Thought for Thursday – Forgiveness Does NOT Mean Approval


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Over at SuzLyfe she talks about how sometimes the best part of a post is the comments. My comment is that I *always* ‘subscribe to comments’ because … well, because pretty much EVERY blog I read is because of something interesting they said in a comment on another blog I read.

The other day I had saved some messages in my inbox, and saw a blog comment from Running Bear that I saved to check out later, and strangely I thought it was from Cynthia’s ‘It’s Not OK to Grab Me’ post, when in fact it was from Ange’s ‘What I’ve Learned in 30’ years post.

Here is the line he cited:

#7 Forgiveness does not mean it is OK.

Since I was thinking in the context of my ‘morons in bloom’ post, I assumed I had just missed part of the ‘Not OK to grab’ story – and that might actually have made sense. But it made even more sense in the context of the actual post it came from. Here is the full quote:

7. Forgiveness doesn’t mean “it’s okay”
This is something I’ve been wrestling with until just a few weeks ago. I’ve been harbouring resentment towards people and a situation and it was just I really resisted forgiving because I didn’t want it to mean that I was okay with what happened. I wasn’t. But I realized that by hanging on to the past, I wasn’t allowing myself to move forward, so I needed to let it go.

That is a pretty important concept – that forgiving someone doesn’t mean telling them that what happened is OK.

There was a saying as a slogan for a major initiative at my old job ‘Silence is Approval’. The thought was that as part of this initiative everyone would be given the chance to comment and was required to attend sessions, so failure to engage meant you approved of things. However, many on the team found that when their comments would have resulted in changes or delays or other uncomfortable situations, they were not received well, and some who pushed the matter (as they were led to believe they were empowered to do) were removed from the team.

In that case Silence was NOT necessarily Approval … it could have meant Fear, or Insecurity, or Acquiescence, or merely Acceptance. The result was a process that got few comments and the roll-out was an unmitigated disaster that spawned ANOTHER project to fix all of the mistakes – many that had been brought up from the start.

My point is that when we are silent there is no direct context – but when we SPEAK, then WE can provide that context. We can say that our words have a certain meaning. But we can’t always say it to the person who needs to HEAR those words … so we need to accept that hearing ourselves say them is enough.


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So if Forgiveness does NOT mean approval … what DOES it mean?

Forgiveness means letting go of hate and anger

In the comments on my ‘morons in bloom’ post, people brought up specific instances and examples – some were clearly ‘in the past’, others were still troubling.

When something random happens it is hard to frame it in the context of forgiveness, because there is no one to really forgive directly. But all of those feelings are trapped inside of you, so allowing yourself to forgive them will allow you to remove those poison thoughts and anger from inside, which will then set you free.

Forgiveness means moving on with your life

Sometimes a situation is not resolved, which causes a continued sense of discomfort and emotional turmoil. Sometimes you know that the other person cannot or will not change, so there is no way to really move forward together. Forgiveness can allow you to say ‘I no longer hold anger at your past actions’. But implied there is that in the future things need to change in order for the relationship to progress.

The context I see for this is mostly relationships, and in the situation where one person has grown and changes have made the current state untenable. Forgiving the other person for trying to stop you from growing allows you to free yourself of the responsibility of fulfilling a certain role.

Forgiveness means forcing the other person to move on

When someone has directly wronged us and they KNOW they were in the wrong, it creates a bond – even if we don’t want one. Resolution of the incident is required for both parties to move on, so by forgiving the other person – even if they haven’t apologized – you are working to sever that bond, which can allow you to move on and also lets the other person stop dealing with the specifics of the situation and instead to address the underlying issues.

But by severing the ties, by accepting that Forgiveness means it is no longer your problem, it also means that you are not responsible for helping the other person deal with the outcomes of the mess they created.

Forgiveness means close one door, but not necessarily opening another

Most of us have lives littered with all sorts of relationships in a variety of states. The sad reality is that over our lifetime most of us have had thousands of bad, broken or hurtful relationships – sometimes through intent, sometimes loaded with regret.

