Yom Kippur Blanket Forgiveness — Can That Work?
Can blanket forgiveness bring peace to the forgiver?
Forgiveness involves releasing demands for retribution. Seeking retribution is accompanied by strong emotion still attached to the situation and the individual is not yet ready to let it go. In my clinical work, I have found that premature forgiveness does nothing but bury these emotions deep under the surface requiring much energy to keep them buried. This can have serious negative effects upon physical health, emotional well being and interpersonal relationships.
While revenge fantasies may bring temporary relief, they are not healthy in the long run. But it is not a choice between forgiveness or revenge: forgiveness does not necessarily imply lack of desire for justice. And the desire for justice can persist even after all anger has been worked through and has dissipated, but it does not always mean the individual is free of anger.
Justice is sometimes attained on Earth, administered either by courts of law or within families or communities and overseen by authority figures recognized by the group as having the right to determine rewards and punishments. For those who believe in God, justice is ultimately administered in that spiritual realm and is a matter of faith. But achieving Earthly justice does not always bring the wronged individual to the point at which forgiveness becomes possible.
In Judaism, the individual is supposed to forgive the repentant who offers a sincere apology. Yet, we find Facebook broadcasts of pre-Yom Kippur blanket forgiveness that are not directed at any particular person and are divorced from any declarations of regret. They can look like this:
I forgive those who hurt me, even if they are unaware that they hurt me or how, and even those who hurt me and I do not know what they did.
At first this made some sense to me. I read this to be a statement of intent not to hold onto resentments, a determination to free the heart of malignant anger. Perhaps it is even an invitation to come forward addressed to those who know they have hurt me, but who have been afraid to broach the subject with me. But on second thought, perhaps it is a cowardly way to avoid that, preempting any inclination to come forward, saying
You do not have to broach the subject with me; we do not have to discuss what happened. I already have forgiven you and we can carry on as if nothing ever happened.
But what about the part about forgiving someone for hurting you even if you do not know what they did? If you are unaware about something, you cannot know whether or not you will be angry if and when you find out about it. It is not wise, therefore, to promise forgiveness that you have no idea whether or not you can sustain.
Just as the blanket apology has little meaning for me, the same is true of the blanket forgiveness. And I am sorry about that because it sounds so nice to offer it.
I think the best we can do is offer a statement of general intent to forgive.
As I think more about this, however, I realize that there are certain things I have not forgiven yet about which I have reached a place of inner quiet. There are a few instances for which I no longer demand retribution and have accepted that justice on Earth is most likely not forthcoming. With work, and help from those I trust, I have come to:
- understand where the harmful behaviours came from; and/or
- accept that some people are unable to overcome the traumatic events that form part of their personal histories or aspects of their personalities that do not allow them to desist from hurting others.
With my desire to let go and move on, I can reach the state at which I bear no more malice to the person who wronged me, however seriously. It comes from a place that seeks peace within myself. That does not mean I need to keep up a relationship with that person. My boundaries are clear.
I do not believe that I need to forgive someone who has not offered a sincere apology.
Nor do I think that I need to forgive someone even if they have offered a sincere apology. I feel the choice is mine even though my religion says that I must forgive those who apologize sincerely. I do believe that forgiveness is part of maintaining close relationships, however, and if I am interested in that, then I will work hard toward forgiveness. In such cases, forgiveness is a very intimate act.
And here is an interesting dichotomy: When forgiveness is easily given, perhaps even nonchalantly so, it may be a sign that the relationship is not all that important or deep and meaningful. On the other hand, when I find myself uninterested in maintaining a relationship with someone, I can generally release the anger without necessarily forgiving. In such a case, I leave it to that individual to seek to forgive themselves, or not.
Forgiveness, true forgiveness, usually demands a lot of hard emotional and cognitive work on the parts of those involved. There has to be motivation and determination. It cannot be accompanied by a sense of entitlement. And as a result of all that work, within a caring relationship, potentially, there is a deepening of love and yet greater emotional connection. This is true whether the person being forgiven is oneself or another individual.
For this reason, therefore, I do not believe in blanket offers of forgiveness even though it sounded good to me when I first encountered such declarations on Facebook. I want things up close and personal.
Maybe that’s just me.