Forgiving is not always the right path. In fact, there are times when the forgiving we have been taught to do is just plain wrong.
I will start with an example of forgiveness that works. Then we’ll look at some of the ways the forgiveness we have been taught actually makes things worse.
Effective forgiving lets an incident fade into the past. While some harm happened to one or more of the people involved, everyone can let it go as something they learned from. No one keeps thinking about all the things they could have or should have done.
How can that happen?
In this discussion I’m going to look at something that happened between two people. The ideas are almost the same for larger groups, but the language is a lot more complicated. I ask you to forgive me for simplifying.
The first part is to be totally clear about what happened. Both people need to understand their role in the situation. Both need to know how they were harmed. Both need to know how they harmed the other. And this point is vital: when harm is done, both sides are responsible to some degree for the harm.
I found the idea that both sides are always responsible in the practice of ho’oponopono. I explain why that is true in this post. Here’s the central idea of the ho’oponopono world, “Sometimes you and I work on cleaning up things at the same time. But even if one of us doesn’t, it’s still your responsibility and it’s still my responsibility to do it.” It’s worth going back and reading the rest of the post.
The second part of effective forgiveness is to be specific about the actions that caused the harm. They must match what the person who was harmed felt. There is an Incan practice called tupay (pronounced too-pie) that talks about using spirit allies to reach this agreement. It can be done by moving into any kind of blessing space where the goal is to learn instead of placing blame. In the process it really helps if both sides remember that both are always responsible for part of the problem.
The third part is to be sorry for the specific harmful actions. Without being sorry asking for forgiveness is meaningless.
Then there are the four steps in the ho’oponopono practice. (Check out the earlier post for the details.) I’m sorry for ________. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.
In a good relationship both people will do all four steps and both will forgive the other. We forgive only when we are asked to forgive. The incident will move from harm to learning. That’s how forgiveness can be done effectively.
But there are things that can go wrong even when using ho’oponopono.
One side may not be willing to admit they did anything wrong. That means there are still lessons for that person to learn. The other side should still do the ho’oponopono steps.
One side may choose not to forgive. Forgiveness is always a choice, never an obligation. Even when you choose not to forgive, you can still do your ho’oponopono steps. One time when it makes good sense to not forgive is when the harm that was done this time is a repeat of earlier harm. Forgiving once for significant harm, maybe twice, is probably enough.
When the ceremony is not complete, it’s important to consider if the best relationship choice is to cut the connections and end it. Later if the ho’oponopono can be done, cleaner connections can be reestablished.
Things are even worse outside this practice of mutual forgiveness. Let’s look at some of the times when so-called forgiveness is, as I said at the beginning, just plain wrong. I’ll use two people whose names are X and Y.
There’s forgiveness that’s a counterattack. X says to Y, “I forgive you for being a jerk.” This is a lovely bit of work. X writes off the action with “I forgive you” while accusing and convicting Y of “being a jerk.” I believe the reason X feels better is because X can tell the other person off in a way that Y can’t defend against. It’s a “better than thou” statement because X is holding itself blameless in the situation. However, X is not blameless, as discussed earlier.
There are variations to counterattack forgiveness. X might say to friends, “I guess I have to forgive Y, because that’s just the way Y is.” It’s an accusation that X’s friends agree with. If everyone agrees, then X must be right. Even X saying to itself that X forgives a person is mostly a way of justifying what X did and laying the blame for any problems on Y.
These counterattacks are also ways for X to avoid looking at what X may have done. By putting the need for forgiveness on Y, X is defending its own actions as not needing forgiveness. X, as discussed earlier, is wrong.
Forgiveness to keep a relationship going is wrong. When X forgives Y for coming home drunk for the one-billionth time, needing to forgive is just an excuse for codependency. In fact X should also be asking Y to forgive X for putting up with Y’s behavior. Putting up with Y’s bad behavior is not in Y’s best interest.
Forgiveness to be magnanimous is wrong. It goes like this, “Oh, I forgive everybody. You can’t imagine what I’ve gone through. Let me tell you about what Y did…” There is no learning, no letting go. It’s just a pile of hoocha.
There are times when forgiveness is requested that are also wrong.
One time is when X asks forgiveness for something X knows is harmful, but X isn’t really sorry. It’s just a way for X to see if Y will let X get away with this harm — usually for the billionth time. This is not a time for Y to forgive.
When Y is in danger, it’s even worse. No one has the right to harm you. I’ve talked other times about unconditional love. The conclusion is the same here: your safety comes first. Anything else is suicidal codependence. Real forgiving is not something you do when you are in danger. Saying you forgive and getting to a safe place is a much better plan.
A second kind of case is when X just doesn’t get the problem, but asks for forgiveness anyway because that’s the only way to keep the relationship going. Either of these problems may exist:
X is totally clueless. There needs to be a meeting to clue X in so that the request for forgiveness is meaningful and X can learn.
Y is gaming X by saying there is a problem when there isn’t. Again there needs to be a meeting, After the meeting, Y needs to ask X’s forgiveness for gaming.
I’m sure there are other cases where forgiveness is wrong. Please write back with your thoughts and I’ll include them in the comments. I will finish the discussion with some overall thoughts about forgiving.
Asking for forgiveness does not always have to be said out loud or to the person you hope will forgive you. You are working with the Divine. What you need is your own forgiveness and it can be granted in many ways.
If you keep remembering an incident easily, naggingly, with lots of “I shoulda done this,” you’re not through with the forgiveness process. Things that are forgiven don’t keep bothering you.
Forgiveness done the wrong way ties you tighter to the person. It adds to the cording.
Resolving anger by forgiving with a better-than-thou attitude just adds more negative intensity.
A clueless person can be forgiven for not being educable. This lets you know you need to deal with this person in a different way, which is really forgiving yourself.
Forgive only when you are asked to forgive.
Ask for forgiveness every time you do something that causes harm.
Almost always look first at what you need to be forgiven for. Then use the most appropriate way to ask for forgiveness.