How to forgive the unforgivable and why it is essential to your sanity
The term “toxic forgiveness” surfaced during a recent Oprah discussion with psychologist and author Nedra Glover Tawwab. Toxic forgiveness is defined by Tawwab as “an unhealthy way in which people pretend to be unharmed or forget the offense. Forgiving to keep the peace or to please people is not healthy for your sanity or your relationship.”
na another session, this time for Conversation at the Red TableTawwab described how “I sit down with people and hear them beat themselves up because they want to forgive, they want to ‘get over it,’ but sometimes it’s a process and if we force it, it’s unhealthy for us .” To avoid this, Tawwab says, “A healthier version of forgiveness is like accepting the event, learning to let go of some of the anger, and feeling less consumed by it.”
Forgiveness, she says, is a choice. “I think we believe unforgiveness is mean to people. You can be nice and not like people.” We all have psychological baggage. mountains of that stuff. Humans are resentment magnets, constantly monitoring and processing the behavior of others in order to protect themselves. We hold grudges. We hold onto things that other people have or have not done to us; we’re hardwired for it. But does it really serve us? Or is holding on to resentment – even for really bad things done to us by others – self-defeating and self-defeating? How can we let go of these feelings and free ourselves?
Forgiveness is a grossly misunderstood idea that we still associate with formality, religion, piety, great drama, or being mistaken for a joke. But what it really is, says Somerset-based author and trainer Barbara J Hunt, is “a fundamental life skill that is seldom taught” and suitable “for everyday use”. It is, she says, a “superpower.”
Her book, forgiveness made easy, begins with a clear definition by the late psychologist Dr. K. Bradford Brown: “Forgiveness is the absolute refusal to blame someone (or anything) for what they did or did not do.” It’s not about the other person – it’s about yourself.
“Forgiveness is an inner state of what you’re doing with what happened,” says Hunt. It’s not about martyrdom or repressing feelings or absorbing something. “In the case of, say, adultery, the decision to forgive is very different from the decision to remain in the relationship without forgiving.”
Hunt lists five major obstacles that can block our ability to forgive: misunderstandings (what forgiveness is and isn’t); vulnerability (fear of forgiving); ego (protecting ourselves from unpleasant feelings); resentment (defined by Dr. Brown as “ill will against something or someone over time for ‘good reason'”); and know-how (having a forgiveness method that works).
“Sometimes it’s about getting points by not forgiving,” says Hunt. “And holding onto grudges makes us feel powerful, it gives power to the powerless, but really it just means you hold the same grudges over and over again. Unresolved resentments can have negative physiological effects.”
Hunt cites dramatic cases of forgiveness, such as school shootings in the United States, where parents of murdered children forgive the killer. Sometimes such extraordinary cases are motivated by religious beliefs, but equally it can be a fundamental survival tool to process traumatic grief without being eaten alive by hatred.
“I don’t think anything is unforgivable,” she says. “Wrong, yes, illegal, yes, appalling, yes – but unforgivable? where do you go from there How do people forgive the Holocaust?” And yet people forgive the unforgivable. From Victor Frankl to Martin Luther King, from Kim Phuc to Nelson Mandela, there have been extraordinary examples of how the human heart can reconcile actions and events that we find unbearable.
A common misconception about forgiveness is that it is about these types of major traumatic events and not about everyday life. “It’s not just for the big things — we all harbor multiple resentments against everyone else all the time,” says Hunt. “Everyone has to forgive parents, siblings, friends, relationships – otherwise we end up like the ouroboros, devouring ourselves.
“Forgiveness is totally misunderstood. It is taught in a way that is inaccessible and hypocritical, yet is key to harmonious relationships and transformative within relationships. And it’s entirely up to us – the only pawn we have any control over in the game of life is our own.”
Another misconception is that we need to be in the same room as the person we are forgiving, that we need to address them face-to-face directly, and that they need to respond somehow. What if we can’t or don’t want to, or they’re absent or unwilling or dead? We can still say the words – we can still address the person even if they are not physically present. The result – letting go – will be the same, says Hunt.
“Forgiveness allows us to express the pain out loud—we can say the words out loud,” she explains. “When you say things out loud, it’s as good as saying them directly to the actual person. It allows you to clear your field. And yes, sometimes you have to keep the other person at a distance, but that doesn’t mean you can’t forgive them. It’s about having a practice that frees your heart.”
Once you have forgiven someone, you can grieve whatever happened. The thought of it can be terrifying, which is why so many of us choose to hold on to our resentments as they are more comfortable and familiar. “We’re just as hopeless about grief as we are about forgiveness,” says Hunt. “But resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the smoke will bother the other person.”
Instead of maintaining a rigid defense, she outlines a seven-step approach (right) to letting go of anger and resentment so we stop wasting our energy and resources on it.
“The potential for more peace is enormous once we have done the work of forgiveness—our hearts are open and free and not filled with resentment. We can then connect with and serve the wider group.” Hunt pauses. “If we don’t learn to forgive from the heart, then we’re really screwed.”
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/how-to-forgive-the-unforgiveable-and-why-it-is-essential-for-your-mental-health-42318036.html How to forgive the unforgivable and why it is essential to your sanity