Lately I’ve had reason to muse on the nature of forgiveness. Specifically whether there is really any benefit in forgiving someone when you know that the behaviour will keep on repeating. Every so-called ‘self help’ book crowding the shelves of bookshops seems to use forgiveness as a hard and fast rule. Forgive yourself, forgive them, forgive your parents, forgive ‘God’… there are so many voices clamouring to tell you how important it is to forgive so that you can move forward yet I still feel like I’m missing something. For one thing, it seems far too simple. People are complex, destructive creatures of habit and as far as I can see, there is nothing in forgiveness that will prevent them from hurting you again. I should probably make clear that I have no problem with forgiveness in general but I’m trying to puzzle out this idea of forgiveness without apology. Forgiveness as a means of healing yourself and finding peace. I just don’t know if I buy it.
What about repentance? Do we only forgive people who repent? The self-help section says no. Apparently, we forgive abundantly and without discrimination… but surely at some point we must draw a line in the sand and if so, where do we draw that line. When does a person go past the point of no return?
Nelson Mandela calls forgiveness “a powerful weapon” but it doesn’t feel like a weapon. Granted, I’m pretty sure he was talking about the fate of a nation rather than a fraught and spiteful family relationship but even so, forgiveness as a tool of empowerment is one of those long standing ideas that I struggle with. Perhaps its because it feels so disempowering to do so. It feels like an injustice to just forgive and forget… especially when the person has no interest in being forgiven. What is the point? It feels like to forgive in this way is to do myself a disservice. It’s condoning and accepting a kind of treatment that I would not tolerate if it were directed against any other person so why should I forgive when it is directed at me? I don’t know if it is my pride that troubles me but I feel like I should at least have enough self respect to not just let the person get away with it.
Maybe it’s my overdeveloped sense of injustice which is troubling me. Maybe it is a reaction to being hurt. I just find that in the past when I’ve been hurt by this person that it’s been more of a forgiveness of convenience or as a means of smoothing things over that has led to my decision to forgive them. However, there comes a point where maybe the best thing for them isn’t to continue to forgive but to draw a line between what I will and will not accept and if they can’t meet that then they don’t get to be in my life. Believe me, this is the absolute last thing that I want but there gets to be a point where self-preservation kicks in and I can’t keep doing this. So there is my problem with ‘forgiveness without apology’ as a general concept. If anyone has anything to say on the subject I’d love to hear it especially if you’ve been through something similar. Definitely at a crossroads right now!