What Forgiveness is NOT…

Forgiveness is an oft misunderstood concept…and tho simple in its steps, is far from easy to do. Forgiveness is a posture in oneself towards another who has wronged you that moves past the pain of the wrong, to open oneself up to larger possibilities…it focuses on the fullness of life, rather than the wrong of another.

Forgiveness is NOT:

saying the wrong doesn’t matter. Forgiving doesn’t mean rationalizing or condoning abuse. Forgiving somebody who has injured you in any way does not mean that the injury is irrelevant.

Forgiveness is rather saying, “The injury that you created in me is something I will not continue to hold on an emotional account against you.“

…agreeing with the other that the wrong really wasn’t a big deal.
Unfortunately, it is human nature to minimize how we hurt others…we expect others to understand that because our general intent isn’t to set out to hurt another, that when it does occur, it will be seen as a temporary slip or oversight that can more or less be disregarded…and when we are forgiven, that can feel like an affirmation that it was, in fact, not significant.

Au contraire.

Even if the other should choose to see it that way, forgiveness is not implying it didn’t hurt, or that the hurt isn’t a problem. Forgiveness is the cancelling of a very real debt.

…setting oneself up to be hurt again. Now…I’m all over extending grace to others when they have wronged me…when they recognize what they have done, have insight into its consequences, and let me know they intend to do better. In short, when someone has wronged me, but they generally have my trust, the “wrong” is a blip, and after forgiveness has been extended, life goes on…and to continue to build up a wall of protection around myself hurts both of us.

Often forgiveness is part of the process to restore the relationship.

But when I forgive someone who has hurt me, and they demonstrate that they don’t get how they have hurt me, and there is every indication that the pattern of hurt could likely continue, I will make choices that decrease or eliminate their ability to hurt me.

  • A friend who has continually told others something I have told her confidence…I may forgive her, in that I’m not carrying a burden of resentment…but I would choose not to confide in her further.
  • A parent who has been abusive and continues to be disrespectful and hurtful…the adult child may forgive to free them both from the prison of simmering anger, but that doesn’t mean they need to become new best friends.
  • A person may choose to forgive an abusive spouse for the nasty words, secret behavior and deception in a marriage in order to free herself to move forward freely and happily in life, but may choose to limit contact with him to email only, and limited to parenting issues in ensuing years.

You get the picture…forgiveness is aknowleding the hurt and the pain in its fullness, and then using mindfulness, kindness and compassion to let go of the anger and hurt.

And then you carefully negotiate a course of action that will be maximally lifegiving that uses the wisdom you’ve been given.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean foolishness.

It doesn’t mean leaving your brain at the door.

Forgiveness and relationship restoration can be related, and often are, But not nearly always.

Wisdom determines the best sort of connection (or any at all) after forgiveness has been extended…but it is significant how the forgiveness can change the connection.:


It’s one thing to forgive something that’s happened, that’s over and done. But what if the person who hurt you in the past keeps hurting you over and over, in the present? He interrupts before I get the last words out. “It’s not happening now, this second,” he says in an offhand way. “So try again.”

I take a breath, unclench my jaw, and pose a different question: “How can you keep yourself safe with a difficult person?” In response, Luskin smiles—the first genuine smile I’ve seen from him all day. “That’s the right question,” he says, beaming. “That gets rid of the blame and the enemy.” And keeps the focus where it belongs, on me. “You can probably answer that question yourself,” he says.

My answer, I tell him, is to keep my distance from my mother, talking to her maybe once or twice a year. He nods encouragingly. “Now, can you do that with an open heart?” he asks.

I sit back in my chair and consider—deeply, seriously, honestly—what that would mean: No more bitching about my mother. No more whining to friends for sympathy. No more self-pity. Thinking of my mother with as much compassion as I can muster, but not necessarily getting any closer to her. Accepting our relationship as it is rather than wishing it were different.

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