In psychotherapy, it is often desired to have the patient forgive. This is a broad concept encompassing forgiveness of self and of others.
Quite simply, when we do not forgive, then anger, resentment, bitterness… these things grow within us. They can become quite driving, damaging to our bodies and mind. Dealing with them, without sorting them out can lead to depression, substance abuse and more.
Can we forgive? Is it important?
Forgiveness of self is very important. Forgiving others can allow you to move on, we are taught that we should forgive, this is true. We all can err, we can all make mistakes. Sometimes we are not in control, for various reasons, not the true person inside. Accidents can happen, mistakes can happen. Vocal outbursts, without thought can happen. There are so many considerations, variables, situations.
First we need to understand. There is a difference between accidental and deliberate. Deliberate also has a range, malicious, impulsive, uncontrolled.
To forgive the accidental act is much easier. Mistakes happen, we have made them. Some can be quite serious. But non deliberate actions are easier to forgive.
In therapy, to forgive allows for comfort. True forgiveness though, is difficult. You can say I forgive you, but if you do not feel this, you have not forgiven. You do not have to say you forgive someone however, just to feel it inside.
So, then, what is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is just a word, it defines that we have accepted that an act occurred, we no longer feel anger or resentment. We accept that something has happened. Blame is no longer applied. The act or action, we do not have to accept or condone. To forgive does not mean that this was an acceptable occurrence. forgiveness is the release of negative damaging emotions.
So is this just playing with words?
Forgiving someone can be difficult. The action itself should not be analysed, but the situation that the person was in needs to be looked at. Perhaps what drove them. Empathy makes this easier. Were they under the influence of medication, drugs or emotions that were overpowering for them. On going actions, some act that was long term is more difficult to forgive, but the same model needs to be applied. To look at their situation, what drove them.
So this brings me to mental health, long term suffering, something that we strive to understand, to forgive, so we can move on, to allow a tormenting memory to fade is often not very easy. Can we look at the mental health of our tormentor?
To explain how long term abuse can occur is so difficult. To allow forgiveness for this action, virtually impossible, if our tormentor had an untreated illness, this can be something we can latch on to, to allow for the how could this happen thoughts to rest.
Abuse is never acceptable.
To understand what drove someone to preform an action, sometimes is the road to forgiveness. This is not always possible though.
When abused, mentally, physically, sexually, forgiveness is difficult, when this has occurred over a longer period of time, forgiveness becomes much more challenging.
Should we forgive. hmmmmm. no, not always.
Then acceptance is important.
If there is a chance that a patient can forgive, then truly this is a route to follow, remember forgiveness is not of the action, but of the person. True forgiveness allows a release, it allows healing.
Complicated though, why should we forgive someone that abused us.
Often though, our tormentor may not have changed, may not acknowledge that their actions were wrong or happened even. We can try to empathise with their situation, perhaps they are still untreated. Forgiveness becomes much much more difficult. To tell them you forgive them, will wash over them, the patient will not feel release.
We often want to lash back, to seek revenge.
Acceptance can help us overcome this. If our tormentor is one that will not change, we need to move on. They do not have to be a part of our life. let go.
To lie awake at night, plotting the others doom…. is toxic.
We need to remove ourselves from harm, if the tormentor is not one to change, we need to step away, to protect ourselves. This may involve police intervention. We must be safe however.
To accept that an action occurred, that there may be reasons for it, or there may not be, that we may not know why it happened, is important, it is a form of forgiveness, though the same feeling of contentment may not occur. To accept can allow us to stop planning revenge.
There are times when forgiveness is just not possible, we can not empathise with the person. We don’t have to justify their actions.
So we can accept that an action happened, that it was wrong.
Lets twist them around now, acceptance does not mean that we condone the action, only that it happened. We can not change this. We let go of blame, again we are not accepting that this action was proper, only that it happened. To keep blaming ourselves or our tormentor is also toxic. We have to let go as we can not change what happened. It is in the past.
We can forgive, by understanding, possibly, the state someone was in, we do not have to tell them that we forgive them. But to feel this can be healing. To understand that what drove them to abuse was, perhaps beyond their control, perhaps still is, but we understand this. We are removed from harm, from future harm, we are safe. We are not forgiving the action, we are not saying that this was ok, because it wasn’t. Only that we have managed to feel compassion, to partially understand the persons state.
Forgiveness is not acceptance that something was ok, forgiveness is the release of resentment. To let go. Yes it happened. Yes it was terrible, but it is now, in the past. We are moving on, we can not change the past.
Acceptance does not mean we accept that the action was justified or right, only that it occurred. Some memories become buried, the mind hides them, acceptance becomes a different issue. Perhaps they are still tormenting us, dividing us, but until they are released, acceptance is not forthcoming. This involves a different form of therapy, to release these memories, so they can be dealt with. Hidden memories are really not hiding too well.
We need to replace anger with compassion. When we can. But anger needs to be left behind. Yes we are justified in being angry, but now it is not helping us. this emotion is toxic.
We also need to accept that there are times when we DO NOT FORGIVE. Because this too, is acceptable.
Complicated isn’t it?
Forgiveness too, is not on and off, not instant, it is not simple, black or white. So, for some this can be difficult, to see the grey. Forgiving then, becomes incredibly difficult for the patient.
Forgiving is letting go of the anger. It is not forgetting. To forgive is not to ask to forget, we can not forget. We may not be able to understand, we can let go though, that it happened, it is past, we are now safe, it was wrong yes. To forgive does not mean we now like the person, perhaps we can understand what drove them.
Forgiveness happens in stages, I am safe, releasing the anger, it is in the past, IT WAS NOT MY FAULT.
Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. They do not need to be told at all. It is more “letting go” letting the raw emotions go, the anger, resentment. The past can not be changed or justified. Abuse is not acceptable. The abuser does not need to be a part of our life now, we can forgive, truly, understand their mind was not in the right place, but we do not need to accept them back into our life either.
So what is forgiveness? Letting go of the anger, the resentment, the need for revenge. Forgiveness is letting go, because holding on is toxic.