Thursday, March 17, 2016

For the Forgiver

by Giselle Renarde

Last year, an acquaintance told me she'd written letters to all the people she felt she'd wronged in the past. She was on a journey of self-improvement, which is super, but listening to her talk about it I kind of thought... did you really have to drag all those other people into it?

Am I just a huge cynic? Maybe. Yes.  I just feel like an internal journey shouldn't rely on external gestures of this sort. An internal journey shouldn't rely on other people's reactions at all.

Maybe it's the fact that most of the people she sent those letters to were ex-boyfriends that irks me. I mean... if you're sending letters to your exes, what's your game? Even if your intentions are totally pure, receiving communications like that from someone you dated ten or twenty years ago would be really confusing.  It's easy to misconstrue a letter of apology. "I hope you'll forgive me" could all too easily be thought to mean "I want you back in my life."

And we're talking about a woman who isn't in love with her husband anymore. Maybe that's what she was saying... perhaps without realizing it.  

Here's a controversial idea: maybe seeking forgiveness is ultimately a selfish act.

To me, forgiveness is something that happens internally. It's an energy.  This is going to sound really weird coming from a writer, but I think of forgiveness as a silent expression. It isn't about the words. Words can be lies, all lies.

I believe that when you forgive someone, they know.  When someone forgives you, you know.  Maybe not consciously, but I don't think the conscious piece even matters that much.

And even if the one who is forgiven never knows, does that even matter? Forgiveness is for the forgiver. Forgiveness allows us to let go and move on.  That has little to do with the forgiven, especially if these two people are no longer in each other's lives.

When forgiveness happens, the issue is resolved.  It doesn't matter if the words are never spoken. It's a psychic interaction.

You're seeing a whole new side of me today.

And, while I've got your attention, forgive me if I take the opportunity to tell you that Round 2 of the Lexi vs. Giselle Smut Smackdown has just begun. For those who find family sex terribly titillating:


  1. I agree that those "ask forgiveness" parts of "12 step" recovery programs (doesn't AA promote one?) can be hard on those being asked for forgiveness. The recipients may have been able to forget, or at least be uncomfortable being reminded. Of course it depends on the injury--a mistreated child, for instance, might not be able to forgive, and resent being asked for something they can't give, but they might eventually be glad the parent at least repented. Exes, as you say, might better be left in peace. One does wonder how many exes your acquaintance thinks she's wronged, though. Not a very good prospect on the relationship front.

    1. Yeah, a friend and I were talking about this because we've both received those kinds of letters from family members with addiction issues... and we both felt like it was manipulation and bullshit. I'm sure that's not true for everyone, but that's my experience. It's especially hard when you've excised that person from your life, which we'd both done. Kind of makes you feel like there's no escape.

    2. As a former Twelve Step program participant (around food)--Step 9 doesn't talk about asking forgiveness, but rather, of making amends, that is, actually trying to fix the problem. It's focused on the well being of the recipient, not the person making amends. And the exact wording contains a proviso:

      "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

      So... maybe you don't send an email to your old boyfriend, apologizing, when you realize it might jeopardize his current relationship.

  2. Hmm. I agree with you, Giselle, that forgiving is an internal act. However, if you believe that you've wronged someone, it can be important to explicitly receive forgiveness from that individual. Without that, you don't have closure.

    You're also right, though, when you point out that a request to forgive can be a burden to the recipient, for a whole range of reasons. Maybe you don't want to be reminded of the negative experience. Maybe you actually feel you CAN'T forgive the individual--but feel pressured to do so. And of course, when you're talking about old love affairs...Yikes! There's so much messiness and discomfort possible...

    1. I don't have much experience with these situations, so I'm just theorizing: but maybe the key is not to ask anything of the person you've wronged, but simply to say, "I realize I wronged you, and I want you to know I'm deeply sorry"? Then the recipient can respond forgivingly, respond simply to acknowledge the thought, or not respond at all. In other words, separate the writer's act of apology from any pressure on the recipient?

    2. I guess part of what I'm thinking—and, of course, it depends on what the specific situation was, the degree of out-of-touchness or outright estrangement, etc., as has been wisely emphasized here; I can see that there are all sorts of scenarios in which any communication at all might be inadvisable or inconsiderate—is that there can sometimes be value for the apologized-to and not only for the apologizer regarding events long past. I've been on both ends of that equation, over matters that were not huge but were big enough that one or both parties remembered them for many years afterward. Telling someone I was sorry I behaved like a jackass twenty or thirty years ago was something I did not only because it felt right to me but because I hoped that, at best, the party of the second part would appreciate hearing it (and that, at worst, it would do no harm). And when someone has made an equivalent apology to me, I've appreciated it—even though (a) the original events might have been totally "no biggie" in my mind, and (b) I tend to take it as a given that people who behaved like jackasses when they were 20 years old probably don't think well of their own behavior later on, and I don't have to be told that specifically to give them the benefit of the doubt. Again, though, I'm obviously talking about medium-size issues here, not major traumatic events.

    3. I like what you've said here, Jeremy, and I think that sort of thing could help address the very legitimate concerns Giselle has raised. I think that one of the big problems with asking forgiveness is often that it comes hand in hand with the sense that one is entitled to be forgiven. But saying that you know you've wronged someone and you regret it without expectation changes that interaction a great deal, and I think has potential for making that act of amends more meaningful.

  3. BTW. Giselle... who won round 1 of the smackdown?


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