Who’s Sorry Now?

The topics of loving our enemies and seeking justice naturally bring with it another idea – that of forgiveness.

Traditionally, forgiveness is seen as a passive and almost negative quality and has, throughout history, often been portrayed as a last resort – albeit a noble one – when all hope of change and progress is forsaken.

It is, generally, seen as a position of the high moral ground.  Forgiveness is where a victim makes a loud statement to ring in the ears of the person who has caused her or him pain.

This statement says, “You think you are better than me and that you have the power to hurt me but I have news for you, I am better than you because I forgive you and that means you can’t hurt me.”

Naturally that isn’t true – no matter how much we might like it to be the case.

If someone hurts us – it does hurt.

Often we seem to think that if we acknowledge the blow and the pain we feel, this leaves us with only two options –

a) Scream out in pain and nurse the wound and resentment against the perpetrator forever.

b) Try to render the perpetrator powerless by saying it didn’t hurt.  The playground tactic – ‘Ha-ha – you are so insignificant that no matter what you do it doesn’t hurt me.’

These approaches are problematic as:

Option A leaves us nursing an open wound – forever.

Option B is – well, it’s simply not true – some things not only hurt, they hurt quite a lot.  When Nietzsche remarked that anything that doesn’t kill us makes us strong, he was also implying (necessarily) that some things do kill us.


Is there an Option C when dealing with our pain?

And if there is, might this option be buried somewhere deep in the concept of forgiveness?

If there is an Option C, it is likely that we need to re-evaluate our understanding of the concept of forgiveness in order to recognise it. Scary as this might be, we’ll have to forget the traditional face of forgiveness – the wimpy, weak, long-suffering image it has cultivated in the past. But we’ll also need to forget the modern, formulaic ‘just do it’ face we now use for forgiveness. Instead we’ll need to reassess it entirely.

But maybe if we do that we might see something new in this concept that can really help us to heal our wounds? It strikes me that there must be something powerful in forgiveness as it is a principle in every religious tradition in the world since ancient times.

Let them pardon and forgive. Do you not love that Alláh should forgive you? – Islam

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else but you are the one who gets burned. – Buddhism

Where there is forgiveness, there God resides. — Sikhism

Who takes vengeance or bears a grudge acts like one who, having cut one hand while handling a knife, avenges himself by stabbing the other hand. – Judaism

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. – Christianity

…let your adorning be forgiveness and mercy. Therefore, do not look at the shortcomings of anybody; see with the sight of forgiveness. – Bahá’í Faith

Forgiveness subdues (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries the sabre of forgiveness in his hand? …Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness.  – Hinduism

The way of the master is fidelity and forgiveness – Confucianism

I don’t know how forgiveness actually works but I imagine if it has any chance of it being more than a superficial slick of niceness then the very first step has to be to acknowledge the pain – small, medium or large.

Don’t minimise it or explain it away or say it doesn’t matter.

This might be just personal to me but I can’t bear being told something painful doesn’t – or shouldn’t – hurt.

If it hurts it hurts.

It didn’t help me to be told that when I was a child.  It doesn’t help me as an adult.  The sole judge of how much something hurts me has to be me.  Nobody else can feel it so they can’t definitively know.

As that is true for me, I assume it is true for others and so I try to let them be the judge of their own pain.

I probably don’t always succeed but I think I should always try.

After that, though – I’m not sure where to go next.

How is real forgiveness built?

Does it have essential components if it is to be substantial?

If I forgive can I actually forget?

Can you fake it ’til you make it?

Answers on a postcard…

21 comments on “Who’s Sorry Now?

  1. Miro says:

    Poignant post. We all know that we should “love our enemies” but so many have difficulty in letting go of the selfish and hurtful acts done to them and responding with love where none was shown. My personal breakthrough came when I realized that just because I love someone, doesn’t mean I have to like them. I’ve told many a selfish, self-absorbed and self-centered person that I care for them and their well-being, but as a person, I don’t like them one bit.It’s very rare that two feuding people evolve at the same rate and are both ready to forgive at the same time. It’s just important to remember that just because you can’t draw blood from a stone, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t live up to your own potential to forgive, let go and move on: http://warriorpoetwisdom.com/2011/12/30/the-tale-of-the-bloodless-stone/
    Peace & grace,

  2. Trish, great topic. I recently used the following model (you know I like x step models 🙂 )
    1) Acknowledge factually your mistake/what you did that hurt someone else 2) Apologize: tell the person you hurt as honestly as possible that you are sorrow for what you did 3) Avoid repetition: Tell the person you hurt, you will strive to avoid repeating the hurt and 4) Restitution: Offer restitution for damage done, if only a bunch of flowers…..This worked quite well, I think, but am not sure. Doubt is good….

