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The Many Sides of Forgiveness

We are familiar with poet Alexander Pope’s saying, “To err is human; to forgive, divine,” yet there are differing views on the exact role of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is achievable; however, it takes time – months and even years. The process of forgiveness comprises six common elements. First, there is an injury or violation with subsequent emotional and/or physical pain. Second, the violation results in a broken relationship between the involved parties. Third, the injury is stopped.

Fourth, there is an understanding or reframing of the painful event within a fuller context. Fifth, there is a release or letting go of justifiable emotions (e.g., hurt, anger, blame, shame, resentment) and retaliation related to the event. Sixth, there is a renegotiation of the relationship.

Archetypal psychologist James Hillman views forgiveness as a humanistic attempt to forget the truth in order to relieve the ego’s guilt. He suggests that forgiveness offers the option of avoiding genuine pain, as it is easier to forgive and ‘get on with it’ than confront conflict or go deeply into the pain caused by the offense.

Demanding forgiveness seems equivalent to asking that what happened did not really happen. Forgiveness is not about covering up or denying feelings. As writer Alice Duer Miller stated, “Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but faces it head-on.”

Similarly, concerning abuse, Bass and Davis, authors of the book, “The Courage to Heal,” stated forgiveness often denies and minimizes survivors’ feelings. “Trying to forgive is a futile short-cut to the healing process. . . . Forgiveness is not the grand prize, it is only a by-product.”

Wayne Dyer noted, “If I think I need to forgive someone, I must have blamed” them. Moreover, if the need to forgive ourselves is present, then a part of us must be blaming us. We ask – Did the person or I really do anything wrong? Is anyone truly at fault? Does there even need to be blame or guilt? What role did I have in the situation?

Psychologist Jared Pingleton views forgiveness as surrendering the right to retaliate following an injury. Forgiveness “recognizes, anticipates and attempts to alleviate or lessen our universal, almost reflexive tendency for retaliation and retribution in the face of hurt and pain.”

Forgiveness offers freedom from hatred and resentment through the deep acceptance of all aspects of humanness in both self and others. Significant reduction of charged emotions toward the offender is the outcome as one transcends once believed perceptions. In this case, justice transforms to a higher order as ego’s talionic (‘eye-for-an-eye’) need for revenge is released.

How do we know if we have fully forgiven? Jungian Clarissa Pinkola Estes suggests, “You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to say about it all.”

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.