20 thoughts on “Forgiveness Means Giving Up All Hope for a Better Past

  • June 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    When we forgive, we show deep compassion to ourselves as well as others. I love this gem from Thich Nhat Hanh: “If you can smile with forgiveness, you have great power.”

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  • June 21, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    What a wonderful quote! A very long time ago, my next youngest brother, throughout our childhoods and after, performed the worst possible acts of psychological torture on me and our other brothers, who he most intensely hated for reasons we have never known. Other people simply cannot know the kind of pain he intentionally caused. And we never, ever reconciled, and I never, ever forgave him, even after his death at age 47, twenty years ago. Up until last year my hatred for him survived at 2000 degrees Celsius. And he was the only person I’ve ever hated. I really wanted to be at peace with him, which involved acknowledging the utter misery he must have been in to act that way, though I’ve never understood why he did it. And I did it. I did it sincerely. I tried to imagine the level of misery any person would have to be in to act the way he did. And I think I did get close to feeling like he must have, close enough, at least, to feel with him, and to walk away from that hatred. It always helps though, even now, to read material like your article of today, which soothes a large scar. Thank you.

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  • June 21, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, it brought a tear to my eye. The self love and compassion you have shown is enormous.

    Be well,

    Elisha

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  • June 21, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    I participate in a mindfulness group and during our all day practice sessions there is a loving kindness meditation. The very first time we did this I was caught completely off guard. We were asked to envision someone/something that we truly loved – person or pet, and then when we could honestly feel the love and compassion that we held for this person/animal we were to turn that love and compassion towards ourselves. This practice was difficult because like so many people the hardest person to forgive is myself and really, this is where the biggest healing begins when we can forgive ourselves and practice having compassion not just for others but for the one we need to love the most.

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  • June 21, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

    I respectfully disagree. Forgiveness is not the end of the road, or the etching in stone of an ascription of meaning to a situation.

    One of the wonderful things about some effective psychotherapies is the ability for the work in the room to reconfigure, reinterpret, and reframe the past. Whether pre-forgiveness, in the process of forgiveness, post-forgiveness, or in the absence of forgiveness, this work can be librating. And if that’s not making the past better? I don’t know what is.

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  • June 22, 2010 at 12:52 am

    What a great quote! Leave it to Lily Tomlin to use her wit and wisdom as a great diffuser.
    Holding onto resentments keep us tied to our past and forever linked to the person or situation that injured us. Some hold on for protection (“I’ll never be hurt like this again”), and some out of loneliness (because letting go creates, for some, a deep sense of loss).
    For whatever reason we hold on to resentments, it’s important to be aware of them, the purpose they hold for us (what we’re gaining from them), and the physical and psychological toll it takes to nurse them.

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  • June 23, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    I’ve had to learn, the hard way, through the years, that my life will never be one of accomplishing what I have had the potential or desire to attain, but the one ability that I have tried to cultivate is that of forgiving. I cannot forget the numerous moments of debilitating pain that have been visited upon me, especially by those who were supposed to be my heroes, my immediate family, but upon studying the elements of human development, I have ALWAYS initially attempted total forgiveness. The hard part is that when that forgiveness is not recognized or the situation is not acknowledged, the pain of the initial ‘hurt’ becomes an obstacle, twice the size of when it started and my energy to try to accomplish the things I should be able to, away from the situation, is drained from me. I guess you would have to consider it as a serious form of ‘depression’ that even my education and personal insight cannot alter? Forgiving is an enviable state of mind and heart, to be sought after, but for me, it has become a burden, in that I cannot maintain any anger and keep forgiving those who keep hurting me; and those who dwell, for whatever their reasons, on continuing to hurt me, never seem to want to stop. An unusual set of circumstances, I’ve been told, but my burden and it is destroying me! Is there no end point to reach out to, where you can and should stay angry and NOT forgive? It greatly pains me whenever I try to hold a grudge because I always sympathize with the other person’s problems, having known where and what I am capable of, myself. I have been to counselling, but have never gotten any definitive help. Can forgiveness of others become an addiction in itself? Those removed from the situations, admire my efforts at forgiveness and the world around us, as a whole, believes in the theory,…but I just want to spend my energy, elswhere, at something constructive and productive for me, alone! To be all forgiving is NOT easy and, as I can attest to, NOT really all that psychologically healthy! Think about it! Maybe forgiving is not all it is cracked up to be?!

