Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Forgiving someone is taking the power back.
You have to forgive to really move on.
We’ve all heard these and countless other platitudes stressing the importance – and morality – of forgiveness. Yes, others are going to do us wrong. But, apparently, the test of our worth as people lies in our power to forgive them. If we forgive them, we’ve cleansed ourselves and are free to move on. If we don’t, we’re bitterly hanging onto something that is only hurting us in the end.
Can you hear me scoffing through the computer? I’ve been thinking about the narrative of forgiveness and I keep coming up short. There are so many people I’ve struggled to forgive in my life – friends, boyfriends, family members – and their infractions range from petty to serious. In general, I’m pretty good at forgiving. Mostly, I forgive someone because I still want them in my life. Sometimes, it’s because our shared history is worth more than whatever moment lead us to that crossroad.
But here’s the thing – there are instances in which forgiveness is off the table and it’s totally up to you to decide when that is. I know there’s this societal pressure to forgive whoever did you wrong because “that’s the only way you can truly move on” and blah blah blah. I don’t believe that. Forgiveness isn’t always constructive and I think the people who push for it are usually the ones who did you wrong in the first place. Honestly, it’s toxic as hell to set such a high premium on forgiveness. In the forgiveness narrative, the burden is placed again on the victim. They have to rise to the occasion, to be the bigger person, to let go – but why? Why is it their responsibility to do the work of forgiveness? Because, believe me, forgiveness takes work. For me to forgive, I have to figure out why that person acted the way they did in the first place. I have to put myself in their shoes and relive those painful moments from a different perspective. It dredges up old feelings and hurts, sometimes years after I first worked through those things. The emotional labor inherent in the forgiveness narrative is considerable and hard to shoulder. So, what I’m trying to say is – you don’t have to do it.
You don’t have to forgive them to move on. You don’t have to forgive them to take the power back. You don’t have to forgive them if you don’t want to.
It’s not that there isn’t value in forgiveness. Of course there is. But it’s up to you whether you want to forgive someone. And remember that anyone pressuring you to forgive them is just hoping you lift their burden. You have your own to carry and the way you do that is entirely up to you.