The 13 Beliefs That Prevent Forgiving
By Dr. Jim Dincalci – Founder of the Forgiveness Foundation International
There are social taboos and emotional myths surrounding forgiveness that prevent people from using it. These come not only from misunderstandings but also the reactive anger of the lower brain. The choice is whether to use the highest brain functions (where forgiveness comes from) or use the more primitive brain areas where anger and resentment lie.
Recognizing the following myths can help you to become willing to forgive, which is the first step in forgiving. Each one of these myths can cause years of suffering for a person. These are not listed in an order of importance.
Myth 1 They do not deserve it!
You might be right – they might not deserve forgiveness. Nevertheless, you are forgiving for yourself, for your benefit and for your relationships. I’ve often seen forgiveness for those who don’t deserve it. Who knows whether the forgiven ones were affected, but the people doing the forgiving certainly felt much better.
Myth 2 Before I forgive, I need an apology!
You may wait forever and not get the admission of guilt you want. The person who caused the upset may have a different perspective of what happened and feel that an apology is unnecessary. In fact, he or she might be expecting an apology from you!
By forgiving, you will regain your own happiness and peace of mind, and not be dependent on someone else’s actions. You will stop becoming the victim. Even if they do give an apology, it may not be heartfelt if it comes at your insistence. Forgive without the apology and save yourself time, energy and heartache.
Myth 3 If I forgive, I will be condoning or justifying their offense.
Forgiveness is not condoning a bad behavior or justifying an offense. As Dr. Fred Luskin points out in his book, Forgive for Love: if we condone, we think the offense is acceptable and thus, forgiveness is not necessary.
Forgiveness is needed when we are hurt and grieving in some way about how we were mistreated. The family of a drug abuser may forgive him or her for the behavior, but does not approve of the drug misuse and will probably do everything they can to stop the abuse.
Myth 4 People will think I am weak to let the other person win.
This is common for men, BUT Come on! carrying hate and anger and the physiological problems that follow is winning????
Myth 5 The person is no longer around, so I don’t need to forgive!
You might think, “out of sight, out of mind.” But, if you still carry the upsetting emotions and ideas, then the injury remains alive in you. At some level, harboring any resentment, large or small, affects your life and interactions with people. Though forgiveness may be an act of compassion for someone who is gone or deceased, it is mainly to relieve you of the self-inflicted torture of hate and anger.
Myth 6 I don’t have to forgive because I never want to see them again!
Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Reconciliation, which is the reunion of two upset parties, is not necessarily the outcome of forgiving. A person can forgive and still choose to protect him or herself from abusive behavior by never seeing that person again. Trust must be re-earned. That is what reconciliation is about.
Myth 7 They will just hurt me again if I forgive!
Forgiving does not mean turning the other cheek to allow the offense to occur again. Jesus’ original meaning of “turn the other cheek” was to show your strength in your faith. Its broader meaning includes forgiveness, but is not limited to it.
When a relationship has reached the point of physical or emotional abuse, it is in deep trouble. Outside help is needed. Limit setting on the abuse is urgent. Working on a domestically violent relationship requires at least a psychotherapist trained specifically in this area. It is not work you do alone. You must protect yourself. Even emotional abuse needs to be stopped. But if there is no option – and sometimes it seems there isn’t – forgiveness can help. But try to get external help too.
Myth 8 There is too much to forgive!
Sometimes, a person, group or organization is just too difficult to forgive because he, or she or they did so much. Break it down. List all the offenses the person committed, and forgive each one.
Myth 9 I’ve tried, but I can’t.
There may be many reasons why you can’t forgive, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. You are gaining the tools now to successfully forgive. Sometimes a person will forgive and then regret it. That happens because of reactionary brain activity. By going through our book, How to Forgive When You Can’t: The Breakthrough Guide to Free Your Heart and Mind, you will no longer regret any type of forgiving you’ve done and will have much better control over earlier brain reactions.
Myth 10 I’m just too angry! (or too hurt!)
It is essential in forgiving to be aware of your feelings. You can see the effects of too much emotion in the violence caused by anger. Each time you bring up anger and hostility your whole physiology goes into stress, which continues to activate the reactive brains. Yes, forgiveness has its timing. But I’ve found that whenever people decide to deal with the hurt or anger with forgiving, they move through it more quickly.
Allowing anger and resentment to remain by not forgiving is a temporary fix that doesn’t work.
Myth 11 I just want to forget about it. or I can’t forget about it.
“In forgiving, people are not being asked to forget. On the contrary, it is important to remember, so that we should not let such atrocities happen again. Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. It means taking what happened seriously not minimizing it; drawing out the sting in the memory that threatens our entire existence.”
BISHOP DESMOND TUTU from NO FUTURE WITHOUT FORGIVENESS
Forgetting about an injury might not be forgiveness but rather, denial. The negative results of this denial impinge insidiously under the surface of your mind. You know you have forgiven when the offender has harmless passage through your mind.
Forgiveness allows the upset to fade in the mind because it is no longer run by the upset and can refocus on the positives of life.
Myth 12 Only God Forgives or God will deal them so I don’t have to.
It’s not true that you don’t have to do anything, because you will still have the upset there affecting you while you wait for the person’s divine punishment. This doesn’t relieve you of the upset and doesn’t guarantee that God agrees with you.
Though we may speculate on how God might judge someone, in reality, we cannot possibly know God’s perspective of a situation because we are unable to take the 360-degree God’s-eye-view of that person or situation. We cannot see the past, or often, the present situation that made the person decide to do what he or she did. We cannot know all of the dynamics involved in their life. We often do not see the forces involved in our own lives that cause us to make a particular decision. Thus, all we can really do is our own work, and let God do God’s work. In our own lives, forgiveness is up to us for our own happiness.
The idea only God forgives is not true. Over 25 years of research shows that people of all lifestyles, religious or not, forgive regularly, much to their benefit and the benefit of others. Those without any religious orientation can enjoy the same positive benefits from letting go of old hatreds and resentments as a religious person.
I’ve worked with atheists and people from many different religions, all of whom have experienced radical changes in their lives through forgiving. Forgiveness is a movement of the mind and heart toward compassion, kindness, and love. It is an action of peace, which results in joy for the forgiver, regardless of religious belief.
Myth 13 I cannot forgive because they keep doing it!
This is probably the hardest of all the myths to get through. If a person continues to hurt your feelings intentionally or even unintentionally, out of habit or because they do not know any better, forgiveness can still be beneficial, although, admittedly, it is more difficult.
Forgiveness wipes away the effects of the hurt regardless of whether it occurred 15 minutes ago or happens 15 minutes from now.