Forgiveness XI

Every time I think I’m done writing about forgiveness, I get another freaking idea for another freaking poem. The topic is just so interesting to me– there’s so much there to explore.

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Do not confuse
denial
with forgiveness.

You cannot forgive
something you haven’t yet
let yourself feel.

I repeat:
you cannot forgive
something you haven’t yet
let yourself feel.

Forgiveness IX

I’m so, SO proud of this one.

Be sure to read the end note, in which I shout out the authors whose ideas I reference in the poem.

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Anger and forgiveness
are like yin and yang:
both can be bad,
both can be good.

If someone has hurt you
deeply,
for heaven’s sake,
don’t forgive them
immediately.
Especially not
if you are in danger
of further harm—
physical or emotional.
Be fucking angry.
Be angry enough
to set boundaries,
or to run
far,
far,
away,
until you reach a healthier,
safer
place.
Sometimes,
we must learn to love ourselves
enough to hate those
who hurt us.

Embody your anger—
feel it unabashedly.
Let it give you self-esteem.
Soak up all of its positive aspects–
its power,
its calls to action,
the recognition that you did NOT deserve
what happened.
Anger is your immune system
against injustice.
Hold onto it
if it’s cleaning you.

Be angry for as long as you need to.
No one has the right to tell you
if and when
to forgive.
Not now,
not ever.
Only you
know what is right for you.
Listen deeply
to the still, small voice
within.

And then one day,
perhaps in the middle
or distant future,
you might find
that your anger
has stopped being
your immune system
and started being
the virus.
You might find
that it has stopped
healing you
and started
making you sick.
If that happens,
consider forgiveness.

Now, I want to be abundantly clear:
FORGIVENESS
DOES NOT MEAN
THAT WHAT THEY DID
WAS OKAY.
You can forgive someone
and still condemn their actions.
You can forgive someone
and still chose to never speak to them again.

There are two kinds
of forgiveness:
the unhealthy kind,
which involves denial
and permissiveness,
and the healthy kind,
which involves
deep truth,
deep love,
deep accountability,
and, often,
deep discomfort.
It acknowledges
*exactly* how bad things were.
It holds everything
that does not align
with truth and love
to the fire.
Unhealthy forgiveness
involves giving your power away.
Healthy forgiveness
IS your power.
It is looking directly
into the shadows
and choosing
the light.
It is fighting the beast head-on
and coming out of the arena alive.
It is acknowledging the depth
of an event’s impact on you,
while deciding
not to be defined by it.
It surrendering
to your own annihilation,
having faith
that you will find
something in you
that is indestructible.
And that someday,
against all odds,
you will be okay again.


Don’t forgive
in hopes that the person you’re forgiving
will appreciate your forgiveness—
they might not.
Don’t forgive
in hopes that it will repair a relationship—
it might not.
Don’t forgive
in hopes of being a hero—
you might be one,
but even so,
others may not see you
that way.
Do forgive
because you deserve peace—
you do.
Do forgive
in order to move forward
and live a fuller life—
you will.


Anger and Forgiveness
are like yin and yang:
both can be bad,
both can be good.
If/when forgiveness is hurting you,
be angry.
If/when anger is hurting you,
forgive.

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Authors and speakers who inspired aspects of this poem:

  1. Martha Beck— I stole the idea of anger as our “immune system against injustice” from Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star. The first time I read that section, I was floored– it completely changed how I view anger. I love the perspective that there are positive sides to every so-called “negative” emotion. I think it’s critically important that we understand anger’s positive qualities and the messages it sends us. This is especially true for women, as our culture often tries to shame us out of our anger.
  2. Pema Chodron— I adapted a breathtaking quote from her book When Things Fall Apart for use in my poem: “Only to the extent to which we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.”
  3. Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger— (TRIGGER WARNING: rape, sexual violence) In their TED talk, Elva says, “regardless of whether or not he deserved my forgiveness, I deserved peace.” This statement helped me reframe how I view forgiveness.
    [Side note: I recognize that this talk is controversial. While I don’t think it was the speakers’ intention to convey this message, I do want to assert my own belief that forgiveness is a personal choice and should *NEVER* be held up as a goal or moral standard for survivors of trauma. Period.]
  4. Desmond Tutu— His book No Future Without Forgiveness, about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, is disturbing, heartbreaking, beautiful, thought-provoking, and deeply challenging. He and I share similar views about forgiveness, many of which I came to on my own prior to reading this book. That said, I have to give his writing a shout-out, because he has much more wisdom and life experience to share than I do, and he articulates his views far more beautifully than I can. If you liked the perspectives on forgiveness I expressed in this poem, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.