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Toward a Philosophy of Forgiveness

November 12, 2013

Neda-child...cries for Iran.  Artist: Ricardo Santos-alfonso

Neda-child…cries for Iran.
Artist: Ricardo Santos-alfonso

“How can I forgive when it hurts so much….”

Forgiveness is a concept that I’ve thought and written about since my seminary days, almost thirty years ago. It’s been a tough nut to crack. While I have found it easy to accept the value of forgiveness as an idea, putting it into practice in everyday life has proven inordinately challenging, particularly where deep wounding is involved.

In spite of our best intentions, we all carry hurts that seem to fester for years, wounds that cling to us like glue, no matter how much psychological soap and water we use to eradicate the pain.

A wound inflicted in childhood can follow us like a dark shadow from relationship to relationship, situation to situation. An abusive or absent parent, a violent stranger, a classroom bully, sexual assault, soul scaring wounds heaped upon the innocent leave scars so deep that it is difficult to imagine how one might heal enough to stop hurting, let alone, find the ability to forgive.

Too often, such wounding of the body, mind and spirit, does not heal and there is no forgiveness. As a result, remnant-wounding or shadow-wounding creates another layer of damage.  The wounded individual is subjected to a lifetime of pain, that often is not clearly understood, and even seen as separate events. On a very deep level the wounded sense, however, that they are not in control of their lives and that in some capacity the perpetrator is. The villain has the upper hand and the war must continued to be waged simply for survival.

Until we step out into the light of truth, and clearly see present reality, we cannot find forgiveness and are doomed to repeat the negative pattern that effectively carries on the abuse whether we are living in it, or not. Deep wounding is often buried beneath scar tissue where it lies festering and cannot heal.

One of the many blessings of living many years is that it is easier to see patterns in our behavior and the repetitive elements of our experiences.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why we are able to deal more directly and effectively with childhood woundings in their fifth and sixth decades. Repetitive wounds, or a wound that resurfaces repeatedly throughout our lives is a signal that there is work to be done. It does its job of bringing the unfinished business required of healing to the surface.

Getting a handle on forgiveness is not about willing ourselves to forget, or about getting the other person to admit their flaws,

or even about seeing and accepting the abuser’s flaws, although all of these are valuable contributions to the process. To get to a place of real forgiveness, we must do something that is counterintuitive. We must turn our attention to ourselves and away from the perpetrator.

A healthy and persistent dose of self-love may breathe enough life into our psyche and soul to allow healing and forgiveness to begin. The wounding eroded our self-esteem and left us interiorly damaged, but going to the source of the wound is a fruitless endeavor. We cannot change what happened, nor can we likely change the perpetrator. Even if we could we would not be satisfied or find forgiveness. What we really want is for the situation to have never taken place. The focusing of our attention on the perpetrator and/or the incident, even mentally by reliving the injustice or abuse in our minds, is our desperate attempt to re-write history. We work the problem mentally desperately trying to change the outcome.

We must begin, instead, with acceptance of the truth. We must accept that the events occurred and cannot be undone. It happened. I was hurt. Deeply, even profoundly. This will never change. It is also true that I did not cause the wounding, nor did I in any way deserve it.  I am a valuable person. I am worthy of healing, and therefore I am willing to take steps to strengthen my self-esteem and I am willing to heal.

Forgiveness at its very foundation goes hand in hand with the strengthening of self-esteem. As we learn to value and care for ourselves in our totality, body, mind and spirit, we will learn how to find forgiveness.

As we can grow in true love and respect for ourselves we automatically gain emotional distance from the perpetrator and enhance our perspective on the wounding.

In doing so we gain the ability to let go and to embrace forgiveness wherever it is needed. Forgiveness at any other level is a shallow exercise that is doomed to failure and reminder-wounding will likely surface.

When we find wholeness in ourselves, the connection of body, mind and spirit, we become less reactive to the wound or the individual (or entity) involved. As we gain power and control over our lives from a place of deep self-care and self-love, the external world and all that is in it loses its power to hurt or diminish us and we no longer unconsciously create situations for more wounding.

Forgiveness, at its core, requires the objectivity of our spiritual selves. A healthy ego and a rich spiritual life go hand in hand. It’s difficult to have one without the other. Perhaps that is why we find forgiveness being discussed in the religious arena more often than the psychological. We seem to sense the spiritual component, the need for a more lofty perspective.

