Forgiveness, a Comprehensive Topic

When I first turned my attention to forgiveness, it seemed a worthwhile, if unexciting, topic.  But as I immersed myself, I realized that forgiveness is as fundamental and important as any topic in psychology.  There are few places it can’t take you.  It embraces the meaning of love and hate, the nature of dependency, the torments of envy, the problems of narcissism and paranoia, as well as the tension between self-hatred and self-acceptance, between striving for maturity and refusing to grow up. . . .

In our capacity or failure to forgive we reveal our ability to recognize the humanity in someone who has hurt or disappointed us, as well as to see our own limitations and complicity.  It represents an ability to imagine what life is like on the other side of the fence, where another human being is engaged in his own struggle, to let go of the expectation that people exist to be just what we need them to be.  And this sensibility applies to our view of ourselves, too:  for forgiving others is nothing but the mirror image of forgiving oneself.  Significant acts of forgiveness also entail letting go of a precious story we tell about ourselves, risking the awareness of a larger, less self-justifying truth.

What we do in the realm of forgiveness . . . speaks to the magnitude of our self-centeredness and the extent to which we organize the world into a simple pattern of good versus bad, as opposed to a more mature ability to tolerate ambiguity and ambivalence.  In the capacity to forgive we see our largeness of heart.  And, in struggling to forgive what is most difficult for us to forgive, we reveal our courage, imagination, and potential for growth.  The development of forgiveness is, I now think, as clear a marker of general psychological development as there is.

— Robert Karen, PhD, The Forgiving Self, p. 9-10

Don’t Get Ahead of Your Nose

God’s presence can’t be experienced except moment by moment, and that means we have to show up in each moment.  Getting ahead of this moment in regard to our relationships, our vocations, our dreams, and aspirations simply prevents us from knowing God. . . .

In my role as a mentor to a number of young women, I often say, “Don’t get ahead of your nose.”  It’s a great reminder that one is projecting, and it quickly brings us back to the present.  I also suggest that whenever thoughts of the future come into your mind, you envision blowing them away.  This may sound silly but it’s effective.  I have used it for years.

Karen Casey, Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow, p. 29

A Higher Way

It is not punishment.  God never punishes.  And He well knows how you have been longing to do His will.  This sickness has been given you as a loving message to help you understand that there was a still higher and more heavenly way of reacting to the wounds and troubles that you were experiencing than you knew about.  Certainly God gave you a glorious victory even though your feelings were so wounded; you were delivered from resentment and were able to accept it all with forgiveness.  But perhaps there was a little self-pity because you did not realize about the glorious principle I have been sent to share with you.  For there is a still higher level of acceptance possible, and that is to accept everything that happens with praise, thanksgiving, and joy, knowing that every seeming affliction is really a blessing in disguise.  God allows only the very best things possible to happen to you at any particular time; that is to say, exactly the things and situations that are best fitted to help you, because they afford you the opportunity of reacting just as Jesus did.  Learning by His grace to react with praise and thanksgiving even to things that appear most evil, unjust, cruel, and deplorable, because God is allowing this opportunity to bring good out of evil, is just like waving a magic wand over an evil enchantment and being able to replace cruel spells with heavenly miracles.

— Hannah Hurnard, Eagles’ Wings to the Higher Places, p. 56-57

Upgrading Your Stories

When we upgrade, we are trading . . . Story for Story.  We’re not trying to convince ourselves we can change the truth about ourselves by reciting endless affirmations.  That hardly respects our intelligence and, furthermore, it doesn’t work.  As long as we hold that something is the truth, it is unchangeable.  As soon as we recognize it for what it is, however, a story, the story buffer line is open and we can help ourselves to a better one.

Regarding our Stories, the question is never “Is it true?” because it can’t be true; it’s just a Story.  The question also isn’t “Is it the right Story?” because that implies there’s only one correct choice.  The most helpful question is “Is this Story useful?”  Given what I care about, what I want to contribute, and what matters to me, is the story I’m telling myself a useful one?  Most of us constantly replay hundreds of inherited default Stories that trample our life energy and steal our peace of mind.

