I’ve been thinking about forgiveness recently. I don’t have any clear or firm conclusions; this post is just some assorted thoughts.
Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledged offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).
There’s a lot of useful and interesting material in that paragraph about what forgiveness isn’t, but I’m not sure it really helps me understand what forgiveness is. The core of it, according to that paragraph, seems to be the changing of one’s own feelings about what was done.
Most psychologists recommend mustering up genuine compassion for those who have wronged us, and moving on from the past, instead of allowing bitterness and anger toward others eat away at us. Although burying the hatchet usually brings peace to the soul, there may be some exceptions to that [advice], such as a case of sexual abuse. Sometimes a victim becomes more empowered when given permission to not forgive.
Equally, and perhaps more important, is learning to acknowledge your missteps and forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness is often the first step toward a more loving and positive relationship with yourself, and therefore with others.
Here, too, the emphasis seems to be on letting go of anger; on the person who’s doing the forgiving healing their own pain, rather than on the benefit, if any, to the forgiven person.
I think a lot of harm can be done by societal and religious valorization of forgiveness, pressuring people to forgive when they don’t feel forgiving. But forgiveness can be very powerful, when it happens voluntarily.
Given all of that, I’m interested in hearing from y’all. What does forgiveness mean to you? Is it something you do often? How does it feel to you?
I feel like this could potentially be a controversial topic, and I’m not up for moderating an argument about it today. So I’d like to ask that you try to be gentle with each other in your comments. In particular, please try not to criticize people who don’t forgive something, nor people who do forgive something that you wouldn’t.