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What Does Forgiveness Look Like To You?


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Lisa:

It is a zinger of a question. I'm interested in it. But I don't think I have a complete answer.

So, some assorted comments:

Forgiveness is most authentic when offered and received by the ones directly harmed, directly involved. In other words, I can't apology on someone elses behalf. I can't forgive on someone elses behalf

Forgiveness is not the same as letting go or forgetting.

Forgiveness is saying to another person, after they have asked for forgiveness, that you accept their apology as authentic and that you will try your best to not harm them in return.

I think forgivenes is powerful and often redemptive, but I don't think it automatically returns a relationship to where it was before the incident.

It is possible and sometimes even helpful to let go of a harm another person has done to you, but that is not the same as forgiveness.

Just my thoughts, to a very fine post and question.

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Deep question. I guess at the philosophical level forgiveness is part of empathy. As a finite being who was given to himself and who always makes mistakes, I recognize that others are the same as me. As I did not give my "being" to myself [i didn't ask to be born], I recognize that others didn't give their "being" to themselves. So I cannot be a judge of a person's very being. Since the degree of voluntariness of my actions is hidden from me, I realize that the same is true of others. Do I will the things I do with 100% of my will without any outside or inside influences? So I have to extend the same attitude to others: do they with 100% of their will, will what they do? And from there, I guess, it is "treat others as you would have others treat you."

At a religious level, and as a Christian [for better or worse], I note that the prayer Jesus taught his followers contains only one demand: "forgive those as you would have God forgive you." It seems interesting to me that Jesus could have included so many "demands" and "expectations" in that prayer: be good, be holy, be religious, be this, be that. Interesting that the only demand is for forgiveness. It is as though Jesus is saying: "I know you are not going to be able to attain these ideals. But at least you can do this one thing: forgive people who tresspass against you." And it is interested to me that on the cross Jesus says: "God forgive them because they don't know what they're doing."

In a different context, Socrates said something similar. And it is interesting that forgiveness appears in many religions and philosophies. Is it necessary to "feel" the forgiveness, or is the act of will enough? Is forgiveness a special gift? And what about the really hard cases: the person who has done unspeakably brutal things against oneself or others? What about a modern tyrant who has sent millions upon millions of people to ghastly deaths. Forgive him? And is it our place to forgive when we are not the victims? And just how many unspeakable and ghastly things have been done in the name of religion?

And I should be forgiven for my response. It is so hollow and inadequate to the reality of it all which can't be papered over so easily with high sounding concepts and words. I think of the little Jewish girl tightly grasping her little Teddy bear as she is marched into a gas chamber! What do high sounding abstract concepts do for her?

Edited by Ep1ctetus
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I don't think forgiveness has much to do with the actions of the forgivee, i.e. I don't believe in conditional forgiveness as in "you agreed not to do it again, so I will forgive you." Sometimes you will see parents of m***** victims forgive an unrepetant killer. I think forgiveness has to do with releasing your heart of the anger, condemnation, hurt, resentment,suffering that you yourself or someone else has caused you. It is certainly not just a simplr action or words: saying "I forgive you" is meaningless unless it affects your heart. The act of forgiveness releases you from the burden of hate and anger and hurt.

In terms of self-forgiveness, I'm not religious but the Bible says that God has already forgiven you, you don't need to confess or repent. By confessing, or repenting, or not repeating the "sinful" actions --- YOU gain release from pain and shame. That is the benefit of self-forgiveness, the release from self-hate, regret, guilt.

So I see forgiveness as something that you might have to work at very hard over a period of time, and struggle to achieve.

Edited by ellemint
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These are all excellent responses to a very difficult question, and I thank all of you for your thoughtfulness. I'd like to tweak the question slightly: What does forgiveness look like to you when the person who has wronged you never acknowledged their guilt, repented or apologized?

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I feel like forgiveness is a loaded word. The main thing is to be able to control your anger and hurt enough so that it no longer feeds itself or causes you pain. If they apologize sincerely you can truly forgive. But if not, I'm happy to move on without forgiving them. Just making a conscious decision of not revisiting the issue too often.

I think forgiveness should continue to mean something we do for the benefit of others. Mostly when they deserve it or sometimes because we love them so much that we are willing to truly forgive their actions.

