A Discussion on Forgiveness

Q: How important is it, in your opinion, to forgive people who have harmed us? And does it make sense that we should even forgive people who have caused TRAUMATIC harm?
A. I do not believe that you should do anything, in terms of forgiving someone who has caused you harm. But recovering from emotional trauma is a lot like the grieving process. It has stages. The “lowest” stage (so to speak) is depression. Being furious at the person who hurt you is actually a step up from that. Ultimately, however, you will know you are completely healed when you can look back and actually feel grateful for the experience that caused you pain.
But the focus here is on you and your healing, not on anything you need to do for somebody who has wronged or harmed you. Better to put your attention on healing, rather than “forgiving.” This is not easy, because you have to be willing to really feel all the horrible feelings that came with being violated or abused or what-have-you. But the way it works is that the more you are willing to feel, the quicker you will work through it and the painful feelings will dissipate—as will your feelings of hatred!
Sometimes, after people feel “done” with a terrible trauma that was inflicted on them, they may say a prayer for the perpetrator as a kind of goodbye. To me, this type of “forgiveness” really just boils down to turning the perpetrator’s fate over to the cosmos, and realizing they will need all the luck they can get!

 Q: But do you think that, if I take a forgiving attitude, that in itself may facilitate my healing?
In my experience, forgiveness is a result of healing—not vice versa. You can go around all day saying, “I need to forgive”, “I should forgive”, etc, but what does that do except make you feel guilty?
Then again, I have found that an “I forgive” mantra can be helpful, as long as I leave it open and don’t pressure on myself to “make it real.”  I may sit in meditation with my mala beads, saying out loud, “I forgive” 490 times (7×70), or for the entire meditation period, letting the phrase apply to whatever arises (or does not arise) in my mind.  So that expresses a general willingness to forgive.  And simple willingness can go a long way, because it’s saying to the Divine, “I know that anger, hatred, and resentment are not my true nature.”
Still, I must emphasize that anger, hatred and resentment are part of the essential human experience and SHOULD be fully felt for the healing process to be effective. (There! I guess I AM giving you a “should”!)

 Q: Someone who was once very close to me caused me a great deal of pain over a period of several years. This person is very mentally ill—a borderline and narcissistic personality. I have compassion for this person, but also a great deal of anger. I believe my anger functions as a protective mechanism, lest my compassion causes me to lower my guard and let this person into my life again, which would be a terrible mistake. What do you think of this?
I think that’s fine. You probably need to never let this person back into your life. You feel compassion that they are compelled by mental illness to be self-destructive and hurtful. Fair enough. But they are still a menace to your well-being.
My guess is that when you don’t feel like you have to keep your anger and resentment alive in order to justify your boundary, then you will really be done with this person.
Unfortunately, there really are people who are beyond repair. If this person is one of them, you may have to grieve him or her, and grieve the loss of the idea that you could have had a better relationship.

 Q. I also wrestle internally with the question of how much I should hold this person responsible for his actions and his degraded condition. I know he had a tough upbringing, and I think maybe his genetic inheritance was also a factor. But I also saw him make a ton of awful choices, like abusing hard drugs, and telling lots of big and little lies. So as a general question: What do you think of “holding people responsible” and where does that fit into the whole forgiveness question?
A. Let me come at this from a different direction and see if it feels right to you.
What if, before incarnating on this planet this time around, this person chose to have “going insane” as an option? He was an extremely sensitive soul and came to this plane to have these experiences . . . and they flipped his noodles.
We all run the risk of severe trauma in life.  Most of us figure out coping mechanisms. Those who choose using drugs to cope may wind up changing their brain chemistry and running the risk of permanent brain re-wiring/addiction.
So maybe this person took the risk of being born into challenging circumstances, and subsequently suffered too much trauma to function well.  So, grieve him, know you did an amazing job trying to help him, and believe that there is still a miracle that can occur (you never know) through someone who isn’t you.
Trust me: This person will continue to be given lots of other choices to get his needs met. And if one of them lands him in jail or a sanitarium, maybe that will give his soul the rest it needs.  And if you do believe in “the other side,” you can be confident that he’ll eventually be healed and taken care of there, and shown all the lessons he gave himself and others, and be just as loved as you and I are.
The bottom line is that we all ARE responsible, regardless of whether we are forgiven or not. That’s just a fact of life: We all receive the consequences of our behaviors.
And when we bump into people who take advantage of our good behavior, our lesson—and it’s a biggie—is to try not to bump into them!  Don’t let it happen again. Your job is to not let them cause you suffering. It’s just as important to honor ourselves as others. God helps those who help themselves, as they say. You are a child of God, so don’t let people mess with your divinity. That is YOUR. responsibility!