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




Justice versus Mercy – a clash of values

My message to those of you involved in this battle of brother against brother is this: take your guns, your knives, and your pangas, and throw them into the sea! Nelson Mandela.


I explained in my last post how I grapple with the concept of choosing between justice or mercy. While some situations are clearly one or the other, in most instances I struggle to choose, wanting to apply both.

Justice is fairness in that people get what they deserve, no more, no less. If someone works hard or behaves in a correct manner, they should be rewarded. The reward should match the actions. If someone does something wrong, they should be punished. The punishment should match the wrong-doing.

Mercy is forgiveness. It is often applied by someone with authority over another; for example a judge in a court of law, or an employer over an employee. Forgiveness or compassion can also be applied by a victim to their perpetrator.

It has been reasoned justice and mercy cannot be simultaneously applied or at least harmoniously practised because, if mercy or forgiveness is shown to someone who has done wrong, then justice has been denied to the victim.

(Note: For the purposes of this blog-post; I will put aside this concept in the area of criminal  justice, which is an entirely different aspect than issues I am confronted with.)

I constantly battle with the choice between justice and mercy; on social justice issues, in business and in my personal life. I believe in justice and fairness. I loathe seeing weaker or less fortunate people being taken advantage of by those of superior strength or position. I despise violence. I am intolerant of immoral or corrupt behaviour. I believe if you work hard, you should be rewarded for your effort. Yet…….. I am compassionate. I see the staff member with the disadvantaged background, I empathise with the person who tries hard yet cannot get it right, I feel the pain of the person who feels left out and thus behaves inappropriately.

I grapple with this choice between mercy or justice that seems impossible. Mercy invariably wins out, and I am gripped with the guilt of not being fair. I become a walkover in the way people treat me in order to get their own way. They know I will see their humanity. They know I will show compassion. They know I will care too much to allow them to suffer. They abuse that knowledge for their own means.

A personality test showed me as ‘INFJ’ (introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging). Apparently others of this type also battle with this; wanting fairness, yet feeling compassion for perpetrators of wrong-doing. Some famous people in this personality profile have struggled with this turmoil, such as Martin Luther King Jnr and Nelson Mandela. Reading that such exemplary figures have also struggled with this put my mind somewhat at ease. I am not alone. What become clear to me, as I read the biographies about them, is how they coped with their inner turmoil. They coped by standing up and speaking out for justice and fairness, never wavering on that issue. At the same time, however, they also preached non-violence and the letting-go of the desire for revenge on perpetrators.

There are others with different personalities who have also done so. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for example, struggled with this inner turmoil through South Africa’s apartheid years, and he is supposedly an extrovert. However, introverts struggle with both the turmoil of the clash of values and becoming outspoken about it.  Extroverts are more easily able to say what they think with confidence. Introverts want to hide away from attention and controversy. To read that some of those people who have battled this same inner turmoil and have become outspoken about it, are also quiet introspective people as I am, has both stunned and empowered me.

To learn they are/were introverts has stunned me. To know they found the courage to not only acknowledge this inner conflict but to also fight their own introversion in order to stand up for their belief in both sides of the coin, has empowered me. It means I can do that too.



Week 40 – Forgiveness

Week 40 – 25 June 2012

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
― Nelson Mandela

When I read some months ago that one needs to ‘forgive’ someone a wrong-doing in order to move on, I thought to myself – ‘Why should I? Is forgiveness something that I have to do to move on? Is to be a forgiving  person something that I should strive to be? If I did become a forgiving person, is that a good thing for me to be?’

In the beginning I had been thinking of forgiveness in terms of a divine act of exoneration (release from blame) rather than a human act of pardon (release from a debt or punishment). In fact, if you actually look up the dictionary definition meaning of ‘forgiveness’ there is not much reference to the former assumed meaning of exoneration, but rather these meanings:

  • Give up resentment of or claim to requital (forgive an insult).
  • Grant relief from payment (forgive a debt)
  • Cease to feel resentment against an offender

None of these meanings indicate exoneration, excusing or condoning. If you explore philosophical musings, more emerges in three types of forgiveness.

1. Forgiveness is often found in the character of magnanimous high-minded individuals. However, the forgiveness often is related to the preservation of the virtues of the high-minded individual, rather than any real concern for the person being forgiven; borne out of a desire to preserve their own values and a desire to be honored by society as a whole. It can be somewhat of a superiority stance – that the person forgiven is not worthy of any more of your thoughts. The person and the action done is best simply forgotten and discarded.

