt so we can move on.

    But sometimes it's not wise to let things go back to how they were.

  2. Bettina,

    I think I see what you're saying.

    I just think too often we say we forgive, but we don't really mean it.

    I was with someone who wrote a very harsh letter to someone about how they felt. Then at the end, they said "I already forgive you." Well, if they forgave that person, why the need for the harsh letter?

    I could tell by the way they talked about this person that they were still very angry and resentful.

    I do think forgiveness can be a beautiful thing--but only real forgiveness. And I think real forgiveness takes time.

    I don't think it's something we can force to happen--just so we can feel better and move on.

    I don't really think we can truly sit there and decide. "Okay. That's it. I'm not going to be hurt and mad anymore. I'm going to be over it and move on."

    I DO think we can stop dwelling on the hurt so much. We can dwell more on positive stuff. See the good in our relationship with the person, etc. But I think it's okay to keep a little bit of the anger and sadness there. Let it fade away gradually, rather than forcing it away in a quick and artificial way.