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Apr 3Liked by Eliza Butler

That was so beautiful and filling…like a lovely warm breakfast. Thank you. 🙏🏽

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#3. I’ve been taking a deep dive into forgiveness lately. I’ve been wondering whether we’re making our lives more difficult by using the word forgiveness. When you write of forgiveness, what, exactly do you mean? Giving up anger and/or resentment? Something else? I think it may help to say what we mean without using the (confusing) word “forgiveness.”

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I agree Dan, it can be a confusing and elusive word.

In the context of trauma, I don't think it means that we should just "let it go" and move on (a notion that is infuriating to anyone who has experienced harm from another).

I think in these circumstances, forgiveness is not about giving up any valid emotion around the situation. In fact, I'd say that forgiveness is actually honoring your rightful anger and feeling it fully so that it no longer controls or debilitates you, and so that you can eliminate any shame that is not yours to carry. I think it's the process of reclaiming your Self from the hurt that others have inflicted so that you're not reliving these hurts again and again and again...so new pathways can unfold.

The more I sit and think about this, I do feel as though the process of forgiveness is unique for everyone. And at the same time, isn't any sort of growth and healing work really about forgiveness, whether it be towards forgiving yourself or another?

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Eliza,

Thanks for engaging. As I said, I’ve been doing a deep dive so it’s nice to have a conversation partner.

As you spoke about forgiveness, it has a few steps:

1. Honoring your anger.

2. No longer being controlled by your anger.

3. Eliminating shame. You said eliminating shame “that’s not yours to carry.” My sense is that while guilt (“I did a bad thing”) can have some value, shame (“I’m a bad person”) is never helpful. So, I’m just saying “eliminating shame.” Let me know if you think I’m missing something important about shame.

4. Reclaiming yourself from the hurt that others have inflicted upon you.

As best I can tell, this is a description of self-forgiveness. But in your post, you are writing about forgiving others.

“Forgiving another person after they’ve hurt you is one of the hardest human things we could ever do…we are forgiving the person who harmed us…because the unjust wrong has caused a shell around us that keeps us from our Selves and from true intimacy with others.”

What I’ve been noticing is that it’s the word “forgive” that makes this “one of the hardest human things we could ever do.” Not that it’s easy. But talking about it as “forgiving” makes it even harder.

Yes, it’s hard to honor our anger. We have to be willing to feel things that aren’t pleasant. We need to recognize the lessons anger has come to teach (usually some version of “that wasn’t okay—it was outrageous!”) and/or discover beneath the anger an unmet need that requires tending and tend to it (I’m taking language from Nonviolent Communication here) and/or take an appropriate action(s) that responds to what happened (e.g. confronting someone, avoiding a dangerous situation, seeking legal redress, etc.—whatever is appropriate to the situation). Put this way, I think it’s easier for someone to “get their arms around” what it means to “honor their anger” than it is to get their arms around “forgiveness.”

Eliminating shame is never easy. But again, if the frame is on “eliminating shame” rather than “forgiving,” I think the task is clearer. Shame (as I understand it) means you’ve internalized a message that isn’t true. “Let’s work on aligning with what’s true and leaving behind false and harmful beliefs” is a clear message and a clear task to address. Saying “Forgive the person that hurt you”— in my opinion, makes relinquishing shame harder, not easier. I think it also places an unfair burden on the person who was hurt.

Together, I think “honoring anger” and “eliminating shame” are likely to provide the energy that makes “reclaiming yourself from the hurt” possible.

But none of this has anything to do with the person who caused the hurt. It’s possible to do all this while hoping that the person who caused the hurt “rots in hell” and it’s possible to do all this while recognizing that the person who caused the hurt was acting out of their own woundedness and that we are really united with them in a circle of woundedness.

So when you ask “isn't any sort of growth and healing work really about forgiveness, whether it be towards forgiving yourself or another?” I think my answer is, “it depends on what you mean by forgiveness.” Based on the understanding of forgiveness in your comment (and assuming that I understood you correctly) at this moment I think I’d say “No, growth and healing can occur without invoking the idea of ‘forgiveness.’”

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It sounds like you’ve come up with a framework and way of understanding that resonates for you, Dan. Thank you for sharing it with us here🙏🏼😊

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