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  • Esther Ruth Friedman

About Forgiveness & Its Misuse

"forgiveness" vs real forgiveness

I was talking about forgiveness with a colleague and friend recently. We were sharing frustrations about how forgiveness, can be twisted and manipulated. Then we both posted our thoughts about forgiveness on our respective blogs. Click HERE to read her take. Here's mine: Does someone in your life hurt you, repeatedly & then demand, "You must forgive ..." ? You forgive them-- not because you are over the hurt and anger, but because you want to move on-- only to have the scene rinse and repeat, with slightly different details a few weeks later. He or she then justifies the behavior with, "I was having a bad day," or minimizes it with, "It's not a big deal ..." or attacks your character with, "you're overly sensitive" or "can't take a joke" etc.

OR, again, "... you must forgive. Why are YOU holding on to resentment???"

Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, a transformative thing, when it's authentic. Gentle Souls strive for peace -- they want reconciliation and understanding. This is a strength. The world needs more peace, understanding and reconciliation.

When someone bullies you into "forgiving" on demand, he or she is using your strength against you. In their hands, your desire for peace becomes a control mechanism.

Many Gentle Souls in my practice talk about -- not only forgiving -- but apologizing to an abusive person, after he or she has done something hurtful and then demanded "forgiveness". If the victim doesn't "forgive" on demand, the abuser then feigns hurt, becomes the victim, & attacks your character. In such situations, your attempts to establish peace through "forgiveness" are misguided, at best and self-sabotaging, at worst. You might get a peaceful day, week, maybe even a month, but a manipulator will rip off this bandaid when it serves him, or her. Then"You must forgive ..." 2.0 and beyond rolls out: he or she hurts you, then demands, "forgiveness." Again. This is the death of one thousand cuts: Gentle Souls who acquiesce take all the emotional responsibility. Then he or she feels angry at him/herself. Every performative act of "forgiveness" becomes self-betrayal. The Gentle Soul wonders maybe [manipulator x] is right: "...maybe there is something wrong with me? Why can't I [fill in blank]???"

Meanwhile, the perp gets a pass. The perp will never be satisfied - his or her need to win & control is insatiable, an endless hole of need for veneration & power. This behavior is calculated, coercive, callous, cold and endlessly self-serving. When you accept this, you realize that this person will suck you dry, if you let them. They know how to wield "forgiveness" to that end.

There's a visceral difference between genuine forgiveness & a superficial, meaningless, performative forgiveness. Real forgiveness bubbles up from the inside out. It cannot be dictated or demanded by external sources. Real forgiveness benefits you psychically: you let go & are therefore less burdened, more free & more clear. You find peace.

If you're "forgiving" on cue, by demand, you are parroting empty words while burying your hurt, anger, and resentment beneath a socially acceptable facade. "Forgiveness" will temporarily satisfy the abuser, until the next drama. Because you extend the benefit of the doubt to this person, you become increasingly bewildered, uncertain, confused and eventually, you internalize and self-inflict gaslighting: "I've 'forgiven', so why am I still hurt and angry? I must turn those feelings off, deny them ... hide them... why can't I? What's wrong with me..."

Trust me, if left festering, those resentments and hurts will find a way to bubble back up. "Forgiveness" throws more salt in the wound. You absorb more gaslighting and feel worse. Eventually, you see that this person bullied you into his or her deluded narrative, again -- the only way to have a relationship with him or her is to self betray; he or she must "win" at your expense: Your esteem, your sense of inner value. and your confidence--if you have any--erodes. "Forgiveness" feeds self loathing. You keep perpetuating inner wounds. Then the world echoes those wounds back to you. That's convenient for perpetrators - they are in control and keep perp-ing on, at your expense.

But if you begin to honor your feelings, you'll hit a point at which the self-betrayal becomes intolerable. You'll find your way to say, "No more." And maybe you'll forgive after some healing.

Maybe you won't.

No one can, or should, force this decision onto you - because forced forgiveness is "forgiveness" - not real.

You'll know real forgiveness because it is visceral. It FEELS right. No one can dictate that feeling to you. Authentic forgiveness instills an inner courage and counters the confusion. Real forgiveness strengthens you -- your mind quiets. You find clarity, calm and peace.

Because real forgiveness relies on you saying no to an external fallacy and trusting yourself. Real forgiveness empowers you.

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Mary Whttlan
Mary Whttlan
Aug 19, 2021

I have never thought about what I would have done had my father ever asked for forgiveness. He never asked for forgiveness, never admitted his abusive behavior. In my book I wrote, "Without apology, there can be no forgiveness." There can, however, be peace of mind in knowing that I have "viewed the entire ugly truth " and turned my "life into a thing of beauty."

Esther Friedman
Esther Friedman
Aug 19, 2021
Replying to

Hi Mary - Thank you for your comment! I raise my glass to your beautiful life! Esther

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