The thing about forgiveness…
...so we all saw it. The image of the young Black man hugging a White woman who was convicted of murdering his brother. I have heard several comments about this moment. Many are enraged, some are confused, and others are inspired. A 20-second hug has sparked a critical conversation. What is happening here?
As a life coach, it immediately made me think about forgiveness; more specifically, how many people are totally confused about what it means to forgive. There are common misuses of the concept of forgiveness because many people don’t want to do the work to really forgive. Here are a few important tips that you should know about forgiveness:
Forgiveness does not mean you are okay with what happened. I often have clients who are clearly angry with their mother, not over their ex-partner, or upset about a bad investment. When it comes time to delve into their anger, hurt, or heartbreak, they shy away from the work by saying, “It’s no need to talk about my ex, I’ve forgiven him already.” Many people use forgiveness as a quick “get-out-of-jail-free” card. They are unwilling, or unable, to do the emotional work that true forgiveness requires. Forgiveness requires emotional honesty that includes allowing yourself to go through the emotional process that would allow for genuine forgiveness to take place. This includes open and genuine conversation (with someone else or with yourself) that allows for all feelings: anger, disappointment, hurt, rage, or jealousy to be present. You can’t heal what you can’t feel...the road to forgiveness is an emotional journey.
Forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences. Children “mess up” all the time. Parents are in a constant state of forgiveness with their children. Parents forgive their children for breaking a favorite vase, wrecking a new car, or eating all the food before anyone else could have some. Good parents understand that being forgiven doesn’t mean there are no consequences for choices. Even though your teenager snuck out to see her boyfriend, and you have forgiven her; she is still grounded for the rest of the month. This is also true in adult relationships. Forgiveness does not mean people should not be held accountable.
Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation or restoration of a relationship. I once had a boyfriend who didn’t treat me well. I kept asking for him to change his behavior but I did not see enough genuine change. I left the relationship. Upon ending the relationship I was accosted with a slew of texts that read, “I said, I am sorry. Why won’t you forgive me?” It concerned me that he somehow believed that I had not forgiven him. Actually, when I left the relationship, I had nothing to forgive him for. I was in full acceptance of his journey and his choices. I forgave myself for being resistant to that reality sooner. I forgave myself. I restored my relationship with me...but not with him.
Forgiveness does not mean you are “over it.” Forgiveness is a practice. It is a commitment to continuously being willing to forgive. Forgiving your mother for beating you everyday is not a one-and-done event. You have to be willing to forgive it again when you see a child being mistreated in a grocery store. You will have to forgive it once more when you struggle to put boundaries down with your children. Forgive it yet again, when you see an image that takes you back to that room, with that belt. You have to keep forgiving the thought that your childhood could have, should have, or would have been different. This forgiveness does not exonerate your mother from what happened, but it releases you from being at the effect of it for the rest of your life.
So here is the whole, unadulterated truth about forgiveness… ALL FORGIVENESS IS SELF FORGIVENESS (This is a radial concept so stay with me for a minute). Everyone is having an individual experience in life and no one is ever doing anything to you. They are just doing what they are doing, and for whatever reason they are part of your journey (which is why they are somewhere in your universe) to show you something about you or to help you learn something you need to learn. Therefore, there is really no need to forgive your partner for cheating on you. She cheated. She didn’t cheat on you. You were only at the effect of her dishonesty because of your relationship with her. There is nothing to really forgive her for...but there's a lot to forgive yourself for. Forgive yourself for not seeing the signs sooner. Forgive yourself for not trusting your gut. Forgive yourself for not leaving the first time. Forgive the thought that it was your fault. Forgive your mind for believing that it could have been any different.
You are not forgiving your kid for breaking your vase. You are forgiving your attachment to the vase. You are forgiving yourself for thinking it should not have broken. You are forgiving your thoughts. You are always forgiving you. All forgiveness is self-forgiveness.
The truth is Botham Jean’s brother, Brandt, has a lot to forgive...and it’s not really about forgiving Amber Guyger. He might have to forgive himself for not calling his brother more. Or forgive the thought that his brother died too soon. Or forgive the thought that he should have died differently. And maybe he will also have to forgive himself for hugging Amber Guyger when he was an 18-year old boy experiencing trauma after the tragic loss of his brother...or maybe not.
But what about you? What do you have to forgive yourself for? Because peace is on the other side of forgiveness. Can you forgive yourself? If you need support in forgiving yourself, I would love to support you because you, above all people, deserve your own forgiveness.
Dr. Adrianne R. Pinkney
Integrative Wellness & Life Coach