Retracting forgiveness

“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…”  Pema Chödrön

ID-100136205,SweetCrisisIn a deep hole after my marriage collapse, I made it my mission to forgive as I wanted to move on to a place of peace and harmony. I used forgiveness in order to give up feelings of anger, betrayal, resentment and revenge. Fast forward another 18 months and I was in a dark place of resentment. With my financial security in tatters, trudging through marital settlement mud, I saw the unfairness of my changed situation. I blamed myself for being too trusting in my marriage and too kind after the separation. I thought back and wondered whether forgiveness had been right for me.

I had believed forgiveness would help me heal, become less angry and bring me peace. By any definition, forgiveness does not mean forgetting, condoning, excusing, renouncing efforts to obtain restitution, suppressing anger at what happened, or giving up a recognition that you deserved better. Forgiveness is none of those. Forgiveness is supposedly letting go of negative feelings towards someone who has harmed you. So what forgiveness did to me was make me focus on the action that was done, classify that action as a wrong-deed committed by someone else (my ex-husband) and made me feel like the victim of that wrong-deed. It kept me thinking about what had happened and then, when I still in a bad place, made me feel stupid in being too “nice” in forgiving him of that action. What I know for sure was that forgiveness did not heal me, make me less angry or bring me peace.

So in February 2014, I retracted my action of forgiveness. From that point, I focussed instead on healing, on living by my values and acting always with kindness, fairness and courage … no matter what. I decided to choose before each action or comment I made. I would ask myself whether the action or comment I was about to make was being made for protection (of myself or others), connection, contribution, creation, or celebration? If I could not answer ‘yes’, then I would choose a different response.

Over time, I healed and became strong. My self-esteem and confidence grew. I was focussing on me. I was connecting with others and acting with kindness towards them. I was acting positively in the world of my ‘today’, not in a place of my ‘yesterday’. I felt free.

I believe now, that I got forgiveness wrong. It was more important for me to heal first, than to forgive. I do not believe that forgiveness was a requirement for that healing to take place. Instead of feeling like a victim, I now feel good about myself.

As I think about it today, I realise that at some point during my healing process, I became truly emotionally detached from my ex-husband and could see things from a more neutral position. I could see all the good that was in my marriage. As such I felt grateful for what had been rather than sadness at its loss. Some things that previously upset me now have no positive or negative feelings. As an example, two weeks ago it would have been our 41st wedding anniversary. I did not remember the date until today. That date no longer holds any meaning. It does not make me feel sad, bad or mad.

Interestingly, during the process of my healing and subsequent emotional detachment, forgiveness (losing resentment) crept up on me.


Perhaps it is now that I see myself better off. Therefore … there is nothing to forgive.


You may want to read Living and Loving after Betrayal. Steven Stosny




32 thoughts on “Retracting forgiveness

  1. Healing as we journey through life is something that fascinates me on so many levels. And there is definitely no one way, or even three step plan, for going about it. I do think that if we pay attention to what is working for us, to what helps, to what strengthens, then we figure out the way things work for us. I would that we all honour that.

  2. Brava, Elizabeth! When I was going through a terrible divorce, I was told I had to forgive them both, my husband and my former best friend. Then my 3rd grade Sunday School teacher (who was in her early 80s by then) took me aside, patted my hand, and told me forced forgiveness would do more damage to me than anger and resentment.
    She was so right. It was quite awhile before I forgave them–they didn’t even know because we weren’t in communication–but by then the time was right, and the forgiveness felt right. ❤

  3. Very interesting perspective Elizabeth and opens the door to another way to heal in life. When I forgave the driver that killed my son, it was to let go of my anger towards her, as my anger was was consuming my energy on so many levels, and did not allow any healing in.

    In my case forgiveness for the first step towards my healing and so it is different for each of us, what matter’s the most as you say is that we learn to know who we are and what we need and through that process, we will always find peace, strength and understanding that leads us into a a better future.

    • Yes, there are other instances in my life where forgiveness helped me too. In this instance, it was because it was my former partner that made it so hard for me. Nevertheless, the healing took place for me in another way. Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. A strong analysis of forgiveness – it’s never simple, and always requires time, distance, and healing of some kind to have taken place. It’s harder too, when it’s a one-sided thing – the wronged party being prepared to forgive, whilst the party who committed the wrong still fails to express remorse or even acknowledge their culpability.

