Here’s the thing, my friends: forgiveness is overrated.
We are told constantly that in order to move beyond hurt, we must forgive. We’re taught that somehow magnanimity is the ultimate goal, that being “good” means forgiving people. But at the same time, the concept of healthy boundaries and expectations is shoved down our throats. This is where I have a problem: How can we possibly be expected to forgive what we consider the unforgivable, while maintaining those boundaries that protect our emotional wellbeing?
This kind of blanket advice to forgive someone completely silences the victim, negating experiences. It’s all part of this ridiculously toxic, “Good vibes only!” bullshit that emotionally stunted people try to promote. It’s the mantra of those who struggle with full ranges of emotions. I’m a whole, healthy, emotional human being. That means I get to have and honour the full range of emotions: my happy, my sad, my angry, my hurt, my jealousy, my fear… and once I have honoured those feelings, it’s my self respect that directs my behaviour going forward.
It isn’t the feelings themselves that are the problem. Pretending they don’t exist, or worse, cramming them under a glaze of “THIS IS FINE, EVERYTHING IS FINE” just means the infection spreads underneath that false exterior. The pain doesn’t go away: it festers.
Many times over the last few years, people have said that I am “taking things well”. Or they throw the word “grace” in somewhere. That’s kind, but also inaccurate. There is very little I do with grace, to be perfectly honest. I think what some mistake for grace is that there are no public outbursts, no vitriol or vengeance. There is kindness (far more than I truthfully want to offer) and acceptance, but never will I forgive.
Forgiving means negating my own feelings, allowing my experiences to be erased, and I will not stand for that.
I do not consider myself a religious person, but I do have deeply spiritual beliefs and some pretty solid expectations of my own behaviour. It’s my belief that we should treat one another with respect and dignity. When at all possible, we should see the humanity (and sometimes that’s a pretty dark reality) in those around us. We should seek to understand human behaviour, to question ourselves and others, to continue to learn and grow. But we should never be silenced by the weight of expected forgiveness. We are allowed to feel damaged by someone and still allow ourselves to move beyond it. The key here is to know how to move past it.
I don’t think most people are monsters, and I think most of the negative things we experience at the hands of others (figuratively and literally) can be traced back to something negative that happened in their own lives.
No well-adjusted, happy person causes intentional acute pain to another person. Nobody who is whole seeks to break another apart.
And so, it is with understanding that I move through painful experiences. Realizing why someone has done something to us allows us the chance to process it, and gain closure without the other party’s involvement. (Because let’s be honest… most of us are working through trauma with no apology from those who’ve done us wrong.) Understanding, however, does not equal forgiving. I can understand that a person who was beaten may become an abuser as well, but I don’t have to accept it or forgive it. You can have empathy for that human experience, but you are not obligated to forgive. For our own mental health, however, we can process it, understand it, and set it aside, and heal.
It feels virtually impossible to me to forgive some things done to me. I live with the repercussions of the actions of others every day of my life, right from my birth. And I could sit in the anger for the rest of my life, but the truth is that stoking anger takes more effort than moving along. It perpetuates a victim mentality, when all I seek is power over my own life. You cannot remain a victim and still feel in control of your own existence, it’s impossibly at odds.
Whenever I consider my actions, and am tempted to behave in a vengeful way, I think, “To what end, though?”
If the answer to that question is, “To hurt them”, I change my course. There is no good, no matter how you feel in a heated moment, that comes from revenge. You will wait a lifetime for repentance and closure and never get it, so why waste your precious time seeking it? It is remarkable what we can achieve when we realize who deserves our attention and who does not.
Letting go does not mean forgiving. I will let a lot go, but I do not forgive easily.