Does forgiveness mean reconciliation?

“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat……Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behaviour, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established………Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should they finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation………Forgiveness does not excuse anything………You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely. And then one day you will pray for his wholeness……”
― William P. Young, The Shack

I am a huge fan of Paul Young’s books but also his presentations on ‘YouTube’ about his life and philosophy.  The quote above cuts to the heart of many conversations I have when I’m counselling clients who have suffered abuse and who feel betrayed by people they trust.

In most cases emotionally broken people tend to inflict their brokenness on others. Many who have been sexually abused become the abusers, those who suffered under parents who are alcoholic often cause their own family to suffer the same fate. Those around us become the recipients of rage because they have unknowingly become the vicarious recipients of transferred rage. We carry others broken pain and blame ourselves, we feel there is something wrong with us. Ordinary observations are often misinterpreted to mean something negative towards us, our emotional pain causing us to suspect wrong motives or evil intent behind other people’s actions, destroying our ability to trust. I have been in situations with clients who 30 years after suffering abuse, flinch if I move too quickly in my chair. This is a virus that we have caught from others and if not cured will not only kill any happy future we could have but also the ones closest to us.

So, what is the cure?  Forgiveness! The pain we suffer at the hands of others is not deserved and should not be carried as guilt, shame or anger, this is not the state of mind we should be in. It stops us from letting genuine friendship, love and gratitude into our lives. We deserve, self-forgiveness! Often, we struggle with the word forgiveness, and rightfully so. We do not want the people who made us feel this way think it is ok. We need to choose not to spread the brokenness they gave us to others and make our own condition worse. Hanging on to the anger and resentment will just be transmitted back into yourself and others around you.

What am I saying? I am saying that we should not carry a burden that is not ours to carry – release yourself and be free from it.

Reconciliation is something different entirely.  Reconciliation is choosing not only to forgive but to take a step further and begin to trust someone again.  It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two active participants to reconcile. Forgiveness for past wrongs however, does not guarantee a future relationship. Forgiveness does not equal total reconciliation- it is not always wise to let everyone back in.

Sometimes in life, we learn that certain people are toxic to us. Actual reconciliation requires that both parties are actively working for the good of the other person and the good of the relationship. You can forgive people, but you cannot force them to make that effort. And, if you do not feel you can and they won’t, then that is ok and more than likely healthier for us as long as we have forgiven ourselves and not carry all that negative emotion around.

We need to start to value ourselves regardless of the brokenness we have been carrying and are now letting go. Our self-worth is our own point of view. By changing our mindset, we will build self-esteem. Most importantly, know that we deserve to be a confident, happy people. Recognise our progress and be persistent – Permanent change takes time!

We are worth it.

David Lloyd

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