I have to admit that I have an unpopular take on forgiveness, especially given I am a clergy member, though of course I am a PAGAN clergy member, which may have something to do with it. I personally don’t think you HAVE to forgive other people to be able to get through an “injury” to the other side of it. Some things are not forgivable, they just aren’t, and to me that “society” tells us to “forgive those who trespass against us” because we will never be “truly free” or “truly healed” etc until we do, is bullshit. That to me is like saying a victim is responsible for making restitution to themselves for a crime committed by another. I think not.
As a Pagan, life is both white AND black to me. Bad things happen because they happen, and honestly they are usually the only parts of life which catalyze change, and allows us to mature and grow. From a reptilian brain perspective, we obsess over the events that cause us pain very specifically to ingrain the memory so deeply into the subconscious, into “shadow”, that if the same pattern emerges again in the future, the subconscious can immediately react, and “save” us from that pain happening again. Now that is not to say that Shadow reactions can’t jump up in ways that can be unhealthy, but a person who is aware and conscientious can recognize a reaction as Shadow, then contemplate what the alarm is trying to tell them, so they can then be more cautious and observant, to determine if a situation is repeating or not, and make decisions differently or not. So I think conditioning people to believe that we have to forgive something that our brains purposely evolved an early warning system to shield us from ever experiencing again, isn’t healthy. And making us feel guilty for NOT forgiving, for NOT letting go of our protection, isn’t always healthy for us either.
So do you have to forgive in order to get over/past/through something/someone? I don’t think so. What I council people in my classes to do is to first, let go of the word “forgive”. To me that word carries way too much expectation of some kind of miraculous 180 degree change of heart, and/or feeling of freedom, lightness, etc that may NEVER come about a situation or person who wounded us, even if we are able to work through the pain, even if we are able to “understand” how it happened. Instead I council my students to “get balance with” the person/people we feel “out of balance” with instead. And “getting balance” with something/someone, or “making peace” with it/them, is a very different thing to me than the modern connotation of forgiveness.
“Getting balance” for me is a point of neutrality, the middle way, a detachment from the burden of pain that is the collateral damage we are non-consensually saddled with when someone injures us. Here the objective is to work through the emotions of the situation by considering the situation from every angle, dissecting the words and actions of ALL parties, until your mind has enough information, enough understanding, that the heart/gut stops throwing pain about it anymore. But the key point to it is WORK. Time doesn’t heal all wounds, in fact sometimes all that time does is allow things to fester to the point of imminent destruction. However working on getting through it will at least make it easier to deal with day to day.
Of course for some people working it through to the point of “no pain” CAN open a door to allow positive emotion for the person/people who injured us to bubble back up, and real forgiveness can be born from that point. However to go in with that sole objective, forgiveness, is setting yourself up for failure, especially because there are ingredients that are necessary for REAL forgiveness, that not all of us are ever going to get. What are those?
#1. OWN IT – The person/people who caused the injury have to recognize that they HAVE harmed you and own it. Not just pay it lip service. They have to genuinely know so clearly within their own being that what THEY did caused you harm, that you can see they know it when they express to you what they think they have done. (You owning the part you played in your own pain, and in any pain you caused the others, is ALSO required here!)
#2. EXPRESS REMORSE – In recognizing they have injured you, the person/people who caused the injury have to actually feel remorse for having done it, and genuinely express their remorse for whatever part they played in the injury. Even better is if they are able to not only apologize, but explain to you WHY they feel sorry, because there is nothing worse than knowing that a person is not actually sorry for what they have done, just sorry that you KNOW they did it. When someone can express from their heart how much they regret that what they did hurt you and why, even if the person wouldn’t have done anything differently, it helps. Truly. (Your apologies for your part in the issue are required here too, even working out for yourself why you are sorry for the part you played in your own pain)
#3. RESTITUTION/REPARATION – The person/people who caused the injury have to be willing to “make things right”, to do whatever it takes for you to “get to peace” with the injury. So here is where the difference between being able to forgive people versus just “get balance” with them really comes into play. Often times even when someone knows they did wrong, admits it honestly, and is genuinely sorry and apologizes, if they are not willing to do ANYTHING to make it better for you, their “victim” of a sorts, true forgiveness isn’t possible. This is because some of what you need to even begin to get there, requires the other person/people to be willing to go there too. And even when the “injury” is something simple like denting your car, and you’re thinking reparation is something simple like, they agree to pay to fix it, the real work for true forgiveness is often the same as when the “injury” is much greater, like infidelity, truth and communication. Which means they have to not only make the obvious reparation of loss, they also have to agree to invest in the conversation needed for you to “get it” Agree to endure the incessant questions you will have about what they did, why, where their head was at, where their heart was at. Over and over sometimes, why, why, why, with anger and pain all mixed up in it. Two steps forward, 5 steps back sometimes, being willing to keep working and keep working, until…. you achieve peace.
So you see why true forgiveness is a rare bird. Too many people can’t even start at #1 honestly, and most people can’t see part #3 to the end. I don’t just mean the person/people “at fault” here either. Sometimes it’s the injured party who can’t do the work because they aren’t willing to see their part in their own pain yet, or can’t hear the truths the other people want to give them yet. Sometimes the “injured party” just flat out doesn’t want to have to give up being the “one who was wronged” because that place is a seat of power, especially if the person who injured them really cares about them, and wants “forgiveness”.
That seat of power is a place we all have within in us too. It’s the place where we hold contempt and judgment in the court of our own hearts, having convicted the perpetrator of our injury, thus condemning them as “the bad one”, which by default makes us the “good one”. It’s the place that allows us to pretend that we don’t have control over how much pain we feel over our injury, or how much we let it affect our lives; and worse, it’s the place that lets us deny ownership over the decisions WE made that led us to injury in the first place. These are some of the reasons why I believe we have been conditioned all these years to believe we have to “forgive”; so that we DON’T hold that power against others, or use that place to make excuses to and for ourselves. However it’s exactly the reason too that I think we need to FORGET about “forgiving”, and learn how to “get balance”, so that NO ONE get’s off easy. We each have to own our role in the pain, and we all have to work our own pain to it’s peace.
In the end, the oneness of peace/balance is really on us anyway. So if the person/people who injured you aren’t willing to do the work, ANY step of the work, it actually doesn’t have to matter. Your peace is about you, not them. You know what happened, from your perspective yes, but probably at least bit from the other perspectives too, if you are honest with yourself. So you work it through examining first your roles, objectively what you did right, what you did wrong, and your motivations for why (which includes what you have already been through in life, what makes you, YOU) and then you do the exact same work on each person who had a party to the injury. The words said, the actions, every bit of what caused the injury. And sure, examining motives may make you feel like you are “making excuses”, and sometimes you will be for yourself or them, but ALL of it is important to your own understanding about where your pain is coming from, where you have been deluding yourself, and where you have been seeing crystal clearly. And the more you see all sides, all perspectives, even the ugly sides, even the selfish perspectives, the more balance you will achieve with it, until one day it’s just… less… and then at some point it’s just… DONE. And forgiveness is not required to just be done.