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  • Forgiveness is a somewhat cloudy concept

    In an ideal world, forgiveness is an expression of universal love and understanding from a person who has suffered from someone else’s deeds. In Harlow Broome’s words this is a cure all.

    At least it could be or it should be, and that’s where my discomfort with the concept begins. The world is not ideal, and that makes forgiveness so elusive. When I start writing about it i get lost, confused. What is it?

    In Logosynthesis terms, forgiveness refers a process in which energy has been bound and is now released. The energy was bound after a person A acted in a way that another person or party B suffered pain or damage. It was clear from the beginning that A’s behaviour was generally to be judged as ‘bad’, ‘intolerable’, or even ‘off the wall’, also for a ‘neutral’ observer. From this perspective, people assume that B has a reason and a right to be disappointed, angry or shocked. Person A is guilty.

    To name this phenomenon and to manage it, the English language offers a range of expressions: ‘Excuse me’ ‘I apologize’ and ‘Forgive me’, whereby ‘Excuse me’ or ‘Sorry’ is used as a ritual to cushion the impact of an everyday intrusion, and ‘Forgive me’ is reserved for more serious matters. Apologizing feels somewhere in between, and the boundaries between those words are blurred for me as a non-native speaker.

    The trouble in this field already starts with the word ‘excuse’, which is a kind of opposite of ‘accuse’. In ac-cusing, in which you put the c(a)use of a discomfort towards (ad) the other person. By excusing yourself you turn the matter into something that does not c(a)use trouble. You take yourself as a c(a)se out of it: ex-cuse.

    If a person A excuses herself towards a person B, that ritual is often so powerful that it’s almost impossible for B to refuse the intrusion without being considered crude. At first sight, person A seems to have the role of a humble underdog in the situation, but if we look closely, A can just as well be the topdog, manipulating B into adaptive behaviour: “Excuse me, do you have a cigarette for me?”

    If an everyday excuse is already difficult to refuse or defend against, it becomes even more difficult when serious damage is done, and this may be the cause of Harlow’s discomfort. The husband who has had an affair, or the politician who has been caught with his hand in the treasure chest are not really credible when they beg for forgiveness. Have you ever heard an adolescent say ‘Sorry!’ after being pushed to apologise? Did you believe it?

    Why not? It’s because of the dissociation involved in it. The adolescent wants to go out, but is still depending on his parents. One part of the husband really loves his wife and appreciates everything she offers him, and at the same time another part has other desires. The wife has similar, corresponding parts: One desperately wants to be loved and to belief the sinner, another simply doesn’t, never will and feels she has a reason to be angry. These dissociated parts are rarely integrated through ritual forgiveness.

    It’s this dissociative dimension that makes forgiveness so irritating. We’re not naive, we’re all aware that forgiveness doesn’t cover the whole of our mental/energetic structures, but we would be so happy if it would. If we would really forgive, everything could be forgotten. It’s not, it’s only covered with the cloak of charity. Nothing is gained in the long run.

    The matter gets even more complicated because forgiveness is labeled as good, noble, or even superior in the context of moral and religion. Christianity teaches us to turn the other cheek if someone hurts us, but sinners are forgiven if they confess and practise humility and repentance.

    Also here the split is clear. One part wants to express anger at that sinner and another – more holy – part *should* act against that inclination. It’s clear that this is only going to work for a certain time: In the fight between parts the frontal brain never wins against the limbic system for longer than a few days or weeks.
    These are the reasons why I avoid the word forgiveness in my work. When it comes to restoring the balance in an ongoing relationship, I prefer the concept of reconnection, or rather reconnecting.

    Reconnecting refers to a process in which something has gone terribly wrong, we both suffer from its consequences, and we want do something about it. Then of us takes the responsibility for their own role in this dis-connection. Questions arise: Which signs did I miss, being caught up in my own needs, wishes, desires, expectations, fantasies, memories or beliefs? What changes did I go through that I didn’t communicate?

    In this exploration frozen energy structures will emerge from the depth of our unconscious minds. There will be memories of abandonment, unfulfilled childhood needs on both sides, and both will have to admit that we have not been able to choose a loving, adult way of managing those experiences. If we bring that out into the open both of us will be ashamed and vulnerable. Only this will create a space to express a heartfelt “I’m sorry”, leading to a heartfelt reconnection.