Don't be so Quick to Forgive
It is definitely unhealthy for people to be so quick to forgive. It is often
undeniably unhealthy for the individual and potentially dangerous or destructive
for the family or community. And I'm tired of folks trying to split hairs with
me about the "definition" of forgiveness.
From what I have gleaned over 56 years of life and a little less than
half of them on radio it is one of the most overused concepts in dealing
with so-called "wrongdoers" or folks who perpetrate outright evil.
It depowers the innocent and empowers the not-so-innocent. The basic premise
of "forgiveness" is always explained by a listener as a means of "letting
go" of the pain and rage so that one can have a serene life. Well, my friends,
I have a real problem playing with fire just because it makes one "feel
Forgiveness is defined first as "absolving" or "granting pardon"
for an offense. When one pardons another, he or she basically releases them
from obligation or penalty. When one absolves another, he or she frees the other
from guilt or blame or responsibility or consequences.
When someone commits an illegal act involving you – battery, theft –
it is not an offense solely involving you, it is an offense against society
and the civil and moral rules which govern it. Therefore, I always push folks
to file reports with the police. Look at it this way, if the person has to deal
with the righteous consequences of their actions, they have the opportunity
to cleanse their soul, and psyche, and lives from self-centered, thoughtless
or immoral tendencies.
Yet, the call I took just this past week on my radio program screamed for no
forgiveness. The woman caller's sister had had sex with the caller's husband.
The sister had never taken responsibility, never displayed remorse, never tried
to repair the damage and never gave the impression that this kind of behavior
wouldn't be repeated. Nonetheless, their mutual father, wanting simple "peace"
in the family, was nagging my caller to "forgive" her sister. I gave
her more than permission, I actually urged her to not forgive her sister.
How trivializing of his wronged daughter's hurt could a father be in the name
of "peace." People are often urged to forgive the unforgivable in
the name of "peace" or "letting go of ugly emotions." My
caller, in my opinion, could only have both by not forgiving.
The enormity of the betrayal and the lack of true remorse beg for no forgiveness.
Instead, I urged the caller to let her father know that his request was a further
insult to her. I urged her to tell her sister to "kiss off." I also
told her that she was entitled to those responses and that the strength she
gathered from standing up to a blase attitude about evil-doers would help her
be stronger in her life in general.
Finally, I told her that her sister's envious, competitive and destructive
behavior was an event. Only she, my caller, could make this event a lifelong
experience by perpetually ruminating and suffering. Decided "action"
is always an antidote to depressive stagnation.
What too many people aren't told by the "therapists" and "clergy,"
who urge knee-jerk forgiveness, is that not holding people accountable, not
telling and showing them that their actions have severe consequences, will likely
make you feel less important and make your pain feel inconsequential.
Yes, there are things that are unforgivable. Don't let folks bully you into
forgiveness when, indeed, it is likely to be a further assault upon your well-being.
One other caller, after describing years of all sorts of abuse from her parents
– especially her mother – was dealing with her mother dying of stomach
cancer. I knew she was feeling intense guilt for not having love for her mother.
Yet, she was trying to be a decent person and showing "that woman"
compassion while she was dying.
"I love her, you know," she said to me, "she's my mother.
"Actually, my dear," I responded, "you don't love her. How could
you, considering all she did and didn't do. One doesn't love because the other
has a 'title' of mother. It is still earned. Not by being perfect – no
person or parent is – but at least by not being evil
She'd spent so many years trying to follow the mantra that you should forgive
and will attain peace. To do that she had to deny the reality of the truth,
of the damage to her, of the loss of her childhood, of the work she was still
doing to recover and survive as a normal person with a life she could enjoy
and make meaningful.
In her subsequent letter to me, she wrote: "I was able to speak with you
today about my dilemma with my mother who is dying of stomach cancer. I wanted
to let you know that I appreciate what you said to me about forgiveness and
love. I have always had it in the back of my head that love is a two-way street,
yet have felt guilty for not truly loving my mother ... I feel relieved that
I don't have to excuse my mother's actions and tell her that I forgive her or
love her. I take life and love seriously because so much of it was spent being
abused by others and myself. Dr. Laura, I agree with you – I am going
to be OK. Thank you for being a part of that.
This poor woman believed she had to forgive and love her mother or she was
bad. In reality, she had to accept that there are some things you mustn't forgive
and that love is earned. Only when she accepted these ideas could she truly
come to peace with her past. With no forgiveness, she demonstrated to herself
her own value and the magnitude of the unholy assault on an innocent child.
Yes, friends, if a close neighbor borrows your lawnmower when you are not home
to give permission, and says they are truly sorry for the trespass, and they
do your lawn to compensate, and they go out and buy their own lawnmower to show
good faith to their intention of never "borrowing" again, and they
ask for forgiveness – give it.
When people tell you to forgive just so that you can move on or create peace
for them – don't give it.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger is the best-selling author of books focused on successful
relationships, parenting ideas, morality and personal ethics.