I talked about how many people with ‘complicated’ relationships with my alma mater and fraternity I talked to or heard about during my reunion last month. Forgiveness can mean many things in this context – ultimately it is all about accepting that we all make mistakes … and that sometimes the best way to deal with them is just to say “I forgive you, but will never talk to or see you again, because THAT is what is best for ME.”

Forgiveness doesn’t absolve YOU of all responsibility

While there are many times when one person wrongs another, there are also many times when a situation arises based on a conflict owned by two or more people. You might be upset, and the other person apologizes, you forgive them and you move on … right?

Not so fast … one common topic with many bloggers is being ‘over apologetic’. I know of at least four people who are very likely apologizing to someone right now for something that isn’t really their fault. (and I’m sure they’re sorry for THAT!).

Apologizing can seem to assign a hierarchy of blame and responsibility, but often that blame is not in line with reality. So what can we do? Again, look inside of yourself – if you are unsettled with the outcome, chances are they are unresolved issues. If you are too quick to accept an apology and offer forgiveness, perhaps you have created another situation that needs to be resolved.

Forgiveness means giving yourself the closeure you deserve

Ultimately forgiveness is about YOU. You are releasing feelings, releasing anger, moving on, letting go, taking control, or some combination of those.

Forgiveness is incredibly powerful – but much harder than it seems. We’ve all gotten apologies that were not genuine; similarly unless we are really ready to offer forgiveness, it is just words.

But when an apology is genuine, and forgiveness is also genuine, the possibility of find a clear path to emotional freedom is there … and when you find yourself free from an emotionally smothering situation – it is cause to rejoice.

And for those who still think that forgiveness means it is okay, chat with disapproving otter:

Disapproving Otter

So what situations have you needed to forgive someone or be forgiven?

15 thoughts on “Thought for Thursday – Forgiveness Does NOT Mean Approval

  1. Great food for thought. I tend to be one to apologize for a lot of things, even when it’s not my fault. I don’t know why I do it, it just comes out, I need to work on that.

    One situation that comes to mind where I needed to forgive someone was around my wedding. Robyn and I planned a destination wedding and gave everyone almost 2 years notice. Robyn’s brother and wife said they didn’t have the money to go and didn’t want to go away without the kids (it was an adults only resort) but then went on an extravagant cruise a few weeks after our wedding just the two of them. It led to us not talking to them for a little over a year as there were many hurt feelings, not only on Robyn’s side because of his brother (and a lot more reasons), but with my SIL who is also my BF. After a little over a year of not speaking, my SIL reached out to apologize and while I listened to her and forgave her, it definitely doesn’t mean I approve of how they went about things, so this post definitely resonates with me. I have gotten better over the years at forgiving people, but in many cases I don’t approve of or forget why things have happened.

    • Weddings can be incredibly divisive things that are SUPPOSED to be uniting. I would be right with you on your feelings … and I remember a feud between my dad and uncle over seating at my sister’s wedding – and my parents didn’t want me to invite my uncle (my godfather) to my wedding … but I did, though he declined (with a call, actually). They brothers just reconciled a couple of years ago – now that they are separated by 1000 miles and may never see each other in person. And for my wedding … yeah, let’s just say my sister and I have not chatted too much in the last 22 or so years 😉

  2. Love this post. Something traumatic happened to me exactly one week after my first “date” with my husband (not so much a date as a group outing that eventually was just the 2 of us, but I consider it our first date). In many ways, I think that traumatic event brought us together, he was so wonderful as a friend and support. I harbored hatred for a long time over that event. And beyond hating the perpetrator, I also hated the DA for letting him plead out, and the criminal justice system in general for taking so long. For more than 6 months, I harbored that hatred and even considered bringing a civil suit. But at some point, I realized that at most a civil suit would result in some money but take more time and emotional energy from my life, and I just let it go. Let go of the hate, forgave, and chose to focus on the positive (my relationship with my husband) that grew from that event. I’d have no reason to encounter that man now, it wasn’t anyone I knew, so he would have no idea if I hate or forgive him, but it still surprises me sometimes if he crosses my mind, there’s no anger anymore. Sympathy maybe for his bad choices, hope he doesn’t hurt anyone else, but mostly just acceptance of it. A much better way to live.

