Monday, September 12, 2011


Forgiveness. I have often struggled with how this word is used.  
It is a word that is often pushed upon victims as something they "have to do," "a process" they "must go through", "a stage", that until they do the will "never truly heal." There is an obsession with forgiveness.
Then I  found these definitions:
a : to give up resentment of or claim to requital
       : to cease to feel resentment against (an offender) : source

Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentmentindignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. ( wikipedia) 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as 'to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offense or debt'. 

So if forgiveness is the act of letting go of reprisal? This obviously varies in it's degree of difficulty.... forgiving someone for breaking a wine glass? Easy... forgiving someone for hitting your dog with their car? Maybe not as easy. Forgiving someone for perpetrating a violent crime against you? Difficult. 
So how do people do that? How do victims of violent crimes forgive the perpetrator? How do people do this and still remain empowered? How do you forgive and still feel like you haven't "given in"? How do you do this and still demand court proceedings and charges?
 I often get asked this at work, and for a long time I struggled with it. Why should you not demand punishment? It is your right to have the perpetrator charged. It is your right to feel safe.... so how do you forgive someone and continue to send the message that it is not ok?  

I think it is difficult but possible. It is mixture of assertiveness, and support. It is saying what you did is wrong but rather than being fuelled by anger being empowered by assertiveness and strength? So is forgiveness, in this context, saying this is wrong because you did it to me and I deserve better? In my mind that is how I see it. You are still allowed to be angry about it, but not fuelled by it, rather fuelled by strength.
On the flip side of forgiveness is the dismissive "Get over it".The language we ( as a society) use can be so harsh. To me when someone says  "get over it" what they mean is "I cannot understand or cope with your feelings". 
I think it is much more useful to go through it rather than "over" it. Going through involves immersing yourself in it, wading in its horribleness and thinking about it, looking at it, searching, feeling, crying, screaming... wondering, concluding and wading out the other side.  "Get over it" implies something done quickly which usually means just try to forget about it.
I spend my work days dealing with people trying to "forget it". They have spent years pushing things down with large amounts of alcohol and drugs, basically trying to "get over it", to forget it. Obviously this is not working and I often wonder about the amount of energy used to push things down and how that energy and skill could be traits used to go through it. Painful and heart wrenching short term- absolutely. Like a huge weight lifted off your shoulders in the long term- almost always. 
what do you think forgiveness means? I would love to hear your thoughts. 


  1. What a great post! As someone who has been on all sides of forgiveness...even really hard things like a physical attack in my young adult years to divorce and remarriage to the same person...I do believe forgiveness is releasing. For me, I cannot feel at peace until I have forgiven someone. But I agree it is a process. Only minor things could I ever imagine just "getting over". I am also impatient when people don't forgive me right away for wrongdoings on my part. Mostly for the same reason...I don't like to feel that unsettling feeling when there is conflict. So you've given me something to thing about. Thanks!

  2. I also think that forgiveness and even forgetting doesn't always mean you have to keep that person in your life, though.

  3. Wow, you're going deep Cathy!
    Well, let's see, I don't think everyone & everything has to forgive & be forgiven.
    I do believe that there are different levels of 'forgiving'. And some things don't even need a mention of forgiving ie.. hubby was supposed to buy milk on the way home from work - he forgets - I don't have to forgive him when he says he's sorry cos, well, it's not really something that needed a sorry to start with - it's only milk after all.
    But then you can go deeper... and I know a person who's daughter was murdered... does that person then forgive the murderer 10yrs later or 15yrs later... What's the time limit for forgivess & what are parameters of things that need to be forgiven? And why should that person be forgiven?
    Forgive is a very deep word & it's different for everyone, everything & every situation.
    (and it can be used as an excuse to get off lightly too.. but that's says more about the fakeness of the person asking to be forgiven).
    Phew. That's deep.. and it's 11am on a Monday morning. Ugh. Cuppa tea time for me now!

  4. Cath-
    I don't want to seem like one of those people who are obsessed with Oprah, so I am going to preface this by saying I JUST SO HAPPENED to catch about 10 minutes of an episode a while back about abuse where one of the victims defined forgiveness for her as something like "giving up the wish that the past could have been any different."
    I found it an interesting thought.

  5. "Forgiveness does not require that we minimize or condone the wrong. At times it may simply involve letting go of the situation, realizing that harboring resentment will only add to your burden."