Letting go of extreme resentment and anger for our own benefit is just moving on, not forgiveness. And at least for me it's often a more appealing option.

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These are all excellent responses to a very difficult question, and I thank all of you for your thoughtfulness. I'd like to tweak the question slightly: What does forgiveness look like to you when the person who has wronged you never acknowledged their guilt, repented or apologized?

That's funny you brought up that question because I was thinking the exact same thing. My father is verbally abusive towards me. He knows he is doing it, he has never apologized and never will, and he will never stop. He was this way with my mother until she died. I am living with him right now and until I find a job I don't have any other options. Even though I know the abuse he hurls at me is not true, it still hurts a lot, because he seems to hate me. So I try to forgive him in my heart, even though I would never dare say that to him because he would simply yell that he has done nothing wrong. That doesn't mean that what he is doing is not wrong. But it's along the lines of "forgive them for they know not what they do". I mean, if he "knew" better, he would not be this way.

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I feel like forgiveness is a loaded word. The main thing is to be able to control your anger and hurt enough so that it no longer feeds itself or causes you pain. If they apologize sincerely you can truly forgive. But if not, I'm happy to move on without forgiving them. Just making a conscious decision of not revisiting the issue too often.

I think forgiveness should continue to mean something we do for the benefit of others. Mostly when they deserve it or sometimes because we love them so much that we are willing to truly forgive their actions.

Letting go of extreme resentment and anger for our own benefit is just moving on, not forgiveness. And at least for me it's often a more appealing option.

But letting go of resentment and anger without forgiveness, doesn't that still tie you to that person? You are still carrying the burden of unforgiveness in your heart.

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If y

You are still carrying the burden of unforgiveness in your heart.

Can you elaborate what you mean by that?

If you do not forgive someone, are you still not carrying some degree of negative feeling towards them, and is that going to help you and make you feel more free and able to move on? Or is it instead going to bind you, in a negative way, to feelings about or memories of that person and what they did that you are choosing not to forgive.

Same goes for your self: we are often the most unforgiving of our own faults and transgressions. But if we condemn ourselves and refuse to forgive ourselves for what we have done wrong, how does that help us? How does that help us change for the better? Depressed people especially are very unforgiving of themselves. One only needs to read these forums to see the self-hate and self-contempt and shame that many people have for themselves. Withholding forgiveness from oneself is incredibly painful.

And I'm not saying that forgiveness takes all the pain and hurt away. But it reduces it. Also, for me, it is one of my values to be a forgiving and compassionate person towards others and myself, as much as I can.

Here is a (long) article on the topic from a religious perspective that explains what I am trying to say far better than I can (and I'm not proselytizing ! remember I'm not even religious :) :

http://www.jesus-res...orgiveness.html

Edited by ellemint
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Also think of all the millions of families and relationships that are destroyed because people won't forgive each other. It's really sad. Families that no longer talk to each other because so and so didn't go to their wedding, or insulted their home decorating, or said something offensive ---- what a waste.

Edited by ellemint
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If y

You are still carrying the burden of unforgiveness in your heart.

Can you elaborate what you mean by that?

If you do not forgive someone, are you still not carrying some degree of negative feeling towards them, and is that going to help you and make you feel more free and able to move on? Or is it instead going to bind you, in a negative way, to feelings about or memories of that person and what they did that you are choosing not to forgive.

That might be true to some extent. But for me the question is what I can do to increase my own well being. It's more helpful for me to reappraize those negative memories. For example with verbal abuse or humiliation to remind myself that it was not my fault and the content of the abuse is wrong. This process might lead to increased compassion towards the perpetrator or it might not. Sometimes the truth is just that we don't know why someone did what they did and moving on just means making a conscious decision of forgoing any thoughts of retribution or even some kind of explanation.

I guess it's a question of emotional control. Is it possible to feel some negative emotion towards others but minimize the negative effects on yourself? I think it might be. It could be difficult but for me still easier than forgiving someone that I feel doesn't deserve it.

