On Forgiveness

“But you have to forgive,” my therapist admonishes me, as if I can’t heal my pain without this, this apex, this acme, this high point of human behavior. I wonder at her direction. When heinous acts have been committed why is forgiveness, this sledgehammer to the soul, applied with such habitual vigor? I find myself happier for having not forgiven those who meant me harm. As for those who harm me only as a incidentally (i.e. not on purpose), forgiveness feels irrelevant. As for her belief that I will stay “stuck,” nothing can be further from the truth. I’m here, now, safe from those who hurt me. Forgiveness, when applied to friends or relatives, especially relatives, often prolongs contact.

Personally, I give up on forgiveness. I don’t recommend it. Deliberate actions do not merit forgiveness. Inadvertent ones don’t require forgiveness. Anyway forgiveness is not the answer. Why? Because forgiveness allows chronic manipulators to exploit the vulnerable. Chronic manipulators borrow money without any intention of repayment. Make appointments without any intention of showing up. Then ask why I’m sore at ’em. Why indeed? Why not forgive? To which I ask, “why let the most dysfunctional person in the room call the shots? Why not hold her accountable?” Isn’t it crazy to forgive a person without remorse?

Well isn’t it?

My first husband is a master of manipulation. He says “I’m sorry,” in Oscar-worthy performance because that makes people forgive. Once they forgive him he has carte blanche to exploit them. His best schtick is the rain of shame and blame. If he can get me to feel uneasy about myself, to feel embarrassed by my looks, my voice, my inability I’m in the down position to his emotional dominance. He follows that by a shameless apology to solidify himself in the up position forcing the next move to be my forgiveness. This weird dance goes on for 1, then 2, a total of 4 years under the very noses of therapists and counselors without anyone calling out abuse.

What was the point to that?

Why have a marriage that consists of being hurt (read put-in-the-low-man position) and subsequently forgiving (read regaining-the-top-dog position) over and over and over again? I see plenty of marriages play this pattern. (Ironically mostly in church.) The female partners loudly complain to anyone who will listen, about their husbands. They suppose themselves complex women who love difficult men, rather than admit abuse. I ask isn’t one healthier for recognizing manipulation? Manipulation is real. IMHO, forgiveness creates mini-monsters of ourselves. Forgiveness pre-supposes we have the power to deem others acceptable or unacceptable. As if.

Or perhaps you’ve never made a faux pas. I’ve made my mistakes. I was certainly sorry. For someone to say, “that’s alright,” or “no big deal” is comforting. “I forgive you?” not so much. I don’t appreciate being lorded over. This is important to consider if you are relating to a using addict. Putting myself above such a person is not good for them nor good for me. That very pattern may be what drives some couples who stay together for years, even utilizing 12 step groups, but isn’t mature, isn’t healthy, it isn’t fair to place one person above the other. For the addict to use apology as working credit to abuse substances and for the co-addict to use forgiveness as personal nutrition is, well, icky.

My former friends and relatives find my stance incomprehensible. They are unable to tease out the subtle but all important difference between acceptance and forgiveness. They imagine that because I don’t forgive I’m angry. But that ain’t true. I placidly accept my (second) ex is a using addict. His substance abuse painful, sad, yet nothing to be taken personally. This is information best accepted rather than ignored. Otherwise I may inadvertently feed his addiction. I can’t give him money or stuff. Even so, his addiction is no cause to elect myself judge and grant him forgiveness. By doing so I may feel high on my pedestal. He may feel down in the dumps, but that’s sick – right?

I’m not saying sin doesn’t exist.

I’m only saying that either people harm on purpose or they don’t. Even those of us who subscribe to “ahimsa” sometimes cause inadvertent pain to others. For example, if I’m walking down the street, trip and fall – pushing you into the river along with me – to forgive me is supercilious on your part. I didn’t fall on purpose. It was an accident! And yet we’re all wet all the same. Though I might say I’m sorry, sorry I tripped, sorry I pushed you, to say “It’s ok” is a cultural reflex, not a statement of truth. I am quite sure you’d have preferred to stay out of the mud. “I forgive you,” in this context is arrogant,  haughty,  full of conceit.

On the other hand, there are people, like my first ex, who harm on purpose. What about them?  My first husband was fond of saying people had to forgive him, forgiveness was only “Christian.” He delights using forgiveness against people. Forgiveness justifies his every bad behavior, (i.e., why not lie? They must forgive. Why not steal? They must forgive…and so forth.) I ask you dear reader, what is the point to forgiving the maliciously non-repentant? Forgiveness may make me feel holier than thou, but accomplishes nothing beyond that puffed up feeling.

Give up on forgiveness! If someone has harmed me with intent to harm I get out of the way. I distance myself from evil in every way possible. To forgive such a devil is keeping me in harm’s way.  Friends and family may think the lady who stays with a schmuck is “such a saint.” I say it’s a head trip. It’s ridiculous, not good for the soul to stay for the sake of feeling martyred. Life is too short, as many an exploited woman wakes up to realize.

On the other hand. . . if someone has harmed me accidentally, without any intention of causing pain (sometimes without even any knowledge of causing me pain) to forgive is superfluous. What about a child flailing around in an epileptic fit who punches me in the face? Does it make any sense to say “I forgive you” ? What about the child who makes life hard for us due to physical or mental shortcoming? Does it make any sense to say “I forgive you” ? What about the partner who is late for a date due to traffic or work or circumstance beyond her control? What really am i forgiving when I say “I forgive you?”

Dare I say, “Forgiveness is for babies” ? The mature person moves towards accepting what is with open-eyed clarity. We need to see the bad guys. We shouldn’t be in a rush to forgive the bombers who disrupted the Ariana Grande concert. We needn’t forgive them at all. I trust they’re not sorry. If they are, if a really bad guy wants to turn his life around after witnessing the pain he’s created – I say don’t put myself in the position of judge. Don’t forgive. Just be happy he’s changed his tack. Watch carefully what’s going on.

Now y’all play nice!

Sat Nam