Also see Anger and Disagreement, Kindness, Acceptance and Regret.
Two friends were walking through the desert. At some point they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand:
"TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE."
They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to go for a swim. The one who had been slapped started to drown, but his friend saved him. After he recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone:
"TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SAVED MY LIFE."
The one who had first slapped and later saved his friend said, "After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?"
His friend replied: "When a friend hurts us we should write it down in sand where the winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when a friend does something good for us, we should engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it."
Forgiveness is something I struggled with for many years before I came to terms with it. I know a lot of people disagree with my conclusions but they work for me. It is something that everyone with a troubled past needs to deal with.
My main problem was that for many years I believed there was only one option. That you had to forgive in the traditional sense ("turn the other cheek so they can hit you on that side, too") or you were a terrible person and could not get on with your life. But it just did not make sense to forgive things that someone wasn't sorry for. To me forgiveness implied that what the other person did was okay. Eventually I figured out that I could let go of the destructive anger inside me but still think what happened was wrong. It was a long time before I found others who understood what I meant.
Here is part of an email I got from someone who feels much the same way I do: "I believe that forgiveness involves the action of not wishing the other person harm . . . of not wanting vengeance; as we say forgiving a debt owed us . . . so, not expecting payment. 'Forgive and forget' must have been said by a perpetrator, not a victim. We mustn't forget, if we do, we risk walking the same path. We mustn't dwell on it, mustn't allow thoughts of it to poison us; but forget as in don't remember? Uh-uh!!!"
That is the title of a book I read several years ago. It was written by Jeanne Safer, PhD. and has been very helpful to me. The book had a chapter on things that are unforgivable and talked about how you could be what they called a "moral unforgiver". It talks about the differences in circumstances and the types of situations when forgiving can cause damage. For example forgiveness in some situations would be the same as "colluding in creating a false reality" that can allow future abuse to continue--both by that person and others.
I am in favor of forgiveness as a general principle. I wouldn't think of not forgiving anyone who was truly sorry for what they did wrong and have stopped doing it. My problem comes in with forgiving people who either will not acknowledge that they did wrong or who are not sorry and have no plan to stop what they are doing.
Here are some quotes from the book:
" . . . children who have no validation and no protection become prisoners mentally as well as physically. Not forgiving is a recourse they can create only as independent adults, a way to free themselves from years of being coerced to agree that hate is really love. Under the pretense of promoting family harmony, parents who need to deny one child's viciousness and their own negligence often try to force the victimized child to be 'mature' and 'rise above it'. Later 'good' siblings continue to make the same demands of themselves. Their willingness to accept bad treatment, to feel they deserve it, or to define it out of existence then extends beyond their families and damages their later lives. Even those in less extreme circumstances tend to absorb parental values as an unexamined template for their own responses, making it difficult for them to distinguish what they truly feel from what has been imposed upon them . . . Forgiveness as defined by a family with something to hide negates a daughter's right to think and feel for herself; what they consider healing would in fact be self-annihilating . . . It condones evil. False forgiveness allows evil to be excused and perpetuated; people have to be held accountable . . . Any course of action that is forced upon one person by another, for the supposed benefit of another, compromises the humanity of everyone involved, rather than enhancing it as forgiveness is always presumed to do."
(Dr. Laura Schlessinger)
I talk to many callers who are confused on the issue of forgiveness. Some imagine that they have to forgive and forget and just move forward with somebody who has done something bad or wrong to them or someone else, in spite of the fact that the wrongdoer has never owned up or apologized. Check the scriptures and you'll see that repentance is a constant requirement from the prophets and from God.
The qualities of repentance, getting back on track, are the four R's.
The first is responsibility: We must recognize that we have done wrong.
The second is regret: We must have true remorse for doing wrong and for the pain and problems we've caused.
The third is resolve: We must be committed never to repeat the act regardless of the temptations or situation.
The fourth and probably the most difficult is to repair the damage we've done, or at least do what we can to apologize directly to the injured party.
When someone goes through these four R's with sincerity, I believe you have the obligation to forgive even if the trust is not yet re-established.
And, as to that trust, there is an old Arabic saying: "Forgive, but tie up your camel."
Q. I belong to a divorce support group. Most members believe it is best to forgive and forget. However, I think that forcing yourself to feel another way my cause more emotional damage. What your your thoughts on this? (J. D.)
A. I don't see why you should forgive someone who has acted like a jerk, then forget all about it. What are you, a spaniel? Instead of attempting to forgive, I suggest trying not to take the behavior of a former spouse personally. After all, that person was the jerk, not you. And rather than forgetting, I suggest that you remember the good times, learn from the bad times and then move on.
Dear Abby: I am a college student in a small town. Eight months ago, I met a wonderful young man, and we were planning to be married until I told him about my past.
My step-father molested me. It was long ago, and I have since forgiven him and my mother. (Mother is still married to him.)
My boyfriend, however, cannot forgive them. He tried to convince my mother to leave my stepfather. She refused and now my boyfriend and my mother no longer speak. He says things will never work out because of this rift he has with my family. I am willing to do whatever it takes to make the relationship work, but he says he can't be around my family, and it isn't fair to ask me to give them up. Was I wrong to expect him to support my decision to forgive them? Desperate in TX
Dear Desperate: Your boyfriend's inability to forgive you mother is rooted in his caring for you. When you marry someone, in a sense you also marry that person's family. Your family is so dysfunctional that it may have scared this young man off.
That your mother stayed married to the abuser who molested you speaks volumes. They you opted to forgive them both was a personal choice you made--but that doesn't change the fact that your mother's husband is a child molester. What makes you think he wouldn't be a danger to your children in the future? Think about it.
Q: About two years ago my mother learned that my father was sleeping with another woman. It wasn't the first time she either knew or suspected something. Whenever she questioned my father, he screamed and yelled at her and called her terrible names for accusing him of such behavior. Finally, after being confronted with voice mail messages from his mistress, he admitted it all. He said that my mother had provided a home for him, but that he wanted to have fun. Since my mother was suffering from a disease that may someday leave her crippled, he could not see being stuck with her.
He could not understand why I was upset with him--I have barely spoken with him over these last two years. He left my mother financially strapped. I have stayed loyal to her and help take care of her. I have moved on without my father, in spite of family and colleague pressure to 'accept things as they are.'
My question is, why do so many people think that you must accept everything another person does, even if it is immoral and cruel, just because that person is your parent? I have no respect for this man, period.
A: We have created a unique society in which those who do bad things are shown compassion and understanding, and those who point out the badness and expect consequences and justice are called judgmental and mean. I believe this attitude is so pervasive because it provides a huge gray area in which no one has to assume any responsibility for their actions, and they are immune from annoying judgment.
You are showing compassion for the right person, your mother. Hang in there.