……….But…..Forgiveness Adds an Extra Burden to the Abused Person
“Forgiveness is fundamentally unfair. Here we have a deeply abused person and now we ask her, in her woundedness, to reach out to one who hurt her. She now has two burdens, the original abuse and having to forgive. Please, let us first help her with the wounds from the abuse and put forgiveness on the shelf for her sake!”
So goes the most pervasive criticism of what forgiveness is and what it supposedly does in 2016. This criticism is likely to change over time and a new one emerge because, well, that is the way it is with forgiveness. There always seems to be one major criticism that is in season and acts as a barrier to forgiveness.
Thirty years ago, that in-season criticism was the equating of forgiving and reconciling. Once the logic was worked out that forgiving cannot be the same as reconciling, that one faded. After all, forgiveness is a virtue (as is justice and kindness and patience); reconciliation is not a virtue, but instead is a negotiation strategy of two or more people coming together once again in mutual trust. One can forgive and not reconcile. Thus, they differ.
Let us now turn to the current in-season criticism of forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness is a burden if:
………we pressure someone into forgiving;
………we tell the person that the only motivation for forgiving is to be good—-very good—-to the person who was not good to the one who might forgive;
………we critically judge the would-be forgiver for not forgiving.
Yet, we can unburden the forgiver, as well as forgiveness itself, when we realize that:
………forgiveness is the forgiver’s choice. It is not our place to pressure someone to forgive (or not to forgive). Give the person freedom to make the decision;
………there are many motivations to forgive. One healthy motivation that often exists early in the process is the desire to be free from emotional pain. The forgiver is motivated to become emotionally whole. The forgiver, at this stage of the process, is not so interested in doing wonderful things for the one who was not wonderful. These are very different motivations and need to be distinguished, especially early in the process;
………it is wrong to condemn a struggling person who is ambivalent about forgiveness. Maybe the person needs more time; maybe the person needs more information about what forgiveness is (and not the colloquial misunderstandings that cloud the understanding). Again, it is the choice of the one who was abused.
When we unburden the abused person by clarifying these issues, then it is clear that we are not placing a new burden on the person by discussing forgiveness. Notice that I did not say “suggesting forgiveness.” Let us discuss and then let the person decide.
So, what will be the new criticism of forgiveness that could block, without justification, a person from exploring forgiveness?
I, too, have heard this criticism and it tends to come from those who are wounded. The idea of forgiveness can be challenging to the wounded. Thus, your advocacy for a gentle approach for all is wise.
Samantha, I agree with you. The gentle approach is best because it gives people the freedom to choose or not choose forgiveness for themselves. Hasty criticism of what forgiveness is might shut down the exploration process and so this is why essays like this are so important. Clarify first what forgiveness actually is and then let people decide.