To Forgive or Not To Forgive?
There comes a point in your healing journey when you will come face to face with the mountain that is forgiveness. You’ll find yourself staring at this climb once the initial shock and sadness have passed and you’ve decided you’re ready to begin moving forward.
Be prepared, though, forgiveness can be a trap.
There are plenty of pithy quotes that circulate around the internet regarding forgiveness and resentment. Some of these are:
“Holding on to resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”
“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and finding that the prisoner was you”
“Forgiveness isn’t about letting the other person off the hook, it’s about releasing ourselves”
These are all well and good, but they’re just pithy quotes that really do nothing to help you heal. In fact, these quotes can often make you feel worse because:
You can’t forgive them
You can’t forgive yourself
You wallow waiting for forgiveness that may never come
You spiral downward because you literally cannot find the strength to forgive
Forgiveness is a trap.
It’s also completely unnecessary to complete your healing journey.
There’s an excellent book by Adam Lowery called “Cognitive Rampage: A Scientific Approach to Self Discovery, Change, and Optimization”. In his book he talks about the principle of change and how forgiveness is unnecessary to move forward in life.
Humility is the first step
The first step towards healing is humility. For the sake of this book, I’m going to define humility as the ability to acknowledge that some of your beliefs and patterns negatively impact your healing journey. It’s your ability to accept responsibility for everything in your life, without judgment or blamestorming. It’s being able to stand strong and declare, without exception, that yes, you fucked some things up.
Showing humility isn’t passive or a sign of weakness.
It’s the opposite.
It takes strength to take responsibility and to fully own your part in the estrangement.
I’ve received so many messages from parents with estranged adult children where they’re eager to blame other people for their circumstances; other family members, a girlfriend or boyfriend, or even a new spouse; yet they’re unwilling to really look at their role.
Sure, they say they’ve accepted responsibility, but if you probe them further you’ll find their acceptance is only superficial and lacks any real depth. It’s only when you truly practice humility in accepting you part in the drama can you begin to move forward in the healing process and in life.
Being humble opens the door to greater learning and understanding of yourself, of others, and of the world. It’s the first step in truly beginning to heal yourself and get on with your life.
Humility Leads To Empathy Leads To Authentic Indifference Leads To Healing
As my friend Adam says in Cognitive Rampage:
“One of the competencies you may acquire through humility is learned empathy. This is empathy that comes from accepting and understanding that those who harmed you are handicapped by their own negative concrete beliefs. Learned empathy does not require you to understand or pity your harmers.”
Or, put another way:
“You don’t have to love what they do in order to love them”
Forgiveness is completely unnecessary to find healing.
Acceptance, though, is.
Acceptance that the other person is who they are. Acceptance that their actions are driven by their beliefs, whether you agree or not. Acceptance that how they view their life is 100% real to them regardless of whether or not your perception agrees with theirs.
This is where authentic indifference comes from.
This isn’t a “screw you” kind of indifference. It’s not an “I’m right, you’re wrong, and fuck you if you don’t agree” indifference.
It’s simply the acceptance of the other person’s perception and your own personal refusal to allow their perception to influence and direct your life any more.
The challenge with forgiveness is that too often it leaves the wounds we have open and susceptible to infection. These wounds can get infected by self doubt, by self criticism, and by unmet expectations.
Authentic indifference, on the other hand, allows those wounds to heal. Yes, they may leave scars, but those scars tell a story of survival. Your survival. And once your wounds become scars, they become testaments to your strength and your resilience.
These scars show that you’re no longer subject to the whims of those that hurt you. That your life, your happiness, are not dependent on either their forgiveness or their negativity.
These scars serve as a reminder that although you’ve made mistakes, you’re still living and have value.
There Ain’t No “S’posed To” In Life
To quote Doc Holliday in the movie Tombstone “There ain’t no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.”
The things that fuck us up the most is the thought of how things are “s’posed to” be.
Forgiveness is “s’posed to” bring redemption.
Families are “s’posed to” always be together.
Kids are “s’posed to” love and respect their parents.
Life is not “s’posed to” be anything.
It just is.
Everyone knows that life isn't fair. Saying it's not fair suggests that you think life is supposed to be fair, which makes you look immature and naive. - Travis Bradbury
Life isn’t fair.
It doesn’t always turn out the way you expected.
People get divorced.
Children abandon their parents.
Parents abandon their children.
Jobs and careers end.
What happens in your life doesn’t define you.
How you respond to it does.
When you become detached from the way things are “s’posed to” be, the storms you face will seem more like spring showers than hurricanes.
Forgiveness is unnecessary to find healing.
Don’t allow your journey to be derailed by the forgiveness trap.