Updated: May 2
Why is forgiveness so hard, and what exactly is it that I forgive?
I have come to understand the concept of forgiveness as the freeing of oneself from the debilitating pain bottled up inside after suffering an actual or perceived external injustice. In other words, something or someone has rubbed me the wrong way, and forgiveness aims to free me from this pain.
An insult of some sort occurs. The reaction to this offense stimulates an abundance of agonizing emotions. Then, sometime after the initial blow, we eventually simmer down, and unforgiveness becomes our chronic state of mind.
Some people manage to achieve surface-level healing from the lingering toxins produced by the spirit of unforgiveness. But does full forgiveness call for attention to the recovery of both our bodies and our minds?
Is forgiveness a one-step process of only eliminating bodily distress? Or is there also a more mental component needed to completely forgive? Is it possible that we struggle with authentic forgiveness because we are only doing it halfway?
So, the situation we are in resulted from another person disrupting our inner peace somehow. This person may or may not be aware of their behavior, but nevertheless, their actions took a piece of our heart with them. Should the act of forgiveness also involve coming to terms with this from a psychological perspective? And if so, where does one begin?
The first step would involve releasing the pain that’s been pent up inside for years, and the second step is geared toward "making meaning" of the event itself.
Freedom, I think ...
Say, for example, a close friend or family member betrays your trust or violates you in some way. You are sad, hurt, and furious. After a long period of inner turmoil, you realize your spirit needs a break from the distress, so you say to yourself, “I forgive them.”
The chokehold is released, and breathing is a lot easier, at least for the moment. But is this enough to truly move on in peace, or is there still something missing? What did you need to tell yourself about the incident to move past it? Does that story meet your mind’s need for sustained growth and power?
If you have been lucky enough to forgive and move on with your life with a full balance among your mind, body, and spirit, that is a huge accomplishment. But this is what it must look like if it is to qualify as real.
For those of you who find yourself repeating the words “I forgive, I forgive, I forgive” but you are not quite right on the inside, this might be more of an attempt to convince yourself of a half-truth.
Is it possible to completely forgive someone without making significant self-created sense of the incident or situation?
Human beings are meaning-making machines. Our psyches crave understanding.
After we begin the process of forgiveness and begin to feel better inside, are we wired to entirely drop the incident from our minds?
I imagine three possibilities: 1) I persuade myself it no longer matters, and I attempt to never look back at the incident, 2) I create superficial meaning that keeps me "low-key" still angry, or 3) I reach for higher wisdom that’s capable of liberating me completely.
If we consider the possibility that our minds yearn for meaning, is it mentally healthy to walk away without ever making sense of what happened? If we are completely honest with ourselves, is this even possible? Could we merely be hiding the emotions that often reach out for food, alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs as their long-term companions?
A New Perspective
Although I’m not completely knowledgeable about the world’s many diverse religions, I’m comfortable assuming they all cover the concept of forgiveness in some form or fashion.
I have always found these words from the English Standard Version of the Bible very impactful: “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’”
Does this level of “not knowing” Jesus speaks of exist beyond the naked eye? Do the people who hurt us only appear to know what they are doing but, at their core, possess a type of raw ignorance? This does not imply the ignorant are grouped with the innocent or the naïve nor that they are exempt from the consequences of their actions—only that ignorance might run a bit deeper than we can imagine.
So, if there is such a thing as “not knowing,” what would constitute “knowing”?
If the idea that what we put out into the world comes back to us or our loved ones is a fundamental natural law, is this the “knowing” that is missing? Does it all boil down to a substantial truth deficit of some sort?
Did Jesus ask for forgiveness because he was sure his persecutors would undoubtedly behave differently if they embodied truth and, in turn, understood the ramifications of their actions? If we follow in Jesus’s footsteps, would it be reasonable to consider the same possibility for the people we struggle to forgive?
Are the words “They know not what they do” too difficult to conceive? Are we as humans too emotionally complicated to fully manifest this thought?
On a profound level, are our own “persecutors” merely ignorant, in a blind, self-deceptive type of way?
What would a meaningful forgiveness cycle entail?
First, I would need to love myself enough to free myself from my inner turbulence. This involves a type of self-compassion that says, “Regardless of the magnitude of the situation, I care enough about myself to lift this burden off my own heart.”
Second, I would have to create a sense of personal meaning about what happened to me. I may ask myself the following questions:
Do only hurt people hurt others?
When I honestly reflect on the other person’s spirit, can I sense their more profound disturbance?
Who raised this person, and what qualities did they inherit from them?
Was I just caught in the crossfire of a toxic human doing what toxic humans do?
If they had any idea the consequences of their actions would meet them down the road, would things have been different?
What if the person who hurt you only appears to be doing well on the outside but they are genuinely empty, numb, or dead on the inside?
Although it appears people who hurt you are doing so consciously, it might be just the opposite, with more of their unconscious mind controlling their existence. In other words, their misery is on automatic pilot.
People are suffering silently all around you. Many of them do not have the inner capacity to treat others with love, respect, compassion, kindness, consideration, and all the good stuff that makes the world go ‘round.
Does true forgiveness involve a more radical type of compassion, one that not only incorporates ourselves but others as well?
This two-step process leads to the liberation of both the body and the mind and gracefully hands you compassion as a byproduct.
So, were those words of wisdom—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”—spoken in the midst of extreme pain, our mysterious key to attaining real forgiveness? Imagine that!
Your Mentor Life Coach
Kamili Anderson BSN, RN
Certified Health and Wellness Coach
Krishnamurti, J. (1972). You are the world: An authentic report of talks and discussions in American universities. Harper & Row, Publications, New York.
Blog dedication -To my future great-great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins and extended family, I will not have the pleasure to meet.