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To Forgive or Not to Forgive


My previous post elicited a good deal of response. It's obviously a subject that many of us have given some thought to. Some good points have been made in the comments. I'm still pondering the subject of forgiveness. 

Let's define forgiveness as the letting go of grudges, anger, or resentment resulting from a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake. In some situations it could also mean ceasing to demand punishment or restitution, granting a pardon, or bestowing mercy.  We can look at forgiveness as something we give to others, but we can also look at it as a gift we give to ourselves. 

Does forgiveness have to be accepted to be valid?  Is it required for the offending party be apologetic or contrite in order for us to forgive?  In other words, is forgiveness always a two-party transaction, or can I forgive someone who isn't sorry, or isn't present to receive it?

Is forgiveness more about the letting go on my part?  Is it synonymous with acceptance? 

And what about the Bible verse in the book of Matthew that enjoins believers to forgive someone "not up to seven times, but seventy times seven!"  I'm not at all sure I could do that.

I welcome your input on all of the above thoughts. 

For me, forgiveness is the act of me letting go, no so much of absolving someone of what they have done, but of releasing my hurt and anger in relation to it.  In cases of grudges and smaller issues, I can agree to "love the doer, hate the deed".  I can also go as far as to admit that most people, self included, were probably doing the very best they could with what they had (emotionally and mentally) at the time, even if there best really wasn't good enough.

Where I run into problems is the handful of people who I've encountered in life that knowingly and actively did something to harm or endanger another person, be it physically, mentally or spiritually.  There is more than one way to break a person down, to destroy them, or least to attempt that.  I put child abusers and domestic abusers in this category. I also include people who drink to excess or abuse drugs and then go out and injure or kill someone as a result of their ability to drive safely. No matter what the underlying issues in all these cases, the action itself was still a choice, and the choice was one of total disregard for the other person or persons involved. They have demonstrated a complete lack of caring, and most often a complete unwillingness to take responsibility for those actions. I can't find a way to come to terms with that.  I can, in some cases, feel compassion, if I know the offender is also emotionally damaged, but I cannot bring myself to truly forgive, or to accept what happened and just move on from it.  No, I do not accept that it ever has to be, no excuses accepted. 

I realize before anyone feels the need to say it, that I am being harsh and yes... unforgiving... toward such people.  Maybe not the people, but the choices they've made, the crimes they've committed.  I might feel differently if the person is repentant, realizes that what they did was terribly wrong.  Then.... maybe.

Another situation that is all too common is the "doormat syndrome" in which a partner is forgiven over and over for the same offense, such as abusive behavior or infidelity.  Sometimes they even demonstrate great remorse after each incident... but the  awareness doesn't last, and it doesn't prevent them from repeating the cycle over and over. For me, that is not a situation requiring forgiveness.  It is time to draw the line in the sand and say "Enough, I will not be a part of your life if you choose to do this one more time, I am done with it"!   Note that I'm not saying what they can or cannot do, I am saying I won't be a part of it, I won't allow myself to be their doormat.  I was a doormat for years and years, and I have friends who still are.  There comes a time when one has to find the courage and self respect to say STOP!

A similar situation occurs with friends and family who  prove themselves to be destructive influences in our lives.  Sometimes, sadly, when we have experienced the same hurts and negative actions over and over, with the cycle of forgiveness and recurrence repeating itself endlessly, we have to come to the point of saying "I acknowledge that we are related, but to allow you to have an active role in my life is not healthy for me, I need to maintain a safe distance from you, be it physically, emotionally, or both. I do not want or need your drama in my life." 

Have you ever had to tell this to a friend or family member?  Have you been able to stand your ground?  It isn't an easy choice, and there are many who would say it's wrong.  I am not one of them.  Sometimes when we've given a person as many chances as we can to get it right, there comes a time to say "Enough, I have no more energy to devote to this relationship".

Forgiveness is an issue I'm still working on in my  life.  I've made tremendous strides and I'm proud of myself for the individuals I have been able to forgive, and the grudges I've been able to let go.  But there are still those few that gnaw at me, that weigh me down, because I don't like feeling negative about anyone.  I'm hoping the day will come when I can fully release those resentments, when I can honestly say "I am free"!