2. Forgiveness is also found in good-tempered people. People with this character trait tend to not give in to anger and do not insist on vengeance. In that regard, by showing clemency or leniency to those who do them wrong, they are seen to be ‘forgiving’ people. These people are showing passive ‘restraint’ virtues of not giving in to anger and vindictiveness, rather than actively seeking to do ‘good’.

3. A third type of forgiveness is shown by those people who care so much for others – even those who have done them wrong – they actively seek them out and forgive them for their (the perpetrator’s) sake, and from a desire to help him (or her). These people are showing charity, as well as ‘active’ forgiveness.

I thought of my own situation.

I do not regard myself as superior and do not go around acting virtuously for some honored position in society. I do not feel superior to my husband and I do not think of him as so sick or depraved that he did not know what he was doing. The ‘forgive him because he did not realise what he was doing’ does not apply. Category (1) does not work.

There is no point in seeking him out and trying to reform him for his own sake or even to try and convince him or make him realise how much pain he has caused. I was not and am not responsible for his choices or his actions. Category (3) is also out.

All my life I have had a tendency to be a ‘good-tempered’ person. I rarely show anger and I am one who generally readily overlooks misdeeds. Category (2) is definitely me all over.

However, now I was questioning that part of my character. I felt violated, and I felt that it was this ‘good-tempered’ character trait in me that had been the most abused. I wondered to myself whether by failing to take a stand on lessor issues in the past, perhaps I was sending out a message of ‘you may walk all over me and I will not show you any anger and I will forgive you and not seek any vengeance’. By showing ‘restraint’ traits of not becoming angry, of not having a desire for vengeance, was I acting like a victim? Was it this character trait in me that led to the ultimate betrayal?

This trait that I had previously thought of as my strength I now thought of as a weakness. If I ‘forgave’ him, then I would be acting weak.  He had shown me so little respect. I would be letting him get away with it. I thought that those so-called virtues of mine (not showing anger and not insisting on vengeance), although not ‘evil’, were maybe not particularly ‘good’ either. They were passive rather than active traits. Maybe, I should have done something. On moral issues, there is much merit in actively speaking out against injustices or acting with prudence and quiet careful deliberation, rather than taking it all and doing nothing. These may be seen as better qualities in life to aim for than simply passively repressing anger and resisting vengeance.

After mulling over that for a while feeling completely negative towards myself and thinking of myself as a victim, my thoughts changed around and I concluded some entirely different things about myself and about forgiveness.

Firstly, not translating angry feelings into angry actions is not being a doormat and it is not being passive. It is an extremely active action. It can take every ounce of one’s energy to follow that path – even more energy than spouting out in anger, or throwing things etc etc. Holding back and restraining takes more thought, more decision and more ‘action’. It is an ‘active’ rather than ‘reactive’ response.

Secondly, showing restraint, is not simply passively ‘allowing the other person to get away with it’. It is nothing to do with the other person at all. It is something that you do for yourself. It is for yourself, your values, your disposition. By showing restraint you are taking back your own control.

Thirdly, I had spoken out and stood my ground. However, I reserved those times for the important issues and then acted with quiet determined careful deliberation, rather than throwing temper tantrums and acting angry.

Lastly, the issue of vengeance – the desire that the other person should in some way be made to suffer, be made to feel some of the pain. That somehow it was all unfair. There was no point in thinking like that. He had moved on. Thinking in terms of vengeance would only keep me holding on to resentment. It would only hurt me.

I have come to realise that ‘forgiveness’ is not for him, it is for me . By forgiving the insult and the ‘debt’ and ceasing to think of his action as requiring some sort of restitution, releases me of the feelings of anger, resentment and victimization. It gives me back control.

My actions and my next step forward as ‘me’ are to forgive and to:

Forever Give up the feelings of resentment and betrayal.
Forever Give up thinking of myself as a victim.
Forever Give up the thought of being responsible for his actions past or present.
Forever Give up being tied to him and being defined by the separation.

“Not forgiving is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. ”**
Note: I have seen this last quote attributed to Carrie Fisher, McCourt, Nelson Mandela, Buddhist teachings, and the bible. Can anyone confirm the original author?