    • That is awful – but what you say “much better way to live”, is so very true. And like you say, out of the injustice came something wonderful …

  3. When I saw the post title, I thought to myself “hey, that was a point that resonated with me earlier this week”, and then inside the post saw we’re thinking about the same thing, very cool.

    Ever since reading the post at Cowgirl Runs, forgiveness has been on my mind. There is a key relationship in my life where I’m seething with anger at the other person. My inability to let go of that anger has led me to behave equally poorly in the relationship. If I can find a way to forgive, and let go of my anger towards the other person, and my own anger at myself for escalating things, I’d have a way to start repairing.

    I’m not going to have instant results, but based on Ange’s post, and this one following up on the idea, there’s a place to start, food for thought. I want it to develop into me being able to take action and at the very least get my own head screwed on straight, maybe over time can help the relationship repair.

    • Your comment, albeit short, absolutely resonated with me – talking about ‘breathing it in and holding on to it’ … I changed my planned post for today because I couldn’t get it out of my head.

      I know I am better at forgiving – and at separating forgiveness and not forgetting – than my wife. But at first I was TOO forgiving, so I had to make progress in that direction. I like to think I am pretty good now – I don’t harbor hatred of anyone. It is a life-long struggle.

  4. Great words as always. I tend to really hold onto things (especially when I am overtired, overworked, overall exhausted) that’s when I’ll pull them into fights and not ‘fight fair’. It goes along your lines, that sure I have forgave an action but it doesn’t mean that I will ever accept it as right. Some people can really forgive and forget, I know I am not one of those.

    • And I think that self-awareness is also very important … we all ‘push buttons’ with loved ones from time to time – and no, it is NOT fair, but we do it anyway. Sometimes I think that a lasting relationship is much about managing conflict as maximizing the good times.

  5. Issues with apologies and forgiveness are something that I run into a lot with a dear family member. I love this person to the ends of the Earth, but in a lot of ways we are like oil and water and disagreements happen OFTEN. She says a lot of things to me that aren’t okay and yet I find myself having to be the one apologizing just so there can be peace between us. It’s not necessarily fair and I never forget any of the things that were said to me but for the sake of less drama I’ve had to learn to let it go and move on.

    • I’m pretty sure you have talked about being too-quick to apologize before, and it really sucks because then it makes you feel like you have no standing. There is someone in Lisa’s family who cows everyone into submission with fear of how she fights and attacks … it is brutal, and just terrible to see.

  6. A very powerful post… I enjoyed it. I’ve been harboring pain due to a person who I cared deeply for (an ex) who not only took me for granted but went out of her way to hurt me and vilify me for reasons I still to this day don’t understand. Letting go has been difficult as there was no apology and no closure for me. I’m doing my best to forgive her, but boy it’s not easy.

    • Thanks for the comment Scott – and it is sad to see how often people go out of their way to hurt one another. I know of a couple of divorces of people close to me where things got ugly, including one where one of the people tried their best to poison the children against the other. It is ugly, ugly behavior that will ultimately only scar others. And it is the product of not being able to accept things … and I don’t know how the other person forgives doing that to their children. Sorry you have to go through that 😦

  7. I think that it is such a great point that you made that forgiveness, like speaking, puts the power in YOUR hands–it empowers YOU. I think that often people find forgiveness to be passive, as if one is saying “oh, it’s okay that you criticized and made fun of my brother to my face.” (that did happen to me, thus the reference), but really, forgiveness is active. Forgiving requires far more work and practice than staying angry, even though being angry FEELS active. But all being angry does is to give them the power in the relationship by consuming your thoughts and energy and keeping the two in the negative. If nothing else, one should forgive just to spite them. But never forget–know what happened, and learn from it, but don’t waste your energy on the dingbats of the world. You are full of all sorts of deep thoughts this week, my friend!

    • Awesome comment, Suz! And so,so very true – Lisa and I were discussing this last night, specific to weddings. The thing Sara brought up triggered discussions about issues from ours, and Lisa was saying how she still gets mad thinking about some things (this year is our 22nd anniversary) – but I don’t. And how do you DO that … and it isn’t easy. The expression ‘forgive … but never forget’ is really powerful, and honestly defines entirely too many of the relationships in my life.

  8. Pingback: Link Love 5/24 | Cowgirl Runs

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