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What To Do When We Don't Want To Forgive (Part 2)

This is a continuation of our last post What To Do When We Don't Want To Forgive (Part 1).

A quick review of the context of this post:

"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."

In this post I want to tackle the topic of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the process of trying to restore normal (or modified) trusting relationships with a person that has hurt you. To put it differently, when we forgive, it's an internal process of accepting the harm that was done to you by another. When we reconcile it's an external process of determining whether the relationship can be salvaged. This is the part of the process where an apology can be make a significant difference in the future of the relationship.

If they genuinely apologize (depending on what occurred), it frequently feels more possible to consider trying to trust them again because an apology signals that the person recognizes they hurt you, they feel genuine remorse, and (thought it's not a guarantee) they want to do the best they can to avoid hurting you in the same way again. In other words, a heartfelt apology shows love and respect for you as a person - a person that if for you and not malicious.

That being said, in some cases it may not be possible to restore trusting relationship even with an apology because the hurt was just to great (an example could be the presence of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse). It is truly a personal decision as to whether you feel it makes sense to try and trust again (and how much) - even if you forgive.

If the person that hurt you does not apologize, there is greater ambiguity as to whether they will hurt you in the same way again. In this case, perhaps you decide it's worth it to you to offer full trust again. Alternatively, maybe it doesn't make sense and you decide it's not appropriate. Or maybe you will trust again, but that it will be more arms length and less vulnerable/personal.

Choosing whether or how much to reconcile is a very difficult and personal decision. My genuine hope is that understanding the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation enables you up to be able to do the work of forgiveness without having to decide whether or not to reconcile at the same time (which is super overwhelming!).

I find this delineation is key to letting ourselves work through some of our emotions when depression, anxiety, trauma, or substance abuse are related to to hurts at the hands of other (which they so often are).

Be free to begin the work of forgiveness without thinking you are obligated to reconcile.

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