22 comments:

  1. I HAVE HAD TO DO THIS TO MY FAMILY AND MY HUSBANDS FAMILY I AM SO TIRED OF BEING THE PERSON TO BLAME TO BE UNLOVED, TALKED ABOUT UNKINDLY, AND ALL BECAUSE I STOOD UP AND SAID NO I WILL NOT TOLERATE, MY STRENGTH IS THEIR CAUSE TO HATE ME SO YES I HAVE HAD TO SAY I CAN NOT BE APART OF THEIR LIVES AND WITH THAT COMES SUCH SADNESS BECAUSE I AM NOT WELCOMED AT GATHERINGS BECAUSE IT MIGHT UPSET THE OTHERS WHO CARES I AM UPSET. AS AN ABUSED CHILD AND THEN MARRIAGES I HAVE DEALT WITH REJECTION AND FORGIVENESS AND IT IS A TOUGH THING. I AM GLAD TO HAVE YOU WRITE ABOUT IT ..SUCH A RELIEF THAT WHEN WE HURT OR STRUGGLE WITH FEELINGS THAT SO MANY SAY ARE WRONG TO FEEL THAT YES OTHERS FEEL THESE THINGS TOO. BLESS YOU

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    1. Sadly, Janice, standing up for yourself often seems to come with a price, it has in my life too, but I feel that it's worth it to be able to live comfortably in my own skin. If other people cannot accept my reality, that is about them and I am not going to expend my energy trying to deal with it.

      I agree with you that forgivness in cases of abuse is a tough thing, I know what the higher ideal is, but that doesn't mean I am always able to obtain it. If I am anything here, it is honest. We all struggle with some aspects of our lives. I make no pretense of being perfect. :-)

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  2. I think one-sided forgiveness is possible when there's love. For example, there is someone in my life right now that hasn't been exactly fair to me - sort of taken advantage but either doesn't realize it or doesn't notice... but, because I have some measure of love for him, I can't help but forgive.

    In a disinterested way I can forgive and feel compassion for people have done terrible things to others... however, I don't know how I would be at forgiving someone who had done something horrible to me, or to someone I personally knew and cared about. That would be a lot harder.

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    1. I agree, Lady in Red, that if we have positive feelings for a person, we can most often find it in our hearts to forgive them, unless it is for a reoccuring offense. We all make mistakes, that is human. I head an expression I like... "Once is a mistake, twice is a choice". Amen to that! :-)

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    2. That's a perfect expression. Exactly!

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    3. I think so too, Lady in Red. It assigns responsibility for our actions. We were given minds to use!

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  3. I always find it interesting that people often get forgiveness and trust mixed up. I can forgive quite easily, but that doesn't mean the trust is automatically there again. Forgiveness is a gift, but trust is earned.

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    1. You make a very good point, Kellie. I agree with you that forgiveness is a gift but trust must be earned. I most often forgive people who have hurt me, but that doesn't mean I will give the the opportunity or license to do it again. I'm on guard, and if it happens yet another time, that door is probably closed henceforth. To allow yourself to be treated badly over and over is to be a doormat. I am no longer once of those! :-)

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  4. I am beginning to understand why you and MA understand each other so well. You share a lot that needs rethinking over and over until you can get it right. I appreciate your thinking out loud ... it helps the rest of us address things that we might otherwise ignore. Very well written ...

    Andrea @ From the Sol

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    1. That's true Andrea, I really do spend a lot of time in my life introspectively, working thru things and sorting things out. My goal is to be in the place of the most peace and love I can attain, and that takes a good bit of "housecleaning" on my part. I like myself and my life now, so the effort has been worth it! :-)

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  5. For me, the choice is always, to forgive. It is not about the other, forgiveness is about me, how I want to live, how I want to be in the world. when I forgive, I let the past recede so that I can move into today free of its burdens..

    Well said Josie.

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    1. Letting the past go, I can relate to, and am doing much better with, Louise. Forgiving, not always so easy for me. If someone sexually abused your child, could you find it in your heart to forgive them? If forgiveness means granting absolution, then no, I cannot. If forgiveness means only attaining a place of acceptance that what has happened has happened, and it's time to move on, that's a concept I can understand and embrace.

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  6. I've had to "live" with abuse and cruelty. I can't 'forgive' without making excuses for what they did to me. I know forgiveness if for the person who has been wounded. It's supposed to help the healing process. I think it just adds another burden to the walking wounded.

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    1. I understand where you are coming from Lotta Joy, I struggle with that in one particular situation too. I can forgive people who have mistreated me. I have moved on with my life and their "contribution" helped me find the strength and courage I needed to do that. What I cannot abide is those who hurt innocent people I love. I don't think people pressuring us to forgive someone is helpful, we have to work toward making peace with those issues in our own way and in our own time. I can let go of anger, resentment is a bit harder because some damage done is irrepairable. That's a hard reality to come to terms with, this damaging of human beings.

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  7. I admire greatly those people, especially family members, who can forgive a perpetrator for crimes committed against their relatives. For example, someone who was killed in a hit and run.

