A reader asked a very thoughtful question: What exactly is forgiveness? I’ll let you hear it in his own words:
A requirement of forgiveness is that the offender must ASK for forgiveness in some way or other first.
Forgiveness just doesn’t work without that initiator. It’s the reason why so many people wander around after they’ve done all their mantras and ‘forgiveness work’ still feeling unhealed and incomplete.
That’s not to say that you can’t work on healing yourself from the offender’s harm or deciding to move on or whatever makes you feel better.
But forgiveness is a specific and quite prescribed process. It’s one that’s been much abused over generations.
This reader hit the nail right on the head. Many of us confuse self healing with the restoration of relationship, and call both forgiveness. This creates confusion over what forgiveness is and how we can forgive ourselves and others.
When we refuse to let go of a past hurt, we suffer more harm than the person we are angry with. We need to forgive for our own sake, to heal ourselves. Only then can we move on with our lives in joy and peace.
We can heal ourselves without any co-operation by the other person. Self healing can happen on its own, and must happen before the relationship can be restored. Even if the relationship is never restored, we can be heal ourselves and be independently whole again.
Restoration of relationship
Once we heal ourselves, we can turn our attention to the relationship. We are healed when we no longer resent the other person. The wound has closed and we don’t feel hurt anymore.
Restoring the relationship does require the co-operation of the other person. Co-operation involves three factors: contrition, compensation, and commitment.
Contrition: If someone has hurt you and is not sorry, then the hurt is likely to happen again. This is why you should walk away from an abuser who will not admit to doing anything wrong.
Compensation: If a person is truly contrite, he will want to right the worng. For example, if he has struck you in a rage and caused a black eye, he will show concern over having it treated. This will restore some balance to the relationship.
Commitment: Even is the person is contrite and takes steps to compensate, they may lapse hurt you again, sometimes repeatedly. The contrition was only temporary, and they made no real commitment to make sure it does not happen again.
So what is forgiveness?
It is now clearer to me what I mean when I talk about forgiveness. In all cases of hurt, I can work on healing myself. Sometimes I can go on to restore the relationship. Otherwise I let go of the relationship, but have healed from the wounds it caused.
This is why it is possible to forgive the unforgiveable, in cases where the relationship remains broken. The forgiveness has happened inside us, regardless of the other person. We have healed ourselves by giving the gift of forgiveness.