THE BLOG
12/11/2014 11:34 am ET Updated Feb 10, 2015

The 5 Faults With Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a much-preached-about and also much condemned topic. The reality is, in being human we go through pains that are not excusable, justifiable or reconcilable. Yet we are taught if we do not forgive that we are, now, also immoral and doomed to live in some sort of an emotional prison of hatred and resentment. We are taught that to not forgive is a form of self-punishment in tandem to being an offense perpetrated by us against the person, situation or circumstance which was harmful. Clearly, it is not healthy to harbor hateful, angry and depressed feelings for a lifetime against that which harmed us, and yet we can not forgive a wrong and still be healthy. Perhaps the concept of "acceptance" is a healthy alternative to "forgiveness."

The 5 Faults With Forgiveness

1) Not forgiving persecutes the victim: If someone does something reprehensible to us, under the concept of forgiveness, the burden of responsibility for healing switches over to the victim, who now must forgive for any healing to occur for the victim and/or perpetrator. We are taught if we don't forgive then we, as the victim, are somehow a morally flawed person not capable of moving on in an emotionally healthy way. When the burden of responsibility has switched from the perpetrator and the act done, over to the victim it lessens or equalizes, on some level, the perpetrator's responsibility and the victim is left looking bad for not forgiving.

2) Nothing is unforgivable: In reality there are things that are done to us that are inhumane and unforgivable. There is nothing wrong with this reality. It is simply a reality.

3) Forgiveness makes us "good": Because we do not want to look bad in the eyes of others or looked down upon by our existential belief system, sometimes we forgive outwardly because we feel we have to, yet inside we are still angry and feeling the feelings of rage, grief, depression and helplessness. The more we force ourselves to forgive the more this internal battle inside grows and the worse we feel. This is called "faking good," which is also a form of avoidance. Faking good helps us to avoid accepting what happened to us in the fullness of that grief experience, and it helps us avoid being judged by others for still being angry, hurt or in despair.

4) A lack of forgiveness places you in an emotional prison
: Much information is out there about how if we don't forgive we will only live in an angry, hateful place, and therefore, we have no power and are, in essence, giving our perpetrators even more power. We are shamed for having the naturally occurring feelings we should have based on our circumstances, because if we have them, accept them and express them we are told we are giving the person, situation or circumstance even more power and we are only hurting ourselves. This causes self-punishment. We feel guilty or weak for feeling our natural emotions. In reality there are things in our lives which happen to us which may always trigger a bit of anger as we think about them, but to be told we are responsible for making someone else powerful with these natural feelings only makes us feel inadequate, and it forces us away from the organic grieving process. This forcing of our feelings away creates what we are trying to avoid: a constant state of anger. In trying to keep our power we end up losing our power.

5) Forgiveness means reconciliation
: The other illusion about forgiveness is that forgiving means we start fresh with whomever and whatever we are forgiving. Just because we forgive does not always mean we want to reconnect with the person, situation or circumstance which harmed us. In other cases it does mean reconciliation and a fresh start which can be incredibly healing. However, in other situations reconciliation is tantamount to being subject to further abuse.

"Acceptance" is the mindful way to heal from reprehensible acts. We don't have to forgive unacceptable acts upon us, and nor does that make us unhealthy or "bad." Maybe it makes us smart, self-loving and a person of value. Either way, if a wrong has been done to us, to be healthy, we have to accept that this horrible thing was done. The reality is, we got very hurt. We don't like what happened to us and we can wish that it didn't happen, but we cannot change it. We have to look at it and accept it as something that damaged us deeply. When we come to accept something we get into the reality of our situation and the anger, rage and other emotions which come along with it. As we feel these feelings they will slowly diminish because we accept them as a natural part of the process of adapting to what happened.

We suffer the most and end up in the "emotional prison" only when we resist accepting what has happened. We suffer because we want reality to be different than it is. Yet, with acceptance we learn that no amount of avoidance, fighting or denial (forcing ourselves to forgive) can change our circumstance. Acceptance is what brings peace and a higher perspective to our situation. When we can accept something, possibilities open up, as do healthier perceptions about what will be best going forward. In essence, we have the right to not forgive and to not want someone in our life due to the harm they have caused, but no matter what, we have to accept the harm that was caused knowing no amount of anger, hate or resent can change that reality. Then, we can move peacefully on deciding who we want to be in our situation.

Sherapy Advice: In acceptance the healing is about you. In forgiveness the healing is about the perpetrator.