Forgiveness Series: 2. The forgiveness myths

In my first post about forgiveness, I outlined the impact resentment can have on our physical and emotional health and wellbeing.

In the second chapter of The Book of Forgiving, Desmond & Mpho Tutu explain what forgiveness is not. This might seem odd, but there are many things we assume about forgiveness that only add further barriers to our ability to forgive.

Forgiveness is not weakness
We greatly admire people who are forgiving, who seem to move on from their hurt or ‘cope with their loss’. We don’t think they are weak, far from it; we tell them how strong they are, yet somehow, if we forgive, it can feel as though we are giving in, being weak. Forgiveness requires immense strength, but it also offers complete freedom.

Forgiveness is not a subversion of justice
Can justice really only happen when someone is made to pay for their crime, such as through disownment or a prison sentence? While there is certainly a place for justice and taking responsibility for wrongs, even if a criminal was put in prison, or an abuser dies, the physical justice changes little of the resentment and hurt felt by the victim. The anger lives on after death. When true forgiveness is granted there is still room for physical penance – but the victim can live on without the shadow of their injustice over them.

Forgiveness is not forgetting
It may seem as though forgiving someone means you have forgotten the pain that you’ve suffered or are somehow accepting your loss. Forgiving is not denying the harm or pretending it hasn’t happened. In fact, it’s not possible to truly forgive someone unless you are honest about these feelings. Yes, by forgiving, we might put ourselves in a position to be hurt again, but in order to forgive we have to make a leap of faith that allows us to focus on love and hope rather than fear and hate.

Forgiveness is not easy
In the midst of our suffering, forgiveness seems impossible. Indeed, I was here myself at points in my grief. How do we forgive when there is no reason for what has happened or no one is asking for forgiveness? How do we forgive when we feel the person has not ‘deserved’ our forgiveness? Forgiveness isn’t easy, far from it, but it is the only way to healing. It’s also not a case of simply forgiving;, the process needs to be done in small steps to lead to true forgiveness, which acknowledge the pain and hurt as well as forgive the person who caused them.

‘It was not easy for Nelson Mandela to spend 27 years in prison, but when people say to me what a waste it was, I say no, it was not a waste. It took 27 years for him to be transformed from an angry, unforgiving young radical into an icon of reconciliation, forgiveness and honour who could go on to lead a country back from the brink of civil war.’

Page 38, The Book of Forgiving

What are your forgiveness myths?

  1. As before, use your stone. Place it on a sheet of paper and trace around it. Make five tracings of your stone.
  2. Inside each tracing write one thing that forgiveness is not.
    a. weakness
    b. injustice
    c. forgetting
    d. easy
    e. quick
  3. For each of these myths, remember an instance where the myth is holding you back from forgiving.

A big part of the reason I held onto anger and resentment was because I felt hurt by others’ words and behaviour and that by forgiving I was approving of this behaviour – letting them off the hook. I believed I was defending the memory of my daughter, protecting my grief, myself from further heartache. Yet this exercise helped me to realise that the only one not being let off was me. I needed to change my mindset from one of victim to one of forgiver in order to release the tension in both my heart and my mind.

The next post will outline the ‘Fourfold path to forgiveness’.

Click here if you missed the first post – Why forgive?

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