Does “Forgiveness” Make Sense?

Is there another way to get beyond anger?

A beautiful sunrise

How many times have we heard victims of senseless crimes confront the perpetrators of their injuries with some version of : “I won’t let you take more of my life. I refuse to hold on to my anger. I forgive you.”

Anger is, for the most part, an emotion that drains energy, crowds out other feelings, and sometimes provokes destructive action. For a person to be “stuck in anger” is to be limited from the freedom to experience life in all its complexity and nuance.

My wisest mentor, Dr. Elvin Semrad, used to say: “What do we do with feelings? First we acknowledge them, then we bear them, and finally, we put them into perspective.” Anger must be acknowledged, and it must be borne. The bearing of it is a considerable challenge. An overload of anger can fuel depression. But, eventually, with the acceptance of the reality that what has passed cannot be undone, anger can evolve to sadness and grief. Waves of grief are a natural and painful process, requiring time.

When I hear, “I forgive you,” I cringe. Maybe the person suffering injury and loss believes that “forgiving” the perpetrator is the way to get rid of anger. However, I believe that there is no way around but through.

The wisdom of the I Ching encourages the process of wholesome detachment. Being attached to a perpetrator through anger generates and perpetuates the experience of being stuck in anger. “Forgiving” the perpetrator will not work as a short cut to wholesome detachment. Accepting and living through the sadness and pain of whatever has been lost — the reality that exists following a trauma — is the way through.

A courageous and true statement could be:

“You have injured me. I have felt rage. I have felt sadness and am still experiencing waves of sadness and grief. My sadness and grief may know no end. But my rage is quieting. I choose not to stir up the ashes of anger that your injury to me has caused. I do not have the power to grant Forgiveness. If there is such a Power, it is not mine.”