Sunday, August 13, 2006

HSPs and Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something I have struggled with fully understanding, over the years.

What does it mean? What does it mean to ME? When is it authentic and releasing, and when is it just like the infamous "solicited apology" in disguise? When is it healthy, when is it not?

In the world of the tolerant and empathic (such as HSPs tend to be), I think there's an unhealthy tendency towards "over-forgiveness," often born out of low self-esteem. We "forgive" people a million sins, not because we truly forgive their transgressions, but because we fear we'll be rejected and abandoned if we don't. Or we have persuaded ourselves that our empathy "demands" that we forgive people, no matter what.

In my opinion, that's hardly an emotionally "healthy" response. But it is one I have seen a lot. I observe HSPs squeeze themselves through the eye of a needle with words like "I forgive him/her because he/she can't help... (fill in awful behavior of your choice here)."

When someone "transgresses" against us, it usually means that some kind of boundary has been overstepped. There may be a one-time event, or a pattern of behavior leading to the broken boundary. Either way, it is a natural human response to feel anger or range... and it's my observation that forgiveness serves to "release" those feelings. Is the inner anger and rage truly released, when we automicaticall "forgive" everything, without a second thought? Or are we actually "selling out," and telling ourselves a fairy tale designed mostly to feed our self-identities as "gracious and sensitive people?"

For me, the struggle has been in closing the "gap" (my perception) between truly forgiving someone, and accepting that I can "forgive" and still "not like" something.

I may forgive my neighbor-- who's elderly-- for letting his dogs poop on my lawn because he can't control them... but offering said forgiveness doesn't automatically imply that I am "required" to either like or embrace the dogs pooping on my lawn. Even while forgiving both my neighbor and his dogs-- I can still put up a fence to keep the wretched things out.

One of my Teachers once said that in our efforts to be compassionate and open minded, we must also take care not to slip too far in the direction of a sort of "spiritual idiocy" that renders us victims of our own tolerance. There is nothing "noble" in forgiving a bully for bullying us because "he had a hard childhood" and then allowing him to continue to bully us because "he can't help it." In a sense, that is no less toxic than holding a grudge and not forgiving. It's merely a "different extreme." And, in BOTH extremes, we run the risk of "losing ourselves" and losing our authentic voice.

So what does "forgiveness" really mean?

I can only speak to my personal impressions. To me, forgiveness is about an "opening" of sorts. It's a "release;" what I am letting go of is the power I am allowing a person, idea, paradigm or situation to hold over me, because I am still holding onto "what happened."

In forgiving "Bob The Bully," I release the power his past negative words and acts hold over me... while not necessarily feeling any obligation to suddenly "like" Bob. Bob is still a bully, and he's completely unwelcome to bring his toxicity near me, even though I have forgiven the past.

Although it's unlikely that Bob will even be aware that he did anything warranting forgiveness, he might whine and claim that I haven't really "forgiven" him, since I don't want to hang out with him anymore. That's his prerogative. But at least I feel a measure of peace, in releasing Bob's "hold" over me. And I think forgiveness is ultimately more about appeasing our feelings, than someone else's.


  1. this is such a good always. you always ask the questions that i have always wanted the answers to. for me...forgiveness is a letting go of the power that you grant something...whether it be a memory or behavior. to forgive doesn't mean being a doormat or allowing for poor behavior. it just means you are letting go of the power the person or behavior has over you. i need to think more on always stir me up.

  2. my dear need to come back and write on your blogs! you are missed!


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