Have you ever noticed that Forgiveness is something that gets talked about in Hallmark card terminology?  It’s almost always something we should have or should practice, comes with graphics of flowers or butterflies, and promises to be the answer to issues where harm has been done.  It’s like making closure when there is no closure to be had or putting paid to something that has no actual end.  Over the past 20 years the definition of Forgiveness has changed from ‘forgiving others of their wrongs’ which people have realized is just a bit paternalistic and condescending to ‘forgiving the event and letting go of the emotions around it so healing can occur’.  This definition states that this type of forgiving does not forgive the person who perpetrated the act, does not excuse or defend the action, but allows the person who is doing the forgiving to release the emotions around the event and move on.

I really struggle with this version of Forgiveness on a couple of different fronts.  First, I don’t believe this is actually a definition of Forgiveness in an interpersonal sense.  This appears to be a definition of Forgiveness co-opted from the banking industry.  Just as they forgive loans, a legal agreement between two parties where one owes another a debt, and the individual who provided the loan states that the amount is no longer owed and does not need to be repaid, this type of Forgiveness seems to say that although the issue is not resolved  and a resolution is needed, the person who has a deficit of some kind will just forgive the transaction and consider it concluded.  To me this doesn’t appear to be Forgiveness, but math. 1-1 =0.  But to my mind, people are not mathematical equations and interactions with people cannot be erased and life is not a zero sum equation.  Secondly, while I agree with personal healing that does not require eye-for-eye retribution and personal well being that is not dependant on the actions of others, I don’t think this type of healing is Forgiveness. In fact, I don’t know, in this case, what is being forgiven.  No one seems to be able to explain that either.  If you’re not forgiving the person who transgressed, you’re not forgiving the transgression, but you’re forgiving the feelings that occurred because of the transgression, doesn’t that mean that somehow the feelings that occurred from the event were wrong in some fashion therefore in need of forgiveness?  Doesn’t this place the blame on the person who was injured?

For me the issue becomes very clear when talking about the survivors of molestation and rape.  This survivors have been injured on all their levels of being, mental/emotional/physical/spiritual.  Healing is possible and they can achieve fulfilling, joyful lives, however the bell cannot be unrung and they will never be the beings they were in that historical time of  “before”.  And the medical/health community is coming to recognize what survivors have always know.  Forgiveness of the perpetrator and the event is in no way healing to the survivor.  As they were not responsible for the event, they cannot be responsible for forgiving it.  Asking them to forgive any part of the event perpetrates a second abuse on them which is unnecessary and cruel.  Like a scar that remains from a brutal attack, they may choose to incorporate it into themselves and see it as beautiful, they may choose to see it only as one more feature of their lives, they may choose to hide it as something private only to them.  Most healing for them is acknowledgement of the event and a return of their right to choose.  Choice and freedom has been taken from them and needs to be returned in whatever fashion works best for them.  Forgiving or letting go of the event and the emotions it has engendered, the charge around it, the changes it has caused, all of this seems to continue the damage caused and is the opposite of healing.

To my mind, Forgiveness should not be used as a tool of condescension to heal the forgiver and injure the forgiven, not should it be a magic eraser that makes the math equation of our lives balance or disappear all together.  It should be something that occurs between two or more parties to heal relationship, address actions that caused harm, and to create a foundation for growing appropriate and healthy relationships going forward.  It should be used to make new memories, not to make us forget.