True, deep and lasting forgiveness is not a simple process, but as we recognize our responsibility to ourselves, and see self-care and self-love as very real and necessary healing tools, it will come more quickly.

© Dorothy Sander 2013

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Dis-Ease and the Value of the Healing Journey

Abuse – The Gift That Never Stops Giving

This Is Not My Fault – Knowing When You Are Not To Blame

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. November 12, 2013 3:12 pm

    Excellent, Dorothy! ❤

  2. November 12, 2013 5:21 pm

    It is so true that one must gain self love and respect before being able to let go of the hurt. I’ve traveled this road, and when I finally got to the point of truly being able to let go, a thousand pounds of weight was lifted from my shoulders, and I learned to forgive.

  3. November 13, 2013 12:57 pm

    Beautiful piece and important.
    I’d like to reblog this on http://www.ZestNow.com for Women 50 and Forward

  4. Perizat permalink
    November 13, 2013 1:09 pm

    EFT – Emotional Freedom Techniques has proved to be of great tool for forgiveness.

  5. lucindasagemidgorden permalink
    November 13, 2013 1:22 pm

    Dorothy, Such a well written piece. It has such loving energy. And its true, forgiveness begins with self-love. Thank you for sharing.

    • November 13, 2013 1:23 pm

      Thank you, Lucinda! I value your input.

      • lucindasagemidgorden permalink
        November 13, 2013 6:20 pm

        You’re welcome. Your voice is so open and loving.

  6. November 14, 2013 11:14 am

    Excellent.Amazing how this is so appropriate for me to read and reflect on today. Thank you.

    • November 14, 2013 3:43 pm

      So glad it help some little gift for you, because you are so very special to me! 🙂

  7. November 15, 2013 6:18 am

    Having grown up Fundamentalist Baptist, I was raised with a world view that something is either black, or white. I was also hammered with that phrase ” Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last will give you JOY”, and, “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” They just forgot to teach me how to authentically love myself. I can think of unnumbered sorrows and even dangers I’ve put myself in throughout my life following this philosophy. Miriam Webster Dictionary defines forgiveness as “the attitude of someone who is willing to forgive other people”. And that I believe, as you have so eloquently expressed, is a core element to a journey of healing…..having the attitude of willingness to forgive, myself for not being perfect, my parents for their desperate need for some sense of control in this crazy world, my perpetrators………..forgiveness being an attitude rather than a done deal allows me the space to be, most of the time, at peace with ‘it is what it is’, and, accepting of those rare but equally authentic moments when I’d like to pick up a 2 x 4 and beat hands to a bloody pulp. Your description of forgiveness as a process resonates…..bravo for your journey, and your ability and willingness to express healing in such an accepting, gentle and encouraging words.

    • November 15, 2013 8:56 am

      Thank you for tying these thoughts into the Christian worldview of our childhoods. Regardless of denomination, or narrowness of focus, “putting yourself last” came through loud and clear to most of us. The desperate conflict that many of us felt because of this belief caused us an inordinate amount of pain. We knew in our hearts that it was partly right, but as suggested, we were unable to resolve the need to love others with the very basic need to love oneself. We did not understand that it was not ever intended to be an either/or, but rather a both/and, and the delicate interplay and balance of the two. We also inherited a worldview that was less than accepting of life as a process, leaning heavily toward a “works” mentality, a striving for a more perfect self in the future. I love that we are moving toward a broader, more accepting, more forgiving perspective now, incorporating some of the gifts that our Eastern friends have been privy to for some time. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, Kathy, and push this dialogue further. You have much to offer. DS

  8. December 1, 2013 10:08 am

    I am a huge fan of “looking for patterns” but even though I can see them I still struggle with changing the behavior which caused them. Forgiveness if hard and forget is hard. I think we must FORGET to truly forgive. I don’t stay angry, but I don’t forget and it clouds my future interaction. Great to be reminded of these struggles and to keep trying. Thank you.

    • December 1, 2013 3:11 pm

      Sometimes it feels like life is a complex puzzle with pieces missing! I’m totally with you in your perspective. I’ve also come to believe there comes a time when we have to step as far back as we possibly can from the details to find the right perspective. I like to envision this perspective like an eagle flying over the earth, the details are almost indistinguishable, the rolling terrain the only thing that matters. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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