Same goes for your self: we are often the most unforgiving of our own faults and transgressions. But if we condemn ourselves and refuse to forgive ourselves for what we have done wrong, how does that help us? How does that help us change for the better? Depressed people especially are incredibly unforgiving of themselves. One only needs to read these forums to see the incredible amount of self-hate and self-contempt and shame that many people have for themselves. Withholding forgiveness from oneself is incredibly painful.

I'd forgive myself out of love and also because the kind of things I do tend to be not too bad in the grand scheme of things. I understand the idea that compassion towards others builds compassion to oneself. But I prefer to start with people who are mistreated or in some sort of bad situation themselves not people who deliberately hurt others.

To clarify my main issue is forgiving people who aren't truly sorry for what they did. I personally couldn't do it (nor do I want to) and I feel perfectly happy moving on without it.

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The background to my questions is, of course, my personal experience. Two people in particular have hurt me in life, one through molestation and the other through psychological abuse. One of those persons is dead, the other is alive and lives in another state. I do not have contact with him. Neither ever apologized for what they put me through. I'd like to forgive the dead person, because I feel that she didn't deliberately set out to hurt me - she just had incredibly poor mechanisms for coping with her own depression. I'm working on trying to achieve that in therapy. The other person, I have no particular desire to have a relationship with. But as a Christian, I know I need to forgive him. With the dead person, I can fairly easily say, "Father forgive her, she knew not what she did," but with the other one, he's always known exactly what he was doing. So what does forgiveness look like in that context? I don't have a definite answer, but I think it involves elements of what has already been said here: Letting go of anger. Again, that's a lot easier to do when the person who wronged you admits it and apologizes. But I don't know how to do that with him, because he will never admit it and consequently feels he has nothing for which to apologize. I guess more than anything I need to figure out a way to kick him out of my head.

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Wow – very interesting topic. All of the posts really have me thinking. My mother in law used to tell me that if you do not forgive people who wronged you, you are still controlled by them... I guess to me that the "forgiveness" which is a loaded word, is meant to be for yourself, not the other person. Never forgetting the wrong that has been done to you, but not letting it eat up your heart. Easier said than done for me, because I can still get myself angry over something someone said 20 years ago. Not even sure why, maybe because when I think of it reminds me of my insecurities? Who knows?

These are all excellent responses to a very difficult question, and I thank all of you for your thoughtfulness. I'd like to tweak the question slightly: What does forgiveness look like to you when the person who has wronged you never acknowledged their guilt, repented or apologized?

I guess my answer would have to be indifference, by that I mean not holding any feelings to what was done to wrong me.I know, easier said than done. And I get angry when I think: "they probably don't even remember what they did to you" , so 100% of the pain is being felt by myself, which is why I try to push it away & not care. Not easy though; especially after a life of being bullied and wronged. I have to keep thinking that I'm trying to give myself a break. Sorry for the ramble, I've been up too long today so please forgive me if I didn't make sense. Good stuff to think about, though.

Edited by Pelly
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I think it is helpful to realize that many cruel things are done by people who were themselves treated cruelly. Like my father who is abusive at times -- not all the time. If I didn't forgive him, and refused to have anything to do with him, I wouldn't have a father anymore. And I come from a small family, there is no extended family. Other than my sister, who is in very little contact with us and who is even more abusive towards me -----I would have no family whatsoever. Would I be better off? No.

Also, with regard to my father, he left a worn-torn country in his teens, basically a child, and never saw any of his family ever again. He NEVER speaks about his childhood or family --- I don't even know my grandparents' names. He experienced a lot of hardship and so I have compassion for his limitations. No one acts like my father does who hasn't suffered himself.

And even think of it on a global scale. If the Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East could forgive each other and figure out a WORKABLE solution to their differences --- would that be better or worse? If the Muslims who are rioting because they are so offended over a film that insults their religion could have just forgiven it, would that have been better or worse? When has lack of forgiveness ever HELPED anything or made the world better?

Edited by ellemint
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I think it is helpful to realize that many cruel things are done by people who were themselves treated cruelly. Like my father who is abusive at times -- not all the time. If I didn't forgive him, and refused to have anything to do with him, I wouldn't have a father anymore. And I come from a small family, there is no extended family. Other than my sister, who is in very little contact with us and who is even more abusive towards me -----I would have no family whatsoever. Would I be better off? No.

