Forgiveness

A Response to "Feeling Hopeless"

I respond to the person, "Feeling Hopeless," in the hope of increasing hope.

Posted Jan 02, 2019

I just received a response from an essay I posted here on March 25, 2017.  The person signed as "Feeling Hopeless."  Although I usually respond directly in an essay to which I receive a response, I am breaking with that precedent and creating a new essay because the person's response seems to be a cry for help.  It is my hope that I can be of help and engender some hope in you.

KuanShu Designs
Source: KuanShu Designs

I respond with 6 points:

1.  First you write this: "I am completely unable and unwilling to forgive those who have wronged me, because they have never apologized and face no consequences for their wrongdoing, and I am still picking up the pieces." Do you see that you are giving your opportunity for emotional relief exclusively to those who have hurt you? I say this because you will not do the inner hard work of getting rid of your resentment until others do something. Your happiness, in other words, now rests in certain words spoken by others ("I am sorry").  I hope you see that you are giving them a great deal of power over you.

2.  When you require that those who hurt you face "consequences," do you see that you have shifted from the moral virtues of mercy and forgiveness to the virtue of justice? You now are placing your own happiness into the challenging condition that the others somehow get what they deserve. If forgiveness were dependent on the offending persons getting what they deserve, few people would be able to forgive those who behave very badly. For example, no one would be able to forgive someone who runs away, never to be seen again. After all, how would we know if this person has faced any "consequences" at all? No one would be able to forgive someone who has died of natural causes, because there will be no justice on this earth for the deceased person. 

3. You say, "Running and relaxation exercises are no longer enough to help."  Resentment has a way of robbing us of our happiness and of chipping away, little by little, at our health.  Do you see that this seems to be happening to you?  From your words, it seems that running and relaxation used to help you; they no longer do.  Your resentment is taking a toll on your well-being.  Do you see this?  You do not have to let this pattern continue.

4. You then say, "I just want all the people who have ever hurt me to suffer exactly like I did and understand why what they did was so awful." You again are placing your happiness into other people's hands. You are insisting on a kind of justice prior to your considering forgiveness.  Such justice often is impossible. Suppose someone steals $10,000 and has spent all of the stolen money. Would you insist that someone now steal $10,000 from this person? I know of a woman whose daughter was kidnapped and killed. Will she refuse to forgive until someone kidnaps and kills the one who perpetrated this horrible crime? What if the perpetrator hangs himself in prison (as did happen in this case)? He cannot apologize now. He cannot have others torture him. Must the woman I know deprive herself of a way out of her burning resentment—through forgiving—because justice cannot be served in the way you describe? Can you see that the perpetrator then wins twice by destroying the child and the mother, who now could be slowly undone by her own resentment?

5. Demonstrating your hopelessness, you end with the lament, "I feel that I will never experience peace...."

6. What if you refused to be imprisoned by the lack of an apology? What if you stood against the idea that you first must have justice to its fullest extent before freeing yourself from resentment? What if you decided that the best response to the injustices would be to make yourself healthy again, firmly refusing to be destroyed by the resentment? What if you realized that unconditional forgiveness—requiring nothing from the offending people—is a scientifically supported pathway to eliminating resentment? Would you then see only hopelessness, or would you see hope on the horizon?

No one can or should force you into forgiving.  At the same time, no one should be the gatekeeper to your refusal to forgive. To forgive is your choice, but first you have to understand what that means. Second, you have to realize that your resentment is toxic for you. You do not have to live for the rest of your life with that poison within you. You do not deserve this.

In the final analysis, you have two choices as I see it:

A. You live with the injustices that may never be reversed, and you live with a destructive resentment because of this.

B. You live with the injustices that may never be reversed, and you live free of the destructive resentment. As stated above, a scientifically supported approach to reduced resentment is to engage in the process of forgiveness (see, for example, Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015).

Jesada Wongsa | Dreamstime
Source: Jesada Wongsa | Dreamstime

In my view, B offers the best chance of hope, renewal, and thriving.  Which path do you choose?

References

Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness therapy.  Washington, DC: APA Books.