The mandate of forgiveness
People, religions, and holistic and traditional therapists from all over the world usually recommend the practice of forgiveness to overcome emotional pain and hurt. They say that forgiving isn’t for others', but for one’s own sake; that forgiving sets us free while hatred enslaves us; that anger is an inferior feeling that we should avoid at all costs because it removes us from God (or removes God from us); that, at the end of the day, by staying angry at those who hurt us we stay connected to them, while forgiving emancipates us. But is that so?
Even though this is partially true, there is a negative outcome to premature forgiveness (or to forgiveness that happens as an external mandate – something we are told we must do for our own good) that is usually underestimated: the repression of all the feelings brought about by the person or situation we intend to forgive. [To read more about repression, click here.]
Forgiveness, as professed by the majority, is an attempt at a magical solution for loss, betrayal, deception, and hurt: “forgive and free yourself from pain”, “rise above”, etc. But it doesn’t work that way! Every pain is alive: it contains an energy that, if not given proper release, will continue present and active, even if we are not conscious of it, and will permeate all of our actions and decisions daily without our noticing it. The popular adage that says that “time heals everything” lacks empirical and scientific support. Time, on its own, heals nothing. What heals is feeling the emotional pain in its entirety to elaborate and resignify it. As we do when we are physically hurt, the emotional wound requires care and treatment until it heals. As happens with the physical injury that is not treated, if we simply ignore our emotional wound and if we try to forgive in an attempt to let it go, the problem may leak into other areas of our lives and the healing process (if it ever happens) may take way longer than it initially would.
But then, what about forgiveness? Should we never forgive? Will we live our lives carrying anger in our hearts and searching for revenge from those who hurt us? Of course not! But forgiveness has to be the natural consequence of the healing process. Forgiving has to be the result and not the cause: I can’t forgive to be emotionally well, I have to forgive because I am emotionally well, because thinking about that person or event doesn’t hurt anymore, because I have cried all the tears that there were to cry and I could finally find a new place for myself in my story after that loss, because I could resignify myself as a person after that departure.
When we have finished grieving for that person, place, situation or relationship, it won’t be necessary to impose, require or recommend forgiveness, especially because there won’t be anything to forgive. We will be at peace with ourselves and with others, which is what we were trying to accomplish initially by mandating forgiveness. Only that we will have reached this place through a healthier and longer-lasting (although more painful) path.