The Struggle with Forgiveness

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Image source: oveincnewberg.org

BY SIMONE SMITH 

I have personally been struggling with an aspect of my life and I wanted to share it with my readers and the community. I have had my share of interpersonal relationships; some of them have been productive, some not so productive. All in all, I have learned from my experiences and I have been able to grow from them. One of the issues that I have had to deal with is forgiveness. The struggle with forgiveness is not a struggle that I deal with alone; I know that there are many who deal with this struggle; my goal in this article is to highlight why we have such a problem dealing with forgiveness and hopefully help someone reach that point where they are able to forgive someone who has hurt them.

Let us begin by examining the core of the issue; the transgression. Relational transgressions are extremely problematic situations, where the core rules of a relationship are violated, leaving one or both individuals emotionally charged. As we are socialized, we learn that there are certain rules that govern how we are supposed to act in specific situations. Some of these rules are ambiguous and they vary from culture to culture, but they are set so that we know how to conduct ourselves. Relational transgressions occur when those rules we take for granted are broken by someone who is important to us. Again, these rules can be culturally based, religiously based or based of our own personal experiences. Relationship rules exist when people are interdependent. When these rules are violated, they call into question the entire relationship; this is why they are called core rules. I want readers to take a moment right now and think about some of the core rules you have in your relationships? Have these core rules ever been violated? If so, how have you handled it?

One very popular core rule that exists in relationships is based around honesty. In relationships, we tend to develop a truth bias towards our partners. This truth bias assumes that our partners will be truthful with us. This tends to make us more vulnerable and less accurate in detecting deception. It is one of the reasons why when we find out that our partner is lying, we are so thrown; how could they do this? Why would they do this? Why would they alter information to change our perceptions? Well the easy answer to this is that the person is afraid of hurting you. This is why they will alter the truth; to maintain your perception of them. Now, one of the core rules in the relationship has been broken; does this mean that the relationship is over? No, the relationship is not over, but the real work is about to begin. Step one; forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the cognitive process that consists of letting go of feelings of revenge and the need to retaliate. There has been significant research done on forgiveness; Smedes focused his research on the key stages that the process of forgiveness goes through: Hurt, hate, healing, coming together (this is not necessarily in the physical sense, but more so in the psychological, mental and emotional sense).

The unfortunate thing about this process is that many of us get stuck between the hurt and the hate stage. It is between these two stages where the majority of the problems lie. For the person who has transgressed, they have to deal with the anger that is being put towards them daily. They also have to live with the anxiety, not knowing when the person will retaliate. For the victim, many get stuck here and some people even revel in the idea that being the victim gives them power over the transgressor. As you can see, this can make for a very messy situation. I want to stop at this point again and have the readers think about this; where are you in this process? Are you stuck between hurt and hate? How long have you been here for? How does this feel to you? I think it is important that we question ourselves. It allows for a lot of what is hidden in our subconscious to come to the surface.

The most frequent reason why people don’t forgive is because the transgressor has not admitted their wrong doings, apologized or even asked for forgiveness. It is also very difficult to forgive someone if they continue to act the same way that they always have. Some people might believe that if someone has not apologized or given an explanation, they can withhold forgiveness. There is this delusional belief that by withholding forgiveness, you can prevent the transgressor form hurting you again. WRONG! The sooner you understand this, the easier your life will be. I want you to take some time this week to think about your interpersonal relationships. Who have you not forgiven and how is this working out for you? A famous saying says, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Think about this.

 

1 COMMENT

  1. Great piece Simone. This is such a crucial role in all relationships. I observed this in my relationship with my kids, when they fight (a lot) I sometimes intervene and ask the wrongdoer to apologise. The other listens, says I forgive you and they reconnect and are happy again. Looking at my own behaviour though it makes me wonder, shouldn’t I teach the younger how to forgive, even if he doesn’t apologize?

    The other thought is the humility of recognizing our own imperfection helps soften a heart towards forgiveness. “How have I done wrong in this relationship?”

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