    Could I do the same thing? No. I'd like to think I could but ultimately I know I wouldn't. (I get spitting mad when someone jostles my child on the streets)

    Is forgiveness a two way thing? I believe that just the act of doing it for yourself, offers a feeling of freedom, of letting go.

    I can forgive my dad for not being around but I can't forgive him for physically abusing my mum. I can forgive my ex for the way he treated me but not for repeatedly abandoning his child. My lack of forgiveness for some, won't tear me apart, it won't be a deep pain that will consume my entire life but I know that it does for some people.

    I've got so much more to say on this topic but then it will be longer than this post. lol

    Another brilliantly thought provoking post. :)

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    1. Lily! We see things much alike! You are more than welcome to write a post in my comments anytime! It means you reacted to what I wrote, that's awesome! I'm pretty much in the same place, I can and have forgiven some pretty crappy things people have done in my life, but when it comes to my loved ones, especially my children, that's a whole different issue. As you note, it's not someplace we want to dwell and carry around like heavy chains, but it doesn't fade away either. If he wasn't already dead, I'd probably kill him.

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  8. Forgiveness is a choice on our part. It frees us, releases us from the prison of unforgiveness. The offender no longer has the hold on us that was present before we made the choice to forgive.

    My husband and I attended a Gary Smalley marriage conference many years ago. Gary talked about forgiveness at length and gave us this example. We have a tomato garden and we have a fence around that garden to help keep out the unwanted things in the garden. We choose who we allow in the garden. If someone or something comes in and stomps on our tomatoes we have a choice of putting them out of our garden or keeping on allowing them to stomp on our tomatoes. The healthy thing is to stop the stomping. That is a lot like forgiveness. We choose to forgive, but we do not have to allow the offender back into our tomato garden. We have an obligation to protect our "tomatoes" which can be our hearts, minds, emotions or body or our children's or loved ones' hearts, minds, emotions or bodies. We choose to forgive, but we also must choose to stop the abuse.

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    1. This was a great, thoughtful response Tee! I'm going to remember the tomato garden analogy. It makes it easier to explain the setting boundaries in our lives. I also like what you say about forgiveness freeing us from the offender having a hold on us. If someone can continue to haunt us, they "win" in a sense. If we can at some point let it go, their cruelty loses power. I've got more work to do on that, but I agree with the outcome!

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  9. I do find forgiving certain people difficult. I have forgiven my parents countless times for the hurtful, horrible things they have done. They feel guilty for what they have done and I feel bad they feel guilty so I forgive them, but a month or two later they are back to their old tricks again. I think this makes me a doormat, which is an idea I find quite distressing. I suppose I give them so many chances because I have this thought in my head that I should give my parents respect, but the thing is, they don't respect me, so in the long-run the forgiveness is completely ineffectual. I think I have a lot of work to do....

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    1. We were brought up the same way Selma, that family is family and you're supposed to put up with them. Sadly, I've learned that a couple members of my family cause me more harm than good, they aren't content to just get along but have to attack and twist stories, and meddle in my affairs. They make it clear that they don't approve of me or who I am, I do nothing right in their eyes. Thus, it has been necessary to put some space between us. I've tried over and over and now I'm done with it. Family is the folks who love and accept you as your are! Draw a line and say "no more intruding on my heart"!! :-)

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  10. I'm going to comment before I finish reading you post, just read the questions at the top. I've written about forgiveness before and my opinion is still basically the same, most people don't deserve it.

    But you asked something that caught my attention and I want to get it out before I lose it.

    Forgiveness is acceptance. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes we find that things we swore would be the ultimate offense aren't so bad when we are faced with them.

    The problem comes from people forgiving behavior they really don't approve of. Once you've forgiven it, you've shown you will forgive it again. Acceptance by default.

    Anyway, back to read...

    ....ah family.

    I seem to be rather odd in that I don't see family as this great thing where you have to have them in your life. I have people in my life that I want in my life. Sometimes they are family, sometimes not. But no one gets to use "but we're family" to get off my....errrr...poop list.

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    1. You make a good point, Monkey, if we forgive something we are opening the door for it to happen again, because the person who committed the error of ways, now has the indication that we might. There are some situations I'm just not willing to pass off as acceptible or even excusable!

      I have come to realize that the world doesn't end if you tell a few of your relatives to jump in a lake. It makes for a more peaceful, less drama-filled life. You are right that being related shouldn't entitle you to a free pass on pathetic behavior. I finally had to blow the whistle and call foul. I wish I felt more guilty about it, but in all honesty I don't. Their chosen actions are what got them where they are... distant!!

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Your comments are always appreciated... they make me smile! :-)