Some unexpected depth on Reddit today:

Something a lot of people don’t understand. Forgiving isn’t about the other person, it’s not saying what they did is right or okay.

Forgiving is for you. You forgive someone so that you can move on. Your anger towards them doesn’t hurt them, it hurts you. It doesn’t prevent them from being happy, but it does keep you from being happy.

Followed later by this:

Reminds of on of my favorite quotes from Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

One asks, “Have you forgiven those who held you prisoner of war?” “I will never forgive them,” replies the other. His mate says: “Then it seems they still have you in prison, don’t they?”

I know all this intellectually. I’ve heard it in any number of forms. It’s a prominent teaching both in psychotherapy and in various religions.

It’s still one of the harder lessons to wrap my mind around. I can nod my head sagely, but still fail to grok it in fullness, especially when I’m considering the forgiveness particularly heinous transgressions.

It occurs to me that part of the problem here is how we learn about forgiveness in childhood. When another kid hits us we’re supposed to forgive them, and say “that’s OK”. We learn to equate forgiveness with saying “that’s OK”.

But often, it’s not OK. It’ll never be OK. It’s not OK to hurt me. The memory of that hurt will never be OK. And depending on the severity of it, the consequences of the hurt will stay with me forever.

I think even when we’re kids and we learn to say “that’s OK”, it’s not really what we mean. We mean “we’re OK”. You and I, we’re OK now. What you did was still wrong and hurtful, but we can play together again.

And that’s what we most want to hear after hurting someone else, isn’t it? We’re OK.

We want it; but we don’t necessarily deserve it. And we might never get it.

But getting back to “forgiveness”, and this idea of forgiveness as a release from our own mental attachment to a hurt…

It’s hard to think of it that way because we grow up thinking “I forgive you” is a synonym for “that’s OK”. Which is code for “we’re OK”. And we might not be OK. We—aggressor and victim—might never be OK again. Parents push us to use it in this fashion. Not to give up our attachments to the pain, but simply to say the magic words making it OK to play again.

I don’t know… maybe saying the words “I forgive you” can be an emotional stepping stone to also inwardly letting go of the pain. But if even a even a trace of “that’s OK” lingers inside the words “I forgive you”, then there are some crimes for which no forgiveness is called for.

I wonder if it’s even possible to disentangle “I forgive you” from “that’s OK” at this point. Maybe we need to stop talking so much about forgiveness, and talk more about letting go. Because it is surely true that hurt can hold us captive long after the event. And the key to freedom shouldn’t involve having to say something that sounds a lot like “that’s OK” to the person who hurt us.

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One Comment

  1. Christine Elizabeth Finnegan July 18, 2014 at 11:14

    For me, the only way to “forgive” and “forget” is to remove my emotion surrounding the situation and imagine the other person’s state of mind at the time of the offence. The “forgiving” comes in the from accepting the ‘why/how’ of the behavior and the “forgetting” is the releasing of yourself from the hurt you felt in the moment and whatever remnants you’ve been carrying since. I still have memories from childhood that I’m sure could be used to rationalize psychotic behavior, but I no longer have an ‘negative’ or confused emotional response to these memories or feelings of hatred or ill will towards my aggressor.
    So, I totally feel forgiveness is not only possible but essential. But it comes from a place of realizing why we’re not ok, accepting the reasons why, and choosing to move on. Its not about forgetting or remaining unchanged or simply accepting the hurt as ‘ok’

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