Every time I talk about forgiveness, I run into disagreement.
When I make the statement, “Forgiveness is not a choice,” I always get pushback from people who think I’m saying something else.
What they think I’m saying is, “Hey, you know what would be fun? Why don’t you hang on to your hurt on purpose and refuse to forgive the person who hurt you, even though you so totally could forgive them if you wanted to? Doesn’t that sound great?”
For the record, that’s not what I’m saying. And it drives me a little nuts when people think it is.
What I’m trying to say is that forgiveness is a feeling, not just a policy. And that if you’re having a hard time forgiving, it’s not your fault. You’re not a bad person because you can’t forgive.
It’s. Not. A. Choice.
Forgiveness is a feeling. An emotion. We don’t control what we feel any more than we control the actions of our autonomic nervous system.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before: “Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
To me, that’s like saying, “Being short is like punching yourself in the stomach and expecting other people to double over.” I’m not good at analogies. The point is, being short isn’t a refusal to be tall, just as a failure to forgive is not a refusal to forgive.
Anyone who believes that they should be able to CHOOSE to forgive has been suckered into believing something that’s not true, that blames them for something they can’t help.
Stop Blaming Yourself
I saw a meme on Facebook celebrating the “strength” it takes to forgive in the absence of apology or remorse. It had very few “Likes,” and understandably so.
Your instincts are correct: Forgiving someone who hurts you and shows no remorse is neither necessary nor healthier for you than continuing to feel however you do about it.
It’s not that you’re drinking poison; it’s that you’ve been poisoned. Big difference.
I fear there are people out there I’ll never convince. People who may get terribly hurt one day, and blame themselves for not being able to forgive. It’s frustrating and sad.
Here’s my original post, about the 3 conditions needed for forgiveness to occur (not be chosen), over on PsychologyToday.com: