Forgiveness: it’s a tricky, often evasive concept.
Time and time again I hear people preaching about the power of forgiveness. I’ve been told that the only way to move on is to forgive. I’ve also been told that forgiveness is more about you than it is about the person whom you are forgiving. Similarly, I’ve heard people speak of forgiveness as something incredibly powerful; a force that needs to be harnessed in life.
But I guess forgiveness is one of those easier-said-than-done tasks.
One of the semi-philosophical questions which I often find myself pondering is the forgiveness of the seemingly unforgivable. Some acts are so atrocious that I can’t even begin to imagine how one might forgive in the face of such cruelty. For example, how does a grieving family forgive a drunk driver who killed their loved one? How does a rape survivor forgive the perpetrator? How does a childhood abuse victim forgive their abuser?
Forgiveness seems like such a massive concept to be grappled with. I can’t imagine how I would even begin to forgive the person who abused me. He brought so much pain and destruction to my life; he made me hate myself. He doesn’t deserve forgiveness.
But then, does that make me weak? While I have the utmost respect for Mahatma Gandhi, I find the latter quote to be offensive. The insinuation that an inability to forgive is a sign of weakness is demeaning. Anyone who survives trauma is by definition strong and resilient. To suffer loss at the hands of someone else’s cruelty and metaphorically come out on the other side is a sign of strength. To insinuate that an individual must forgive another’s actions in order to be strong is degrading and minimizes the strength that it took to even survive, let alone wrestle with the concept of forgiveness.
So, my initial reaction to the latter quote is one of defiant, frustrated protest.
But then I reconsider my perspective on forgiveness when I look at it as something that someone does for themselves rather than something that is done for the wrongdoer.
There is a quote which states “holding a grudge is like letting someone live rent free in your head”. While I see the logic in this quote, I don’t believe that it is entirely accurate. For example, if you are constantly thinking about the actions of someone and this is having a negative impact on your life (ie. you are angry, sad, or otherwise upset) then I would agree that this quote can accurately be applied to your situation. However, I can also see this from an alternative perspective.
For those of us who have received treatment for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of a sexual trauma, you can probably speak to the treatment plan goals intended to help individuals reclaim their lives. For example, in my own treatment, the main goal is to help me move on from intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and thoughts of my abuser which have been causing me tremendous distress. The therapy that I am currently undergoing is intended to metaphorically evict my abuser from my mind so that he can no longer live rent free in my head.
Essentially, the therapy that I am undergoing is intended to have the same end goal that forgiveness supposedly achieves according to the above quote. But the intent of my therapy does not involve forgiveness. Forgiveness has never been my goal. I have no desire to forgive. I do not wish to think about the abuse or my abuser anymore, but that doesn’t mean that I will forgive my abuser. That does not mean that I am willing to allow him to have any role whatsoever in my life. From my perspective, forgiveness is entirely optional and my happiness is not contingent upon my ability to forgive the loser who robbed me of a normal, happy childhood.
As if forgiveness wasn’t hard enough in and of itself, the concept becomes even more complicated when the individual whom you are forgiving (or not! Totally optional!!) does not offer an apology or any signs of remorse.
I suppose this goes back to the idea that forgiveness is more about you than it is about the other individual, but this certainly makes the already difficult task of forgiveness much more grueling. After all, why should you forgive someone who clearly does not believe that they have done something in need of forgiveness? I guess the answer to this really depends on whether or not you believe that forgiveness is essential to your ability to move on and be happy.
At this point, I’m a bit torn between the two arguments for and against forgiveness. While I can certainly see the value in it in some cases, I do not support the idea that it is 100% crucial to happiness or the insinuation that only those who forgive are strong.
Feel free to share your thoughts below!