Find it hard to Forgive?
Updated: Mar 12
Many, if not most of us, have grown up with a definition of forgiveness that we find difficult to come to terms with. We feel that by forgiving someone, we are condoning their behaviour and letting them off the hook. We feel that we can't get validation unless the other person suffers too. Sometimes we have a relentless urge to make the offender realise how much they have made us suffer. Worst of all it feels like forgiving someone would be admitting that our pain is not important, that we've overreacted, or we were wrong to feel anything at all. We believe that in demanding that the other person feel our pain, we will be able to move forward with our lives and begin to heal. The thing about anger and resentment though, is that it is rarely shared by both parties. The person that suffers the most is usually us. At times we can resolve relationships by talking honestly to the offender about what we feel has been done to us and why it has affected us. This is always the first thing that we should try. Giving a person the opportunity to understand how they have made us feel and to make amends is the right thing to do. At other times, this just isn't possible. What happens if the person we need to get validation from is no longer alive, doesn't care, or is incapable of giving us what we need in order to heal? We need to be able to process these things independent of the person who perpetrated an injustice against us.
This is why counsellors redefine forgiveness for our clients as a conscious and deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward another person without ever having to speak to them. By doing so, you can acknowledge the wound inflicted upon you without feeling the need to have the other person know how much you have been affected. It is possible to lay down the burden of shame because you understand that it isn't yours to carry. You come to terms with the fact that you cannot make the other person think, believe, say, or do anything to alleviate your pain and so you leave your burdens on the ground without any expectation or need for them to be picked up by the offender. Forgiveness is not about condoning the offender's behaviour, it is not about granting legal mercy to someone who has broken the law and it's not about reconciling a relationship unless that is what you would like. What it is about is letting go of your anger in spite of how reasonable and justified that anger may be. When you begin that journey you start to realise who you've been poisoning all these years. These unresolved feelings about injustice create a wall around you that starts to affect you and all your relationships. The purpose of forgiveness is not to let the offender out of their prison, but to liberate you from yours.
About the author Greg James is a psychotherapist with a desire to see people set free from the patterns of the past. Trained integratively, Greg is able to tailor his approach to the individual needs of clients and strongly believes that our lived experience has a profound effect on our present-day living. He works out of offices in Chippenham and Devizes as well as online. www.gregjames.co.uk