    When I read those words many years ago while going through a huge trial I was able to finally rest easy. When the other person has really committed a heinous crime towards you or yours the forgiveness is not about them but about you. It is about being kind to yourself and letting the issue become insignificant so that eventually it no longer dominates your thinking. You are worth moving on for even if they aren't. Somethings can never truly be forgiven and only the hurt person knows that best but they can be gentle with themselves and know that they need nurturing and love from within which is where the letting go comes. It never helps for others to say flippantly "Just get over it" as that generally makes another situation for the wronged one to have to forgive. Cherrie

  6. Cath, thank you. Instinctively I know there is no 'get over it' for an extended family thing going on here. And I know I have been wading through it (sometimes in circles) and at times struggling with everyone's satisfied assumption that I have 'forgotten', that it's 'blown over', that the perpetrator has been let off the hook. But I'm beginning to see that their is an end to going through it. A horrible process but so much healthier for me than the 'suck it up', 'get over it (but not really)' approach.

  7. Ahhh....To forgive another or the biggest thing "to forgive oneself." I guess it all comes down to understanding. Understanding how a person could be like they are or how you are like you. Understanding to me means acceptance which in turn develops a sense of forgiveness.

  8. Hi Cath..forgiveness for me means to not seek revenge or retribution from someone who has hurt me in some way. I believe the Bible when it says that vengeance belongs to the He deals with that side of things not me. I don't believe in being stupid though and will try not to put myself in the same position again if possible and it doesn't mean that I will pursue a friendship with that person necessarily, either. It is not forgetting that is necessary I think but me releasing that person and leaving it to God to deal with takes the sting out of those memories for me. The realisation that I often hurt others and need forgiveness myself often, makes me less judgmental of others who hurt me too. I know others have much different ideas..these are just the way I feel about forgiveness.

  9. P.s..just had to add this..I do think that especially at first, forgiveness is an act of the will and our feelings or emotions do not necessarily line up with this act of will. However, on pursuing this act of our will, emotions eventually bow to our decisions.

  10. Do you know, I think the 'get over it' is more of a 'let it go' and 'don't allow it to have this power over you' kind of thing... at least, that's how I interpret it. But then, I've only ever heard the 'get over it' after a long while of agonising over a thing. I don't know what forgiveness really means. Having said that, I really do not offend very easily... it's got to be a BIG thing to get me going. Surely if you forgive then you forget because you have really let it go then? I guess I'm a push-it-down-deep but never really forget it kind of girl. I think I forgive the reasons but not the act maybe? Hmm... definitely rambling here. Going to stop. Great topic Cath. Will think some more over this. Kx

  11. What a wonderful post Cath.
    I've often thought about this issue. its such a tricky issue isn't it? that balance between forgiving while trying to say it's not ok. I've often wondered how people can reach forgiveness in terms of abuse they have suffered from.
    I know that I have reached a forgiveness with certain people who have really hurt me. They way you put it rings a bell with me. The feeling of no it still isn't right what they did, but that feeling of it not taking over all of you in a fit of rage or resentment, or anxiety, or despair.
    And yes, couldn't agree more, always go through it rather than avoiding it. As shitty and horrible as that can be.
    fabulous post Cath , thank you for sharing and writing it. xo

  12. Honestly I struggle with forgiveness.I don't know how people who have suffered greatly due to another person's action are able to forgive them.I do know it is needed in order to find one's own peace - but how it is obtained is a mystery to me.Maybe it is something you don't work out till you are faced with it personally.

  13. Hi Cath, I enjoyed reading your post.Very thought inducing :) Very interesting to read everyone's comments too.To me the forgiving thing(is a little attached inside the cultural background...for example in the catholic one everyone's is guilty and hope to be forgiven and must forgive...Kind of heavy...)The "get over it" sounds very much like "put your head in the sand" to me :)I like to think that understanding is important and I like to think it is everyone "choice" to forgive or not yet...I am not sure I would always being able to accept a huge offense but would try and move on ...(If I make any sense? :))

  14. Interesting post Cath.

    I would say that I find it hard to forgive or move past a percieved insult or wrongdoing. We have family issues where a father/son bond has reached the point of "no forgiveness" and even a cancer scare was not enough to heal the rift. I know that it would have if it was me so it has made me really think a lot about the ability or inability to accept and move on.

  15. I have no idea what forgiveness means. It is something that I too struggle with. I was raised in an emotionally disfunctional family. "Get over it" could be their mantra. I am in the process of going through it all - retraining my own cognitive pathways to protect the next generation as best I can.
    I love that you have written this post. I will stew over and through what you have said and perhaps it will bring me closer to developing my own understanding of the complex process of forgiveness.

    Thanks so much for writing this post.

  16. Fabulous post, Kath.

    Forgiveness to me is acknowledging that I am not going to let a situation, a person or an act dictate how I feel. When I forgive I am saying "it is over". Not that it's okay or that it is forgotten, but it is over. x


what a nice person you are- taking the time to comment in this busy hectic world...Thank you!!