Also, with regard to my father, he left a worn-torn country in his teens, basically a child, and never saw any of his family ever again. He NEVER speaks about his childhood or family --- I don't even know my grandparents' names. Same on my mother's side -- she escaped war in the same country and I know next to nothing about her family, I don't know their names either, and now she has passed away so I never will know anything. But both of them experienced a lot of hardship and so I have compassion for their limitations. No one acts like my father does who hasn't suffered himself.

And even think of it on a global scale. If the Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East could forgive each other and figure out a WORKABLE solution to their differences --- would that be better or worse? If the Muslims who are rioting because they are so offended over a film that insults their religion could have just forgiven it, would that have been better or worse? When has lack of forgiveness ever HELPED anything or made the world better?

I agree that forgiveness is a laudable goal. My only point is that it can be very difficult to do, especially in the absence of an acknowledgement of wrongdoing on the part of the person who hurt you. And in the case of the molester I spoke of in a previous post, I truly don't think he was himself abused, nor did he have any more difficult things to deal with in life than I did (we're siblings). I'm not saying I won't forgive him. I'm just saying I don't know how to do it.

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I agree 100%. My father was never really abusive growing up, but he had his moments... And I know he wasn't so nice to my mom at times, either. Once my mom passed, he pretty much dis-owned our side of the family and remarried within 3 months to someone who we know was cheating on my mom with. Years went by and I didn't speak to him, but one day I called him & we talked and made amends since I chose to ignore the actions he did to anger me in the first place. I'ts like you say, If I didn't forgive him, I wouldn't have him. I felt much better afterward, and a few months later, he had a heart attack & passed away. I can see the pain in my brother & sister since they didn't get the same chance I did to make amends. So ya, I'd say indifference to the wrongdoings is how I have to look at it; It gave me back my father for a short time anyway.

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I think boundaries and forgiveness go hand in hand.

I can choose to fogive someone who has wronged me, but if there is no acknowledgement on their part, then I need to also choose to protect myself by not engaging in relationship with them. To continue to do so would be a form of self abuse.

I guess it all depends on the situation.

Edited by yesican
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Maybe it's because of my own background and experiences, but I think that especially when it comes to serious things, very few people are going to apologize and really mean it. They wouldn't be doing the 'bad' things if they really thought it was so bad, or if they thought they could help it. Most people are very good at rationalizing and justifying just awful behavior. Most domestic abusers don't really think their anger is out of line. They really think the object of their anger provokes it or deserves it. Apparently most people who cheat on their spouses justify it in their minds. If you are having to hope that someone has insight into how bad their behavior is, and will acknowledge it or apologize for it, it is giving them the power to make things better instead of using the power that you have to make things better even if they don't cooperate.

You can acknowledge that someone did something cruel, vicious, inexplicable, sick, unkind, unfair, thoughtless, mean ---- and still forgive them for it. It doesn't mean you are saying it was OK, or that it was in any way justified.

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Exactly - and maybe that's why I think the word "forgiveness" may not be the appropriate word that fits. My mother in law explained it to me that way, but she said, it's really not forgiveness to let the person off the hook, it's the power to let yourself let go & heal so it doesn't weigh you down. Trust me, I know where you're coming from. Life is about choices & negotiations, and most of these people who mistreat & abuse others, have to negotiate with themselves and convince that what they are doing is OK, knowing that it isn't, just to make themselves feel better in doing what they do. I guess you can only control how you react to things, and waiting/hoping people are going to realize what they do is wrong is pointless. The only way I can swallow the word "forgive" is when I think of how it applies to mending myself, not the person who wronged me. These people are probably not thinking twice about what they do anyway.In my mind I'll try to negotiate with myself not eo let things or people bother me, but easier said than done, as it always usually does.

Edited by Pelly
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  • 4 weeks later...

I hope to obtain a feeling of forgiveness from others I have wronged so deeply during my life. For me it has to do with guilt. I forgive others though and although I have tried to apologise for what I have done wrong, I still carry those feelings with me.. What it would feel like to me, if I think about it, is the feeling of being clean on the inside. Completely cleansed and filled with light. Renewed.

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