For many divorcees, January brings forth images of fresh, crisp journal pages, in-depth soul searching, and the monumental pressure to forgive. We have been taught by virtually every religion under the sun that there is great power in forgiveness. Most studies on forgiveness tout the health benefits of forgiveness from both a mental and physical standpoint.
The art of forgiveness is simply letting go of hostility or resentment for a perceived transgression. The act of forgiveness is usually preceded by an admission of wrongdoing or an acknowledgement of the offense and many times, a request for forgiveness. I have never struggled with forgiveness until I divorced a narcissist. A narcissist will never admit an indiscretion, nor are they capable of accepting responsibility, which leaves the offended party in an interesting predicament.
I believe that the key to forgiveness is that the said offense is in the past. Anyone who has attempted to co-parent with a narcissist or other high-conflict personality knows that the past often repeats weekly and in many cases, involves the children. I personally struggle with forgiveness as it directly relates to my ex-husband showing little or no regard for the well-being or safety of our children. When someone harms my child -- whether it is emotionally or physically, the fierce momma bear comes forth and I am ready to protect. Forgiveness is not on my radar when the issues are constant, in the present tense and involve harm to my children.
I have personally experienced the power of forgiveness but not in the way that you may expect. Over the past two years, I spent a great deal of time sitting in therapy, penning my thoughts onto paper and digging deep to understand why I fell prey to a narcissist in the first place. I owned my role in the equation and I acknowledged the yellow, orange and red flags that I chose to ignore during our courtship. I then extended an olive branch and forgave myself. The healing that I experienced from forgiving myself was life changing.
I recently spoke to Dr. Robert Enright, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. who eloquently weighed in on the topic of acceptance and forgiveness. "To accept a person and to accept a situation are two different things. We can accept people who are unjust because they are mistaken, confused, and nonetheless possess inherent worth because they are persons. We should be careful in accepting unjust situations themselves, lest we grow complacent with the injustice. Accepting persons despite their flaws may be a marker on the path to forgiveness, which is difficult to accomplish in the short-run especially when the injustices are on-going."
For the past three years, I have personally struggled with the topic of forgiveness. I have recently concluded that forgiveness is overrated as it pertains to the narcissist. My New Year's resolution involves acceptance, rather than forgiveness. I am attempting to shift my perception of the situation by showing empathy for the personality disorder in general. What is life without love and honest relationships with those around you? I accept that my ex-husband didn't choose to be narcissist. Acceptance of my ex-husband and my high-conflict divorce does not mean that I forgive his behavior and actions that continue to cause damage to our young children.