— Victoria Castle, The Trance of Scarcity:  Stop Holding Your Breath and Start Living Your Life, p. 35-36

The Present

Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future.  Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for.  The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.

— C. S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time” (The Weight of Glory), quoted in A Year with C. S. Lewis, p. 323


It is a miracle if you can find true friends, and it is a miracle if you have enough food to eat, and it is a miracle if you get to spend your days and evenings doing whatever it is you like to do, and the holiday season — like all the other seasons — is a good time not only to tell stories of miracles, but to think about the miracles in your own life, and to be grateful for them.

— Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal

Forgiveness as a Way of Being

Forgiveness is an aspect of the workings of love.  It can be a bridge back from hatred and alienation as well as a liberation from two kinds of hell: bitterness and victimhood on one side; guilt, shame, and self-recrimination on the other.  The wish to repair a wounded relationship, whether it takes the form of forgiveness, apology, or some other bridging gesture, is a basic human impulse.  The need to forgive — which may grow out of understanding, gratitude, sympathy, regret over the hurt one has caused, or simply a wish to reunite — may be as strong as the need to be forgiven, even if it comes upon us more subtly.

All sustained relationships depend to some extent on forgiveness.  Successful marriage means an inevitable round of disappointment, anger, withdrawal, repair.  People hurt each other no matter how much love they share, and it’s a truism that the greatest hurts are meted out by the closest of intimates.  No friendship, no marriage, no family connections of any kind would last if the silent reparative force of forgiveness were not working almost constantly to counteract the incessant corrosive effects of resentment and bitterness, which would otherwise tear us apart.  Without forgiveness there could be no allowance for human frailty.  We would keep moving on, searching for perfect connections with mythical partners who would never hurt or disappoint.  In that sense, forgiveness should be thought of not only as a discrete event but also as a way of being.

— Robert Karen, PhD, The Forgiving Self: The Road from Resentment to Connection, p. 5-6

Choosing to Let Go

You always have the choice between hanging on and letting go.  Next time you’re beginning to feel overly victimized by life, practice saying, “So what?” to yourself and feel the anxiety drop away.

— Karen Casey, Change Your Mind and Your Life Will Follow, p. 22

By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

You can only distinguish truth from error in one way: namely, by the fruits that follow in your own life and the lives of those who proclaim what they call truth.  That is, if the new illumination gives you the power to love and trust God more than you did before; to love all your fellow men in the One Body of Mankind; and to long to treat them only as you wish to be treated yourself; this is how you may discern the truth.  If you are able to love even those who wound your feelings and misconstrue your intentions; to accept it all with no resentment, bitterness, or self-pity, but with praise and thanksgiving, just as Jesus would; if this new belief raises you to a still higher level of love than you had reached before, then you may be sure that what you have seen is not false, but a part of a higher truth that you have not yet seen fully. . . .

It is possible, however, that in the future you may believe that you have been shown a yet higher facet of truth and find yourself reacting to reproaches and misunderstanding with resentment or anger.  You may begin to feel superior to others and to forget that even those who attack you are members of the One Body of Mankind in whom the Lord of Love is also conscious.  You may begin to belittle or to denounce them and to exalt yourself in your own thoughts.  Then you may well doubt whether the new supposed truth is true after all.  For only what is true itself can deliver you and set you free from everything which is not of the truth, and which is unlike the Ideal of the Kingdom of Heaven.  So, remember, you can only discern between truth and falsity, the good and the evil, by the attitudes, reactions, and way of life which they awaken in you as you accept them.

— Hannah Hurnaud, Eagles’ Wings to the Higher Places, p. 52-53

The Truth

Still, the truth with all its potential for causing pain is real and enduring — it won’t go away.  Unlike the confusing and ephemeral lie, the truth informs, clarifies, and teaches.  The truth feels right because it is right.

Even if the particular relationship they were in didn’t have a happy ending, the women who were told the truth were given a powerful gift.  They finally had a chance to understand what was really happening.  They had won another chance to build their future on more solid ground.  Although they had feared the truth, it was the lie and all it represented that had caused them and their partnerships the most grievous damage and robbed them of choice.

— Dory Hollander, PhD, 101 Lies Men Tell Women: And Why Women Believe Them, p. 270-271