Wednesday, March 10, 2021

47. Forgive Them Father

"The other side of forgiveness is freedom."  -- Oprah Winfrey 

When I was 26-years-old I was approached with an apology.  Someone who had hurt me greatly had done an inventory of his life, assessed the damage, and took initiative to right some wrongs.  He apologized to me, and I said I forgave him. 

But the truth is I didn’t forgive him, because I had no framework for understanding real forgiveness.  A more accurate statement would have been, “I am not going to openly hold a grudge against you any longer.  I will still blame you for my pain and will still focus on the error of your ways but now I'm going to act like I'm rising above it.” 

It wasn’t until seven years later after I began studying a psychological-spiritual text called “A Course In Miracles” that I came to understand my idea about forgiveness was misinformed.  My perspective on human behavior, and why people do cruel things to others, was broadened to include harmful actions under the subheadings of “fear” and “scarcity.”

The only thing “wrong” this person had done in his life was to react to the mistaken notion that love is a scarcity.  He believed his safety came from attacking and belittling others. He thought if he was “perfect” he’d be worthy of abundant love and attention.  Just like me.  Just like you.  Just like pretty much every human on earth. 

Let’s be clear what forgiveness is not.  Forgiveness is not an agreement that the other person’s actions are acceptable.  It is not indicating there is an approval of one’s decisions, or that the violation will be forgotten.  It is not expressing that trust will ever be rebuilt, or enabling that person to hurt you again. 

What forgiveness does is restore you as the authority of your affective experience.  It allows you to resume full responsibility for how you feel and puts you back in control of your decisions. It is a confirmation that all humans, including yourself, are capable of making mistakes.  It is a choice of recognizing that most people in this world are taught to act and react from fear, and that cruelty and insensitivity are oftentimes a byproduct of that fear.

 This understanding did not come to me overnight.  Like many paths to healing, it started as an intellectual concept, and eventually marinated into an authentic lived experience.  But it began by recognizing the damage caused to human relationships by the perception of scarcity.  It creates hurt, pain, division.  The first step for me was recognizing we ALL suffer when we practice separation and attack.  And it often only takes one person to break the cycle. 

This concept was cemented even deeper in 2006 when the documentary, “Forgiving Dr. Mengele” was released.  It described the process of a Holocaust survivor named Eva Kor deciding to forgive her nazi captors, and the doctor (Mengele) who conducted inhumane experiments on Ms. Kor and her twin sister.  The main takeaway here is that holding grudges hurts the victim, not the perpetrator.

Note this does not mean I “forget” what people have done.  I can forgive someone for doing something harmful to my own health and wellness.  But if the perpetrator doesn’t work hard to change, question their notion of fear and scarcity, and demonstrate an ability to change their reactions to fear and scarcity, then I will peacefully and respectfully release them from having any role in my life.   There is no need to cultivate relationships with those who are not in basic good working order and at risk of repeatedly abusing and exploiting others. 

American culture seems to condition people to do the opposite of forgiving.  Most people are taught, “Your safety and protection lies in holding grudges and blaming others for how you feel.”  In my experience, quite the opposite is true. Forgiveness for me was a major step toward feeling liberated from the past, embracing new adventures, allowing myself to be vulnerable in relationships.  It is the key to removing emotional burdens and navigating life with a semblance of safety and resilience.  It makes growing older and taking chances much easier and more satisfying. 

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707.

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