    This was part of applying Katherine Schulz lessons from her ‘Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.’ I wrote a list of 70 major mistakes I made in my life (many of which only hurt me) to see if I could learn from them. I realized I am who I am as the result of how I have lived life, so I probably don’t want to change any of the cross road decisions I judged mistakes; simply acknowledge them. And so in some way, my answer to your quest, is that we need to start by forgiving ourselves for things we did that hurt us, before we ask others to forgive us.

    And of course, in some way when we ask for forgiveness from others, we hope they may ask for forgiveness for what they have done to hurt us. Don’t count on it. 🙂

  3. patricemj says:

    Being a therapist has helped me a little to realize most people, most of us are unaware of a great deal of what we do. Somehow, considering this I am more easily able to let go of resentment others cause me and forgive myself too. We are pretty limited, we do see through a glass darkly, and because of this we will wound people left and right without knowing it. To me, the wounding becomes the given, as most people will not go down the path to enlightenment, they will continue to live more unconsciously than consciously. I guess what I’m saying is I do believe most of the ways people hurt others are not on purpose. That helps me forgive. Even the intentional stuff doesn’t seem that real to me, as I think anyone who would intentionally hurt another truly unconscious.

    When I have had to forgive myself or someone else, when the pain was so great, for me it came from the knowledge that I can do that to someone, or they can do that to me. It came from realizing people sometimes do things that undermine my faith in them, that reduce my ability to trust them, and when I’ve done similar, for me to trust myself. The profound loss of trust in people we are supposed to trust, the scathing pain that comes when we recognize our vulnerability makes for a lot of anger. The anger is the scab that crusts over the fear. We need to go through that process, to feel that because it is the truth, we can’t believe someone we love could hurt us…we refuse to believe that love can be associated with such vileness. We feel the vileness has corrupted the love. These sorts of experiences, where are sense of safety is jeopardized, make forgiveness difficult. I think. When the pain subsides, and our sense of safety has regained it’s balance, we will have an easier time forgiving. Some people’s sense of safety never returns. The bitterness is a grieving for that lost sense that all was once well in the world.

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  5. I face my first greatest hurdle in less than 5 days on letting go. Though I have long ago stopped living in a past riddled with fear and anger, I do not forgive because there hasn’t been remorse for the wrongs done.

    This post was marvelously done, food for thought.

    • I hope that goes well for you – I really mean that, by the way – I think it is a difficult place to be in. I also think it is particularly hard to forgive when there is no remorse. Good luck!x

  6. Lovely, thoughtful words on an always relevant topic. How about forgiveness as “a letting go of resentment”? (credit goes elsewhere for that idea) Sometimes it’s futile to wait for someone else to say or be sorry, but we don’t have to carry the bitterness with us throughout the rest of our life. In time we can acknowledge the pain they caused us but decide to move on without cherishing thoughts that they might be run over by a combine harvester, thoughts which would continue to make only ourselves suffer.

  7. Erik says:

    Empathy for the trespassers.

    Forgiveness in my case, has come easiest, when I’ve seen behind the glasses of those who have transgressed upon me. In trying to understand them, and their particulars, in having to come up with the answer to ‘why’ when they were unavailable to me, and unrepentant, required me to develop a theory of mind; and then, without even noticing it, I am comforted in knowing, they, like me, are human and innumerably fallible.

    Through compassion for their pain, my own is relinquished.

    It would seem that minimizing the validity of someone’s anguish, does not allow for the recognition necessary for understanding it. This is an invertible action in that recognizing/acknowledging someone’s pain validates it, and creates understanding… both for the person who hurts, and the person who has caused hurt. This of course, is easier written, much less so to do. Or ever to ask of someone who has been hurt, it has to come from their volition, their own desire to understand the mechanics of how humanity sours itself…

    (note: it’s rather late here and I apologize if this response is not completely coherent especially since it seems to make complete sense to me 😉 )

    • What a great phrase – ’empathy for the trespassers’ – (keeps reminding me of the song – Sympathy for the Devil, though – maybe it’s the same thing???) I think you are describing a really generous process and I agree that it can never be asked of anyone – it does have to be our own volition.

