Updated: Nov 27
Up until certain events, it was easy to slide by on my colloquial definition of forgiveness, whatever that means. With all my resentment building up I eventually had to deliberately ask myself if I was ever going to forgive person X.
I really don't want to. I don't think they deserve it, I don't want them in my life, and I won't reconcile.
Fast forward to where I am now, about a year ahead of these thoughts, and to be honest, I still agree with some of them, but I have forgiven person X.
Some people wouldn't consider that forgiveness, but I'm going to tell you why I do, and why I think you should forgive anyone.
For clarity's sake, I will be operating off of Stephan Marmer's definitions, though many others could suffice, and these aren't superior by any means:
Exoneration: Forgive and Forget
The relationship is restored to how it was prior to the event
Forbearance: Forgive and don’t forget
Cautious moving forward
Release: Release of bad feelings associated with the event
Doesn't require anything from the perpetrator
When I speak about forgiving anyone, I’m using the “release” definition. When utilizing this base level of forgiveness, you can forgive more liberally and are not enslaved to that emotional debt that is chained to you by something outcome-dependent on the perpetrator, be it reconciliation or retribution.
Forgiveness, even when using "exoneration" and "forbearance" always boils down to the release of emotional debt. Retribution, reconciliation, and repentance (3Rs), are all add-ons to what is baseline "forgiveness," or “release.”
Models of Forgiveness
The main two models of forgiveness are the Enright model of forgiveness and the Worthington REACH model of forgiveness. Of these two models, Enright has the more accessible model because his model doesn't assume benevolence or reconciliation, both of which the REACH model presupposes.
There is nothing wrong with utilizing the REACH model, but we're working from the perspective of wide application, and clearly, this is not applicable to every situation.
Enright's model of forgiveness asks the victim to empathize with the offender, try looking at them past personified evil and understand them as a flawed human. This step is very crucial for our own growth and humility. It can be one of the steps in forgiveness, but what if you just can't understand someone's intentions no matter how hard you try? Are you supposed to stay stuck?
If despite your efforts, you can't humanize them to such a degree, move on to the Luskin model of forgiveness. In Luskin's model, forgiveness happens independently of the offending party. Forgiveness is all about making peace with reality, and focusing on what is in your control. His model fits the "release" definition.
Forgiveness and Spirituality
Forgiveness seen through different religions is very vast and deserves its own separate post. Every religion has a different spin on what is considered forgiveness. The common thread is forgiveness is always pious and a virtue. The main differences I can spot are in Abrahamic religions: forgiveness is typically framed as a gift to the perpetrator, and the perpetrator must be repentant to gain this gift. In Asian religions, forgiveness has to do with making peace with reality. Please keep in mind that these are generalizations.
The reason many people are sparing with their forgiveness is that they are operating off of some variation of forgiveness where at least one of the 3Rs is an integral part of the forgiveness itself. Forgiveness has some presupposition of goodness in the perpetrator, or that forgiveness is contingent on the perpetrator. I don't think that forgiveness defined that way is wrong; in fact, the main models of forgiveness and religion alike often affirm that. There is just additional utility in accepting "release" into our tool kit to make peace with what is.
There is a hierarchy of moral wrongs and the importance of relationships in your life. "Release" is applicable to any and all.
When it all comes down to it, no matter what the thing done was, the emotional debt can never be "repaid", only forgiven. This release allows the victim to heal regardless of what happens with the perpetrator. Once I was able to break down what I understood forgiveness to be, I decided to start taking steps toward "release.” Eventually, I got there, and looking back, I know I made the right decision.