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  • June 23, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Dear Rhonnda,

    Forgiveness is one thing – but allowing people to continuely and repeatedly hurt you is something else. Forgiving someone does not mean giving them permission to continue to abuse you. It’s okay to to say to people that you have forgiven them for their past actions but that is where it stops. Actually, you don’t even have to tell them that they are forgiven, if that is what you are doing. Find the compassion and love for yourself that will give you the strength to stop this. You sound like a very genuine person with a compassionate soul. Love yourself first and distance yourself where you can from the people who don’t support you – not always easy, I know.
    Anyway, that is my two bits, I wish you well.

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  • June 24, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Ditto the e-mail above and am wondering what the word “forgiveness” means to most people in this culture? T me, it simply means, to not seek revenge..or to not retaliate…to not exact the same sort of retribution..? Am I WAY OFF BASE HERE?

    What does this have to do with the above article? Hoping for a better past…might be a step beyond…past forgiveness..perhaps after one alows the other to go free and one begins to go about one’s businness and maybe wishes that the world were a much more fair and just place to live in…maybe then one might have some trouble …LETTING GO…OF THE ANGER? Letting go of the injustice of it all?

    That is not, I am certaiin, the same thing as holding the person who harmed you accountable and wishing to take revenge upon them..as is the definition of unforveness.

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  • June 24, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    I’ve asked many people this question. The quote above makes me think you’ll have an interesting answer.

    What is the difference between forgiveness and acceptance?

    If I give up hope of changing the past have I not accepted whatever happened separate from the person or people involved? Doesn’t that release me from them more than forgiveness does?

    Forgiveness carries with it many connotations and expectations, all of which involve others, regardless of what therapists say [forgiveness is for yourself]. If instead of emphasizing forgiveness, we worked toward acceptance of what was, NOT to be confused with condoning, how would that benefit or disrupt healing?

    I accept that I had a traumatic childhood which has caused me pain and suffering all of my life.

    I forgive my parents for my traumatic childhood and all the pain and suffering associated with it.

    Do you see what I mean? In a way, the idea of forgiveness perpetuates the trauma by supporting the connection between transgressed against and transgressor.

    Just a few thoughts on a very complex topic. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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  • June 27, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    There are some people I can’t / won’t forgive. I know it may be holding me back, but I have an intense feeling that forgiving them would be betraying myself. Is there any way forward?

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  • June 28, 2010 at 12:02 am

    Dear Elisha, would you publish this version of my comment? I had to change something to make my point more clearly.

    I’ve asked many people this question. The quote above makes me think you’ll have an interesting answer.

    What is the difference between forgiveness and acceptance?

    If I give up hope of changing the past have I not accepted whatever happened separate from the person or people involved? Doesn’t that release me from them more than forgiveness does?

    Forgiveness carries with it many connotations and expectations, all of which involve others, regardless of what therapists say [forgiveness is for yourself]. If instead of emphasizing forgiveness, we worked toward acceptance of what was, NOT to be confused with condoning, how would that benefit or disrupt healing?

    I accept that I had a traumatic childhood. I’ve used my resilience and courage to heal and grow from it.

    I forgive my parents for my traumatic childhood and all the pain and suffering associated with it.

    Do you see what I mean? In a way, the idea of forgiveness perpetuates the trauma by supporting the connection between transgressed against and transgressor.

    Just a few thoughts on a very complex topic. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    Reply
  • June 28, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    To Incurable Hippie;

    Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that you have to forget what the person did, although I know it is difficult to seperate the two ideas. It is easier, I find, to look at what has happened to the other person in the first place to cause them to hurt others. What kind of pain are they dealing with. It doesn’t mean that you say to yourself that you are going to be a door mat for hurtful behaviour but it may give you an understanding of where it comes from. This forgiveness business is all about setting ourselves free not the other person.
    Resentment is like an acid and most people don’t even know what they have done, so the acid doesn’t burn them, it burns us.
    I’m still practicing, but I have let go of a lot of my “mother” issues by looking at her life and what she learned.
    Good luck!

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  • July 23, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    I don’t really resonate with the word “forgiveness.” What seems to help me is working at compassion for the other person. I try to see where they are at – like Incurable Hippie said – and then try and not take it personally. This usually takes time and distance and does not happen all at once. Maybe with compassion comes forgiveness, but if I just focus on compassion, it seems to help me. forgiveness seems to imply that I’ve been a victim of something or have taken something personally. It may have affected me personally, but it’s not about me – it’s more about them.

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  • September 23, 2010 at 2:58 am

    Our son was murdered in a car jacking a few years ago. The anger and rage I felt for years consummed me. Some of our friends we knew for years, stopped calling us. They had children the same age as our son. Other people we thought would leave us were the ones who were there for us.