  8. I went to a wonderful day long teaching about forgiveness…I really developed some helpful perspectives from that day. It was “taught” by Fred Luskin, of the Stanford Forgiveness Project. He has a website with helpful ideas, online audio teachings and books. http://learningtoforgive.com/9-steps/

  9. eof737 says:

    Forgiveness is important but we must be ready to forgive otherwise we will just be paying lip service to the process… It takes lot of reflection to get to that place too. 🙂

  10. Paddy Honan says:

    Everyone’s experience is unique. Although we are all different, we are also similar. Physically we are all different, but we all have a head etc., so it is not absolute uniqueness we are speaking of.
    Psychological or emotional experiences fluctuate way more than the physical world. Nevertheless, I would like to share a few thoughts on forgiveness and hurt….

    Sometimes in life we can misunderstand what has happened in a situation and feel hurt by it, or we can react because our meaning of that situation hurts us and this is an internal misinterpretation.
    I am leaving this aspect aside for the moment as it is easier to deal with.

    Let’s go for the bullseye here… In a situation where you have been definitely hurt by someone, intentionally or unintentionally, You need to take control of emotions and master the circumstance.

    On the outside, each of us have many masks / social personas that vary according to the situation /company we find ourselves in. We might be more comfortable playing a sport than public speaking, for example, our self image for each activity varies wildly. Similarly at this level our validation from other people, status, etc. is all important to us.
    However sometimes when immersed in intense beauty or when in a serious situation, we forget all that drama of who likes us, who hurt us etc. and just BE. We feel our True Self, we enter the Dao, we become present and get some dust off the mirror of our souls and find clarity.

    But what has this got to do with forgiveness and hurt? Well bearing in mind that there are two sides to us, the transient, temporal that needs validation (the one which feels the hurts), and the higher side, which can drop that drama, like you drop a heavy bag, we can see something emerge.

    Negative experiences are hard to forget about. If you forgive but secretly feel bitter, have you forgiven? While it is important not to be gullible, we need a deeper level of forgiveness.

    You cannot neutralize a negative experience, you have to invert it.
    This means if you just say it’s ok and still feel the pain, the poison is still in there, in you.
    Instead see the situation as an opportunity for growth, something that has made you stronger, something that is a gift, whether intentionally or not, they have given you the gift of a chance to grow, and you are going to take it and say thank you very much. You don’t have to do this literally obviously and wave the forgiveness in their face. Just inside, rise above it, see it as something on the surface, that only gives you joy that you are stronger as you overcome it and detach from it.

    At the end of the day, we can choose the meaning we give to situations. One person can say because of my bad upbringing, I am disempowered, or alternatively, because of this dire circumstance, I am strong and I will help others from suffering like this, developing your purposefulness in life. Also how you label the situation often becomes it’s meaning, so choose how you describe the situation to yourself, carefully.

    So in all this text, I am saying: Where there is pain, realize that you create the meaning to the situation. Your ego says ‘I am hurt, you hurt me’ The True self says ‘Thank you for this opportunity to grow’. I often try to see my life like a solar system: the planets are circumstance and the sun is my essence. If the circumstance gets dire, I am still in the centre and I will survive, in fact I will grow.
    It is not Me versus you, it is our higher natures versus our common lower natures. If someone hurts you and you react, both lose. If you can help them to change, or consult and you both change, great! If not, at least take the gift of continuing to love their human spirit and the chance to grow.
    People usually react in one of two ways, they attack back or flinch and give in to antagonism, both born of the lower nature. The middle way is to be firm but gentle and speak to them in a kind but detached way, to resolve the dispute, so that everybody wins.

    Finally remember that forgiveness is a gift not only from you, but to you. All is gift, in fact, the hardship, the good times, your body and soul are not from you but from the Source, God.
    All we bring to this life is our free will, our choice, choose well 🙂

    • Thanks, Paddy – I agree with most of what you are saying but it is still a difficult road and one which requires us to apply such incredible individual detail with such great finesse that we can always only talk for ourselves in how we get think we might get there. Thanks.

  11. granbee says:

    Real forgiveness begins with forgiving oursevles. Having understanding of our own pain builds our empathy for the pain of others. When we feel their pain, it is SO much easier to forgive.

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