Forgiveness – Part 1

You may have heard comments like “forgive and forget”, or “just don’t worry about it, be happy; move on”. When it comes to matters of the heart and of the person, it is not always so easy to do that even when we know carrying those negative emotions around with us can be detrimental to our health. If we know that holding on to these negative emotions is bad for us, then why is it so impossible sometimes to let go of that emotion? There are several reasons that forgiveness is a difficult road that includes myths, fears and reality. The process of forgiving asks one to reach deep into their inner strengths and make peace with the iceberg of emotions that lead to outcomes in unchartered territory.  These outcomes include:  to show mercy for hyenas and despicable acts, to develop a sense of empathy for those whose path was misguided, deepen and strengthen relationships after betrayal or a deeply tragic event, and to cultivate a more positive sense of self when anger, grief and sorrow appear to be a natural path.

Some injustices done to us may not warrant a lengthy process of grief or deep feelings of anger. For example a co-worker accidently picks up your cup of coffee or tea in the morning. While it might irritate us, we can reason that the investment made in the cup of coffee or tea is not worth losing a friendship. However, when the investment is large the reasoning becomes more difficult because of the loss; what we invest, we expect to get back in some shape or form. When that is ripped from us the psyche moves to a place in the unknown; what to do with these feelings. Is it total anger, grief, sadness, or all of these?

In the course the Psychology of Death and dying that I teach, we discuss the process outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross that includes stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  First, just as in the case of losing a loved one, we grieve as deeply as we have love. Second, this holds true in the realm of forgiveness, as to forgive someone, it is acknowledge that they have done something that needs forgiving. Thus, process of grief entangles itself in the process of forgiveness. If a child is lost at birth, a divorce, a death, a terminal disease, an act of betrayal, sexual assault, a theft, destruction…all of these umbrella hopes, dreams, futures, trust and love of good things that now become denied through the actions of another, or of an influence out of one’s control.  The feeling of grief and emotions that accompany grief should be acknowledged in the forgiveness process; they mean something very deep and emotional to us.

Because the emotions are deeply penetrating, time is needed to sort through the feelings and to come to terms with the emotions and the grief process. This process has no time limit and depending on the wrong-doing and circumstance, it can take years, if ever, for a person to fully process through forgiveness. In part because the psyche needs time to reconcile, and in part because we are caught in a battle of sending our feeling off out into the unknown; the unknown of ifs. If I allow myself to forgive, will I look weak; will that mean I am betraying a love one; I am condoning the act; I will forget and dishonor what I am mad/sad about; or I am giving up? These are all questions that ruminate in the mind before he forgiveness process begins.  If a loved one has been gunned down, we want to carry on that torch in remembrance. If a spouse has betrayed, then to forgive might mean forgetting or seen as condoning the act. If a mother has had a miscarriage, the holding on to that grief is a symbol that the child has not been forgotten.

Forgiveness is not associated with forgetting, condoning or giving up. It is about unburdening one’s self of the feeling of over-whelming sadness and/or anger that ravages through the body the like a wildfire. In sadness it is allow us to make peace with our sorrow while holding tightly to the love that remains. It is releasing the anger that another has bestow on us and saying “I don’t deserve to carry this anger of another person; it’s not mine. What has been done to me was wrong, but I give myself permission to live a happier life for myself”.  So in forgiving we are not denying actions or minimalizing events, instead we are using our greatest strength in accepting them as part of our journey in life and consciously deciding to free ourselves from a weight too heavy to carry. We allow ourselves to store the memories but make room for new emotions that enrich and fulfill our lives in in a more positive manor.


1  Kübler-Ross, E. (2005) On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss. New York, NY:  Simon & Schuster Ltd


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