The Pitfalls of Forgiveness
Forgiving Too Easily
Forgiveness is a tricky business. An interesting essay by Annette Roberts from Tiny Buddha leads us through the problem of forgiveness. I want to quote a bit from the essay and comment as we explore further the road Roberts has walked toward, around, and beyond forgiveness. Roberts describes her life in childhood, and forgiveness came easily in her family:
“When people were hurtful or insulting or inconsiderate, I didn’t take it too personally and didn’t hold grudges. I tried to see it from their perspective; I just assumed whatever they did had nothing to do with me or they had things going on in their life. Or I assumed they were trying their best at the time.”
Roberts is describing a very common problem with forgiveness. As she develops her essay, she describes a life in which she forgives too easily. Or, maybe more accurately, far too quickly. Roberts bounces through life, forgiving people right, left and center, without ever really thinking much about what she is doing.
The Danger of Forgiving Too Soon
It develops that as a young adult Roberts ended up in court on a misdemeanor charge. Surprisingly, she had violated a restraining order against her taken out by an ex-boyfriend. She pinched the ex-boyfriend during a fight and now she was in trouble for it.
She relates the all-too-common story of a bad relationship gone very wrong. In doing so, she realizes something profoundly important: she had been forgiving her ex, and many other people in her life, far too easily. She had been forgiving them before she had fully felt and integrated the injury these people had done to her. This includes the righteous anger she would have felt toward them for that injury.
Her ex-boyfriend had hurt her in many ways but she had just “forgiven” all of it. She didn’t take the time to feel her anger toward him deeply, down where she lived.
Carrying the Weight
It is our philosophy that forgiveness is important because without it we end up carrying around a lot of weight that doesn’t do us much good. At the same time, forgiving too soon or too easily also leaves us with a weight: the weight of unaddressed, unfelt anger and hurt. When we don’t forgive at all, we nurse our rage and hurt. Furthermore, when we forgive too easily we ignore our rage and hurt, trying to act as if it is no longer there.
Roberts comes to an insightful realization from this:
“Forgiveness—expected and given willy-nilly—if it is too easy, that can mean you can miss the lesson. It can mean you don’t make the change.
You don’t up your game, you don’t alter the gear, you don’t recognize the necessity for more effort, more time, more learning, changed behavior—either from yourself or someone else. You go back to doing the same thing over and over again; staying stuck in the same habit, the same place. You don’t grow; you stagnate [and] continue unhelpful habits.
If someone hurts you or you hurt them, and it changes nothing about either of you or your relationship, you or they are likely to be hurt again. Pain can help to figure out what went wrong, what boundary was crossed.
Easy forgiveness can sometimes mean you put yourself back in the way of the bus that just mowed you down, making yourself vulnerable to disrespect from yourself and others—bullies, people who take advantage of you.”
Make the Change
She points out that easy forgiveness is, essentially, an act of laziness. If we forgive without feeling the pain of hurt first, and effectively, we are never really forced to learn the lesson, never forced to make the change.
If the experience of being hurt or injured in some way by another person, and the experience of forgiving them is not significant work, then there is no learning and no change. That becomes the lost opportunity of hurt and forgiveness.
Read the entire essay, it’s worth your time. Explore the complex nature of forgiveness. There is little doubt that emotional problems can be exacerbated by a confused relationship with forgiveness, and someone with a substance use problem is almost certainly slogging through a disorienting swamp of forgiveness and being forgiven.
Learning to Forgive in Orange County, CA
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