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What To Do When We Don't Want To Forgive (Part 1)

Sometimes our depression or anxiety has a lot to do with something someone else did to us. In those cases, I would say America's cultural guidance is not so great. We sort of use the term "forgiveness" as a catch all for what is a really a multi-step process. When Americans say forgiveness, we tend to think of it as letting someone totally off the hook, not being upset ever again, and letting the person have no consequence. This is the "we're good" mentality. While that can somewhat work for something minor, this does not work at all for more serious issues.

For more serious issues, I think it helps to recognize that there are really two large parts to this process: forgiveness and reconciliation.

Forgiveness is best thought of as a synonym for acceptance. Forgiveness is a personal process that has little to do with whether or not the person apologizes or takes responsibility. Forgiveness is about accepting that someone else injured you, it affects you, and (unfairly) you are the only one that can heal the wound you received.

I like to use a concrete example to more easily understand what I'm talking about. Imagine this, you got hit by a drunk driver and as a result they had to amputate your leg. The drunk driver is absolutely in the wrong, and you are the one who now has had a life altering experience. Through no fault of your own, you will have to re-imagine and rebuild your life in a multitude of ways. Not only that, you have to do the rehabilitation, the drunk driver can't do it for you. Not only that, you will have to pay the bills for the rehabilitation. So much about that situation is supremely unfair. At the same time, no amounting of wishing it didn't happen will undo it (regardless of how unfair and unjust it truly is). To ever get to the place where you can start re-imagining how you will live your life, do the recovery, and not have your life be defined by this incident, you will have to begin the process of accepting that it happened, processing how unfair and unjust it was, and re-imagine a life worth living after healing.

To help accept what happened, it helps to say out loud to yourself or other people what has happened to you in specific terms (e.g. avoiding things like "something bad happened to me", "that unfortunate incident"). Say the specific words of what happened: "I was hit by a drunk driver, my leg was crushed beyond repair, and they had to amputate my leg. My leg is gone forever." If you cannot say those words to yourself or others, work up to it by trying to be a little more specific over time.

To help process how unfair and unjust it was, journal or talk to yourself and others about the fact that regardless of whether you made any mistakes in the scenario or not, the other person was wrong to hurt you in the way that they did. Then take some time to acknowledge all the ways that you are aware that their wrong hurt you. Continuing with the example above some examples could be: I am in an immense amount of pain, the future I imagined for myself feels like it was ripped from my hands, I'm buried in medical bills, I don't know if I can do the same type of job anymore, I have months/years of rehabilitation to have something closer to a normal life.

Then, when you feel ready, to re-imagine a life worth living. What can my future look like given my new circumstances? Does it create some new opportunities I hadn't thought of? Does it concretely affect my aspirations, or am I fearing that it will? What do I want to do in different domains of my life (personal, work, relationships, health, spiritual, etc)

The above are all things that can be done regardless of whether the other person apologizes or does anything else because they are internal processes that have to do with your heart and mind, and how you feel about what happened more than the other person. Apologies and the anything having to with future interactions with the person that hurt you relate to the second part - which is reconciliation.

More on reconciliation in our next post: What To Do When We Can't Forgive (Part 2)

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