I literally googled “forgiveness” in a desperate attempt to find reprieve and stumbled upon a blog written by a friend called, “The Power of Unforgiveness.” In it, she wrote about a blog she too stumbled upon that listed the following three things as requirements for forgiveness: Confession, Repentance, and Penalty. Without a confession, repentance and penalty, forgiveness should not be granted.
When I read this, it shifted my understanding of forgiveness entirely. Many spiritual and religious traditions teach the importance of turning the other cheek and forgiving others for wrongdoing; I agree that it is in our best interest to forgive, but not without the above-mentioned criteria.
The blog continued that when we simply forgive without there having been an admittance of wrongdoing, we grant the other person a pass and pardon to continue to do harm. I would add that we are then forced to internalize and repress hurt experienced – hurt that will manifest itself in our bodies bringing physical, psychological and even relational symptoms of distress.
Forgiveness must always begin with us – we must forgive ourselves first for any shame, guilt, and complicit behavior (if any) that led to hurt we have endured. To be quick to forgive others when there has been no offer of at least an apology, in my opinion, does more harm than good.
Of course, there will be times when wrongdoing goes without confession, repentance, and penalty, and we must find a way to heal anyway. Holding onto hurt while waiting for an apology never received is also harmful. In these situations, it is still important to express anger and resent, and to hold the wrongdoer accountable for their actions even if it goes without penalty. If that is the best that we can do to release what we can, then so be it.
I believe in the power of forgiveness. I also believe in the power of unforgiveness. I believe that we are human beings capable of carrying trauma that leads to more trauma, whether it be hidden or beneath the surface. I believe that everyone’s journey toward forgiveness will be unique. What has been your journey toward forgiveness?