    It took about three years before I realized how my anger and hate was distroying my health and relations with my family. I didn’t like myself at all. I would never forgive someone who killed one of my children.

    I did forgive them, I realized as a christian I preached forgiveness but when it came right down to it, I didn’t practice what I preached. I now belong to Parents of Murdered Children. The sad part is many people there have been suffering for years with their anger and don’t realize forgiveing helps them the most. We will never forget but our life is so much better now.

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  • February 9, 2011 at 4:02 am

    What a beautiful and moving post with so many gems that I can take away and practise in my own life. I love this site for the framework of understanding and compassion it has taught me. I thank everyone who contributes to it, it has made an enormous difference in my life.

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  • February 10, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    I have four children adopted internationally. My son (adopted at age almost-11) spent two years molesting one of my daughters (5-6 at the time). We found out about it on St. Patrick’s day 2010 when he was 16.5-y-o. He was removed by police a week later(after admitting it) and placed into foster care. He shows no empathy or remorse. This lack of empathy/remorse has been my stumbling block to forgiveness.

    I first heard this definition of forgiveness: “Giving up hope that the past could have been any different”…which is a little different from yours) this week on tv, and it really resonated with me. I’ve spent the last year doing all the “woulda”, “coulda”, “shoulda” and “what if” things to myself. When I heard this definition, though, it made me realize that all of my regrets revolve around the inability to change the past, and that my perception way back then of our family’s future turns out not to have been within the realm of possibility (because it was all lie).

    While I appreciate TPG’s post above: “….One of the wonderful things about some effective psychotherapies is the ability for the work in the room to reconfigure, reinterpret, and reframe the past….”… no matter how you frame it, my daughter is forever changed, as is our family as a whole.

    However, by changing the definition of forgiveness

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  • February 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    (I’m sorry, that shouldn’t have sent yet)

    However, by changing the definition of forgiveness, it allows me the possibility of forgiving by simply acknowledging that I **can not go back and change the past**…something we all already know on an intellectual level, but when framed as the definition of forgiveness, it creates real opportunity to move past it.

    So, maybe the “reconfiguring, reinterpreting, and reframing” works better for me when talking about the definition of forgiveness itself, rather than the past.

    I wish I could go back and edit what accidentally posted previously, but maybe it’s better that I didn’t get to change it too much by thinking it through too much…lest I might not have actually sent it out in the end…

    Thanks to everyone who commented on the topic 🙂

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  • July 17, 2011 at 5:00 am

    I believe that basic forgiveness and the reasons we must forgive are ONLY for the forgiver. It in no way has anything to do with the one who wronged you. It requires that other person to do nothing. He does not have to ask for forgiveness or show any remorse whatsoever.

    We have a huge misconception that gives some sins more weight than others. For instance, we often tend to think that murder is worse than just cursing at someone. This is the result of society requiring that we somehow punish and isolate those who are most dangerous to others and therefore having to decide what punishments would fit the crime. But in God’s eyes all sins are equal. Just read the 10 commandments over again for the proof of that. If we don’t honor our fathers and mothers, we have sinned, if we kill another we have sinned, and if we covet another’s property, we have sinned. We don’t even have to steal the property, just want it badly to have sinned. This is why we can easily say that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”

    So because of society, we often can let go of “little” daily sins against us, but have a really hard time letting go of the really, really bad stuff.

    We simply need to get our thinking in line with what the Bible teaches us. We are taught that if our brother offends us or sins against us we are to forgive him. And if he does it again, we are to forgive him again. In fact we are told to forgive him no matter how many times he sins against us. Seventy times seven is the number stated in the Bible, but it’s actually saying we are to continue to forgive no matter how many times we are wronged.

    We want to do this because God has forgiven us our sins. When we begin to understand that relationship with God we will want to ask God for the gift of the ability to forgive others. Just as God’s forgiveness is a free gift to us given out of His love for us. The forgiveness we give to others should be the same … no strings attached. We cannot do this without God’s help. We are fallible human beings and often unable to let past hurts go and forgive.

    I guess it can be said that we need to ask God’s forgiveness for not forgiving others and ask for His help with it. But for me just remembering that there really are no big or little sins is enough.

    Forgiveness in no way condones the sin or the sinner. The sinner has “his own row to hoe.” He has his own relationship with God and the persons he has wronged to set right, but it is distinctly separate from you.

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  • August 1, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Your blog is showing more interest and enthusiasm. Thank you.

    Reply
 

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