    • You have spoken a truth that I have not been brave enough to voice. Thanks for that. It is the more difficult when the other person does not feel any hurt remorse and is the father of one’s children.

  5. Forgiveness allows us to move on from being a victim.
    When we are no longer a victim, we have stepped out of the drama and notice that there is nothing to forgive…
    Love this post Elizabeth and the sharing of your journey!

  6. What a brave, strong post Elizabeth! I think forgiveness is one of big things as misunderstood as God. By those who preach it and those who renounce it. And we need to come to a place where we learn how to deal with all the wrongs and painful injustices of our lives in a way that only we can. Not on someone else’s terms and condition of what forgiveness entails. Gandhi once said that the weak can never forgive. It is an attribute of the strong. What you did was precisely that. To bring yourself first to a place of strength and healing. I like to believe that is what Gandhi meant. And in that process of facing your pain authentically instead of brushing it aside under the guise of forgiveness, you found it. And what a wonderful place to be! One that so many spend years searching for, sometimes in vain and out of reach. I have so much more to say but suffice to say that I think you have shown such admirable courage and strength. I am inspired. Hugs, Sharon

    • Dear Elizabeth, I was taking a walk today and you came to my mind. I came back to this post to reread my comment and realized that in my own fumbling way of celebrating your journey of forgiveness, my convoluted words might be misunderstood. For you see, I struggle – massively with forgiveness. This is an area that I have plunged into deep (and anguished) study for more than a decade. And I came to the same conclusion as you that before I can even go anywhere close to forgiving, I first needed to acknowledge the pain and anger that was at boiling point. I needed to set boundaries. I needed to practice good self care and tender compassion. I needed to stop flogging myself. Regardless of what the critics and those who jam forgiveness down my throat. And somehow along the way, I found healing. And perhaps that is what forgiveness is. A process. I am still healing. I am still learning. I am elated for you.

  7. Beautiful analysis, Elizabeth – and you are so right. We need to finally reach that conclusion that there is nothing to forgive, but that is so hard to do when the pain is still strong. I think each of us has to find his or her own way to that position, and it’s a very personal process. So glad for you that you are getting there.

  8. Sometimes in the past, I may have commented like I had been in your shoes. No one has been in your shoes but you, dear Elizabeth. You found your way through the stages of grief, in your own admirable, methodical way and found peace on the “other side.” ♡ I am one who needed to forgive to move forward. It was difficult realizing no one can ruin a marriage if everything were working in the first place. I could see the holes in my own situation, just pasting patches over the lack of passion and romance, thinking everyone has friendship in the end. I now have a clearer, less rose-colored glasses look at my past marriage. Hopes for a complete life with friends and possibly one day a better companion may occur. Clarity comes sooner or later. We both made it to where we were intended to be, after all. 🙂

    • O hear what you say. I have taken off the rose-coloured glasses too. I just have not written about that angle (yet). Thanks for your thoughts on this and especially the comment about having a belief that friendship in the end should be enough … and it isn’t. I know exactly what you mean.

      • I am relieved that you understood my comments and just so proud of how gracefully you handled all this. There used to be a saying (and then a TV show) which included, “Grace under Fire.” I see this admirable quality in you. Sincerely your busy friend, Robin xo

  9. I think there are levels of forgiveness–and we’re not expected to be all in at first. When I divorced, I focused on the beginning, not the ending–because I didn’t have enough energy for both. And the ending was a done deal. I forgave by not focusing on all the ick. As time has passed, I care less and less about what he does to try to bother or hurt me. Which tells me true forgiveness has taken hold. I do not hold a grudge. Good for you on the same!

    • I believe that you are right (about the levels of forgiveness) and I think in the beginning I blocked some bits out. So when I thought I had ‘forgiven’ in that first year, I had not yet faced the worst bits. And they were the bits that I did round the other way – became strong first. Then, as you say, I didn’t really care one way or the other. It truly no longer mattered to me. Thanks for your insight. I always appreciate it.

      • I think the layers are necessary for most of us. I’ve seen a few shining examples of people able to forgive completely from the very beginning. But I think for most of us it is a process, like grieving. I’m just so glad you’ve moved through it because it’s so freeing once you have.

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