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Meandering Michele’s Mind: To forgive, or not to forgive?

Posted Feb 15 2010 12:00am

Monday, February 15th, 2010 • •

letting-go-emerging-design-photographyA while ago I saw the movie Invictus and was impressed by how Nelson Mandela exercised his right to forgive. That sort of monumental ability to emotionally release the perpetrators of such wrongdoing seems….. well, impossible! And yet, research and studies clearly show that when survivors forgive, they are the ones who experience release. Hmmm. What does this mean?

I have a client (with extreme PTSD symptoms) who recently hit upon the forgiveness stumbling block. He’s the victim of horrific child abuse and harbors (who wouldn’t?!) some very harsh anger towards his mother. We’ve talked about the idea of forgiving before, and he swore he never would. Totally understandable, we all feel that way at first. When the idea of forgiveness is initially suggested it sounds like we (the ones who have been wronged) are supposed to absolve the ones who wronged us. But that isn’t what forgiveness is about.

Forgiveness does not even come close to condoning or accepting horrific acts that have been done. Instead, it is forgiving the perpetrators of our traumas for their own faulty wiring. It is recognizing that the people who have so wronged us have something so wrong with them, and because of this they have acted monstrously. This is all forgiveness requires: recognizing that in some way our abusers are broken and forgiving them for being in that state.

As with everything about moving toward feeling better, forgiving comes in its own time and everyone reaches it at his or her own pace. My client and I did a lot more self-empowering and other work before he got to a point where he was able to forgive from a place of power. And then he did, and it’s been a real breakthrough for him. We’re moving on to some really evolutionary work because he’s freed of something that was holding him back.

The idea of forgiveness can feel so wrong, and yet the mind and subconscious really grow when we do forgive. In my trauma training I keep learning what an important step forgiveness is in being able to move on. In my work with many clients I see how hard it is to forgive, and also: how much better everyone feels when they do. I’m thinking today that I’m beginning to get the power of forgiveness on a whole new level.

When we don’t forgive criminals, fate, chance, whatever caused our pain – we are the ones who remain imprisoned. While we harbor our anger, while we are drained by our resentment, those who wronged us move through the world unaffected by our present pain. Who wins there? THEY DO!

So I’ve come to embrace the idea that when we forgive no matter how difficult it is to do we live. We take back some of our power because we release those who are siphoning it off.

What’s your take on all of this?


(Photo acknowledgement on Flickr.)

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