Monday, April 17, 2023
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Why you don’t have to choose forgivenes

‘If forgiveness is forced, it can be damaging’ (Picture: Getty Images/Refinery29 RF)

Sian Winslade spent years estranged from a family member, saying it was ‘incredibly tough at times’.

‘In the end,’ the Life Coach Directory member tells, ‘I concluded that what they had done wasn’t the worst thing in the world but that healing time and developing maturity was crucial.’

Even though she wasn’t guilted into forgiveness by anybody during this time, Sian says if she had been she would have ‘rebelled’ against the pressure, which could have led her to never having reconciled at all.

Counsellor and therapist Beth Roberts says that forgiveness shouldn’t just be the default goal in situations like this.

She explains: ‘I think too much emphasis can be put on forgiveness rather than acceptance. Acceptance is much more achievable in some circumstances and the beauty of acceptance is that by accepting something you aren’t saying it is okay, you are just accepting that it has happened (which can bring peace).

‘Forgiveness, when people feel forced into it and when it isn’t authentic (or perhaps even safe), can be damaging.

‘I do appreciate forgiveness, for some people, can be very freeing and right for them, but it isn’t always possible or appropriate.’

Sian adds that within the family dynamic, ‘estrangement can be subtle but extremely complex. It is not always the right choice to forgive, but it can offer healing and closure.

‘If forgiveness is forced, it can be damaging and compromise one’s mental health and wellbeing.’

‘It is not something you do for anyone else’ (Picture: Getty Images/Refinery29 RF)

But ‘not forgiving’ isn’t code for ‘staying bitter’, which doesn’t do us any good in the long run.

Sian says: ‘Bitterness can be harmful because it can affect an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

‘It can cause a decreased life satisfaction and a sense of living in the past instead of being present and creating a better future from the present perspective.’

Beth tells us there are two chief ways to make sure bitterness doesn’t reign supreme.

‘Firstly,’ she explains, ‘by making sure that you accept the situation. This may require some processing (for example working with a counsellor or journaling). Accepting the situation doesn’t mean you are saying what happened is okay, you are just choosing to move forward.

‘Secondly, you can make sure it doesn’t turn into bitterness by making sure you move forward and flourish despite what has happened. There aren’t many sweeter things than achieving your dreams despite having been wronged.’

There’s also more than one way to forgive somebody.

Counselling Directory member Dr Aisha Tariq says: ‘It is not something you do for anyone else, you do it purely for your own benefit.

‘It is important to remember that you have a right to choose what is best for you. To clarify, forgiveness does not need to mean reconciliation, but healing and having closure within ourselves can be just as meaningful without speaking directly to the family member that has wronged us.

‘Making an informed decision is incredibly important, and perhaps finding resources such as therapy may help with this.’

So what kinds of things could be considered forgiveness red flags?

Sian says deciding this kind of thing is ‘always deeply personal and subjective’.

‘You can tell if [something] is too horrible or hurtful [to forgive if it’s] in violation of your personal values, and it may involve conflict with your ethical and moral beliefs. The person/s may have risked your personal safety or wellbeing. 

‘If the person who wronged you shows no signs of remorse or accountability for their actions and continues to engage in harmful behaviours, this may be difficult to forgive. If the wrongdoing has significant psychological, physical, or emotional harm, this could also be jeopardising your safety.

‘This could involve abuse, betrayal, humiliation, and deep-rooted trauma. All of which would be difficult to forgive.’

As for anybody who makes you feel like you should be reconciling when you aren’t ready, Beth says there’s ‘very little to be said’ to a person like that.

‘Who you forgive and who you speak to is your choice,’ she adds.

‘Having said this, it can always be worth checking in on the reasons you aren’t speaking to someone. If it is a case of pride being hurt or you have got into the habit of not speaking to someone but can’t seem to remember why, perhaps it may be time to revisit the situation.

‘That would be up to the individual themselves and not anyone else.’

In all, it pays to remember that forgiveness is not mandatory if it doesn’t lead to resolution or healing.

‘For some, estrangement can be a huge relief as it is a move away from the toxicity and struggle that family life can sometimes present,’ says Sian.

‘In the end, it must be about the individual’s personal journey.’

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