The Heart of the Matter
It is a rare person who moves through life untouched by betrayal, hurt and anger. Most of us have known the sting of being wronged in some way by someone we cared about, whom we had expected more from. When a rift occurs, a price often has to be paid.
Revenge and comeuppance are rife in our culture, and it can be entertainingly satisfying to vicariously enjoy the triumphs of mistreated people who turn the tables on their tormentors – think of Cinderella, or The Count of Monte Cristo. But the demand for retribution is not confined to the past – the social mores of today celebrate this behaviour and mindset; almost the entire canon of reality television features some aspect of someone getting their just desserts for the audience’s entertainment. And in this pervasive atmosphere of righting wrongs, what gets forgotten is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an unfashionable a concept. It carries with it inaccurate whiffs of weakness, cowardice or avoidance, when it is, of course, far more difficult and courageous to truly forgive those who have done us wrong, without expecting any kind of recompense in return. To paraphrase Tony Kushner: forgiveness results when justice is tempered by love.
In therapy, clients often have at least one person (often more) that they need to forgive in order to let go and move forward with their lives. Many times, it is a parental figure, or a partner or other loved one; sometimes, it is themselves who need to be forgiven. In every instance, the choice to forgive involves a clear-eye recognition that justice is required – a price needs to be paid for the hurt and pain that has arisen; but when love is appropriately applied to the circumstances, forgiveness can be broached, and a freedom from the grudging chains that have kept a client stuck in a place of misery can start to be loosened and eventually released. Clients who choose to forgive have a powerful experience of recognizing their strength, their resilience, as well as their tenderness and open-heartedness.