Forgiveness Isn’t Always the Answer According to Experts

Forgiveness Isn’t Always the Answer According to Experts

In “Forgiveness Isn't Always the Answer According to Experts,” Christina Caron delves into the complex nature of forgiveness, emphasizing that it's not a one-size-fits-all remedy. You'll explore Amanda Gregory's journey through childhood trauma and her eventual realization as a Chicago-based trauma therapist that forgiveness isn't essential for healing. Experts weigh in, offering varied perspectives on how letting go of ill will can sometimes be more harmful than helpful, especially for trauma survivors. The article redefines forgiveness, stressing that while it can foster peace, it shouldn't be pursued under societal pressure or as a compulsory step towards emotional recovery. Have you ever found yourself grappling with whether to forgive someone who wronged you? Perhaps you've been told over and over again that forgiveness is a virtue, an essential step toward healing. But what if forgiveness isn't always the answer? What if, sometimes, it's perfectly okay to not forgive?

Forgiveness Isn’t Always the Answer According to Experts

Sometimes, Forgiveness Is Overrated

While extending an olive branch can promote healing and peace, recent discussions among experts reveal that forgiveness isn't something you should feel pressured to do. Let's dive into what these experts are saying and why the traditional narrative around forgiveness is being challenged.

A Personal Story: Amanda Gregory’s Journey

One of Amanda Gregory's dearest childhood memories is playing a game called “cockroach hunt” with her two brothers. Despite living in an unkempt house with grime-layered floors and cat urine-stained carpets, this game brought them joy and distraction.

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Amanda's childhood was marked by physical and emotional neglect. Her parents rarely spoke to their and barely took an interest in their well-being. When a knee injury required surgery due to floating bone chips, Amanda found herself pondering a significant question as a trauma therapist and patient: “Do I need to forgive my parents to make more progress in my recovery?”

Forgiveness Isn't Always The Answer According To Experts

Redefining Forgiveness

Traditionally, forgiveness has been understood as replacing ill will toward the offender with good will. Harvard's Tyler J. VanderWeele suggests that forgiveness entails choosing to give goodness to those who haven't been good to you. But can this really foster qualities like compassion and generosity, especially for those who have endured significant trauma?

Frederic Luskin, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, offers a different perspective: forgiveness as a path toward relinquishing revenge and hatred without needing to foster positive feelings toward the offender. His goal? To help people be at peace with their lives.

What Is Forgiveness?

To better understand this complex emotion, let's break down different perspectives on forgiveness:

Scholar/Expert Definition/Approach to Forgiveness Key Points
Tyler J. VanderWeele Replacing ill will toward the offender with good will Sought to cultivate compassion and generosity
Robert Enright Choosing to give goodness to those who haven't been good to you Often considered undeserved but virtuous
Frederic Luskin Relinquishing revenge and hatred without fostering positive feelings Aim for emotional neutrality and life peace

Forgiveness Isn't Always The Answer According To Experts

Is Forgiveness Necessary?

Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner, once claimed, “without forgiveness, without reconciliation, we have no future.” But must forgiveness always lead to reconciliation to avoid bitterness and resentment?

The Benefits of Forgiveness

Much has been written about why forgiveness is beneficial. In many religions, it's considered a virtue. Scientific studies have suggested that forgiveness can improve mental health, reduce depression and anxiety, lower stress, and even promote better physical health and sleep.

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Dr. VanderWeele acknowledges, “forgiveness is almost always helpful, but that is different from necessary.”

Forgiveness Isn't Always The Answer According To Experts

Forgiveness as an Emotional Process

In her upcoming book, “You Don't Need to Forgive: Trauma Recovery on Your Own Terms,” Amanda Gregory defines forgiveness as an emotional journey rather than an endpoint. She emphasizes this journey may lead to fewer negative emotions but does not necessarily require positive feelings toward the person who wronged you.

Rethinking What It Means to Forgive

Back in 2002, Sharon Lamb of UMass Boston questioned whether forgiveness is always therapeutic. She proposed that in some cases, forgiveness could even be harmful. According to Lamb, it's essential for people to feel and explore their emotions fully before jumping to forgiveness.

Similarly, Rosenna Bakari, an coach and survivor of childhood sexual abuse, found that allowing herself to feel angry and unforgiving was a more helpful path to healing than forgiveness.

Forgiveness Isn't Always The Answer According To Experts

Dealing with the Question of Forgiveness

If you're questioning whether you should forgive, consider this advice from Dr. Bakari: “Move away from the question and ask, ‘What do I need to work on to free myself?'”

Amanda Gregory shares that some of her clients choose not to pursue forgiveness yet make significant progress in their recovery. Meanwhile, others find it liberating. According to Gregory, forgiveness doesn't have to be a goal.

Achieving Forgiveness: When and How

How do you know it's time to forgive? Susan Shapiro, author of “The Forgiveness Tour,” faced this challenge after a fallout with her longtime therapist. Asking herself how to move on without the closure she craved, she realized that the widespread narrative around forgiveness could sometimes be self-destructive.

Shapiro ultimately chose to reconcile when her former mentor expressed genuine remorse. However, she stresses that forgiveness isn't immediate. People need time to grieve and process their emotions.

Forgiveness Isn't Always The Answer According To Experts

Taking Time for Genuine Healing

After years of contemplation, Amanda Gregory has not forgiven her father. However, she continues with her mother, whom she views as a product of her own difficult upbringing. Before considering forgiveness, significant emotional work may be necessary. Forgiveness is a messy process, often complex and deeply personal.

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Forgiveness is often touted as a necessary step toward healing, yet experts reveal it's not always the optimal or mandatory path. Whether stemming from religious beliefs, societal , or psychological theories, the pressure to forgive can sometimes do more harm than good.

The journey to recovery and peace is deeply personal, and it might not include forgiveness. Taking time to grieve, feel your emotions, and work through your pain can be just as, if not more, therapeutic. Whether you choose to forgive or not, what matters most is finding the path that leads to your healing.

So, next time you're faced with the dilemma of forgiving someone who wronged you, remember: you have the freedom to choose what feels right for you. Sometimes, forgiveness might be overrated. And that's perfectly okay.

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