I often think about a saying my prior therapist quoted frequently during our work together: “mental health is the ability to accept reality at all costs.” I originally dismissed this quote due to not being in the right mindset to receive it, but over time I have found it to be quite powerful, especially in the arena of forgiveness vs acceptance.
What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is a word that holds different meanings depending on who you ask. Since it does not have a universal definition, its use tends to be convoluted. Depending on one’s definition of forgiveness, it may be powerfully necessary for healing, especially for spiritual healing. But then there is forgiveness that is thrust upon individuals and influenced by society’s dominant discourses. What if one’s healing process does not involve forgiveness? One may feel guilt or shame for not being able to forgive like society says to, and maybe it is okay not to.
Forgiveness can feel too burdening, too difficult of a task, and some situations or individuals may be unforgivable. Making the choice not to forgiven can be a powerful tool for regaining power. One may need to embrace their anger when their rights, mental health and/or bodily autonomy have been disregarded, oppressed and abused. This anger, and many corresponding “negative” emotions, when used in a healthy way, can provide motivation for creating changes in one’s life, especially when combined with “positive” emotions. Yes, anger and hope can co-exist.
Even if one chooses not to forgive, self-forgiveness and acceptance are necessary in one’s healing process. Self-forgiveness of undue blame, “bad” behaviors and prior mistakes – no more “shoulda coulda woulda” – can liberate you from the binds holding you back. Acceptance of the situation by releasing a desire for the past to be different, letting go of false hope for the future, and fully embracing your current situation can provide a strong foundation for forging a pathway towards your ideal future.
Whichever you choose, whether it be forgiveness or acceptance, remember that it is a very personal choice that cannot be forced or asked upon you by anyone, even by a therapist. You always have the right to choose how to heal.