Friday, October 21, 2011

Letting Go Without Forgiving

Where does forgiveness fit into the above quote? Does it fit at all? Can you have bad things happen to you, be strengthened by them and yet never forgive those who inflicted the bad things upon you? That would seem to be contrary to religious teachings-- or at least Christian teachings. In order to be good and healthy and full of sunshine, you have to forgive, right? Otherwise, your soul is just a black, rotting smudge in the universe and you're just a miserable, hateful person. Or something like that.

Personally, I call bullshit.

I'm not a very forgiving person. I mean, I don't hold people to impossibly high standards and then nitpick them to death when they don't live up to them, but when someone has seriously wronged me I'm not quick to forgive. I wouldn't say I'm proud of that fact, but I'm not terribly embarrassed by it either.

I'm slow to anger, usually pretty thick-skinned (more so now than when I was younger) and I expect more from myself than I do from anyone else in the same situation. I put all of my energy into giving as much (or more) than I get. To do something to anger, hurt or disappoint me is not impossible, but it almost requires some effort. And I give lots of chances. Lots.

When my boiling point is reached or the thick-skin has been pricked, all hell doesn't break loose but forgiveness is not at the top of my To Do list. (I'm the quiet angry/hurt/disappointed type. Beware.) Hold a grudge? I've been known to, but revenge is not my style and deliberately hurting someone else is not an option. In other words-- I may not be very forgiving, but I'm comfortable with the terms of my morality. I'm also pretty comfortable with cutting people out of my life who have repeatedly angered, hurt and/or disappointed me after multiple opportunities to get it right.

It's already been pointed out that forgiveness isn't really about the person who has done the wrong, it's about the person who has been wronged. Carrying around that extra baggage is work-- and more weight than any of us needs. But I think you can let go of the anger and hurt without forgiving and without absolving someone of the wrong they have done to you. Is that a particularly Christian notion? I'm guessing Jesus wouldn't think so. But I'm not particularly religious and this isn't a WWJD moment. This is reality according to Kristina.

I've been let down by the people who aren't supposed to let you down. And somehow I managed to let go of the hurt and anger and move on with my life without turning into a bad person in the process. Is that forgiveness? Is the forgiving in the letting go? I don't think you have to forgive in order to know how to love or be happy. I don't think you have to look at the person who broke your heart or ran over your dog or betrayed your trust and say, "I forgive you." If you feel forgiving, by all means you should dole it out as you wish. But there are some things that cannot (and should not) be forgiven and there are people who should not be a part of your life or allowed to repeatedly do those things to you.

In order to be strengthened by those bad things that happen, I don't think you need to feel or offer forgiveness. I think you need to be able to look in the mirror and say, "Let it go. Learn from this experience and move on." It has nothing to do with the person who wronged you-- it's about being able to live with yourself, the hurt that's been done to you and your choices regarding that hurt. The choice should never be to let something bad define or destroy you. You have to let go.

But what if you're the one who has done the bad thing? First, I think you need to be able to look in the mirror and say with all certainty, "I will never do that/let that happen again."--because to repeat the same bad things again and again is to let it define you-- and then you need to let it go and forgive yourself. I think someone else's condemnation is nothing compared to having to look at yourself in the mirror every morning and loathe the image you see. That will destroy you.

But maybe that's just me.


  1. I've been reading about 'abandonment' and learning that there is a process with that just as there is a process with grief. This is the third stage in the process of abandonment - that stage when you forget about acting as the person you think you should be (moral, Christian types turn the other cheek, don't they?) and start expressing your true insights and feelings as to what went down. If this stage is done well, it is a time when one moves to the final stage of the process, learns and benefits from the situation, accepts what happened and drives on to lead a happy life. So much of BDSM is about "letting go" and this is one component of that, I think - perfectly accceptable and healthy, in my opinion.

  2. Is letting go the same as forgiving? Letting go means that the wrong can no longer hurt you. You may still bear the scars but you've stopped picking at the scab.

    It's funny that forgiveness is so emphasized in Christianity, but not so much in other religions. I grew up Jewish. As far as I'm aware, there's no specific admonition in the Old Testament to forgive one's enemies. On Yom Kippur, we ask God to pardon our wrong doing, but we must pay the price, through fasting and repentance - and God is not in fact guaranteed to listen.

    I don't know about Hinduism - but letting go is at the heart of Buddhism. Attachment, the Buddha taught, is the source of suffering. Let go of your attachment to feeling wrong and your suffering will decrease.


  3. Kristina - I think all this talk of forgiveness is about the petty stuff. Let's just accept that some things are unforgiveable, and that forgiving them makes them seem less terrible.

  4. Vesta, I think you're right about that-- the letting go comes when we stop lecturing ourselves about the "right" way to handle a situation. Interesting. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  5. Lisabet, you are right that the importance of forgiveness is emphasized in Christianity and not in other religions. I have no attachment to any particular religion, but I'm more drawn to Buddhism in recent years.

  6. Kathleen, agreed. I like how you phrased it, too. Forgiving makes some things seem less terrible.

  7. It suddenly occured to me when I was reading your post that you in particular had a unique wrong done to you in the past. So in your case especially the question of forgiving or letting go is a very complex one. Not so easy or simple.

    THere is a complex distinction between forgiving and healing. Some things are harder to heal. Especially when we have been uniquely wronged.


  8. Kristina - ahh, you say it so beautifully. I see myself in your post, how I have been accused of abandonment, when in truth all I did was make a decision: It is not okay for you to hurt me like this.

    It is not that I am unforgiving, it is that there comes a point where I must self-protect before I destroy myself loving someone who abuses my affection.


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