This Is Why It's Hard to Forgive

When I was a natural foods culinary instructor, one of my favorite classes to teach was called “Therapeutic Menu Planning” ~ how to prepare health-supportive menu plans for those who were suffering from cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic health hindrances. 

I always began the class by asking students first to consider what it actually means to heal

Is healing a disease the same as curing it? Can someone be cured of a disease but not healed? Can someone be healed and not cured? If so, what’s the difference between healing and curing? 

As we batted around our ideas, words such as wholeness and integration and alignment ended up on the whiteboard. 

I would then invite them to go deeper. What’s at the root of attaining wholeness, or integration, or alignment?

They would scratch their heads and look at me quizzically. 

In our take-a-pill-and-feel-better culture, curing ~ or symptom relief ~ is held up as the apogee of recovery from illness. But while symptom relief is certainly desirable, what it really takes to heal ~ to resolve disease at its root ~ is forgiveness.  

For women struggling with food, the quest for healing can be a rabbit’s maze of diet plans, exercise regimens, and thou-shalt-not compulsive abstinence, fueled by a multi-billion-dollar diet industry that wants to keep us buying the next book, supplement, or coaching program. 

None of it will ever create lasting change.

The key to deep, abiding healing ~ to making peace with your body and your food choices ~ is forgiveness. 

Forgiveness As a Heroine’s Journey

All acts of healing are acts of heroism, and forgiveness is no exception. 

Forgiveness requires us to venture into our dark side. We must face and befriend the parts of ourselves we have split off from, denied, or neglected. We must call ourselves home from the people, places, and circumstances we have unwittingly given our power to and made responsible for our lives. We must unmask the monsters of our soul and discover that they hold they keys to our liberation.

Ultimately, true forgiveness is tantamount to death. We must die to our old story of what happened, who hurt us, and how we are flawed. 

We are then reborn in the light of our true nature. 

This is why forgiveness is so hard. It’s not that we don’t want to forgive; it’s that we can’t bear the brilliance of who we become once we do.

Why Is Forgiveness Hard?

In the last years of my mother’s life, I was her financial power of attorney, working conscientiously to ensure that her modest financial affairs were in order before she passed on.

So imagine my bafflement at receiving $600 cable TV bills month after month—and then my rage upon discovering that my brother was watching pay-per-view adult-content movies at my mother’s house during her visits to the hospital.

I wanted to kill him.

I confronted him; he refused to pay. I threatened to report him for elder abuse; my siblings said no, we’re family, we’ll take care of it—then did nothing.

I tried all the tools in my spiritual arsenal to quell my boiling anger, but there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that my justified rage would budge.

After my mother died, I became the executor of her estate, which declared that assets would be distributed equally among all five children. I wanted my brother’s porn-addiction debt debited from his inheritance. Again, my siblings prevailed against it.

On the day I closed my mother’s phone account, I poured my frustration out to the Comcast customer service rep, who listened patiently, then simply said,

“Sweetheart—your mother just died.”

I collapsed into a ragpile of tears on the phone with that kind lady.

A week later, feeling utter dread as I approached the church where my mother’s body lay, the first family member I saw, standing on the side balcony, was my brother.

He flashed me a weak smile, and in an instant I saw—his pain, his vulnerability, his need to medicate with addictions—his utter fragility as a human being on this planet.

And it was gone.

The righteous anger evaporated, leaving an echo of space where the rage had been.

This was not just my porn-addicted brother; this was the brother who taught me to read and protected me against bullies and tickled me until I cried laughing.

We hugged and wept for our shared loss.

After the funeral, I received a note from the customer service rep. All pay-per-view costs were dropped from my mother’s final bill.

We Suffer Because We Hold On

The Second Noble Truth of Buddhism states that we suffer because we hold on. Like the classic story of the monkey that risks its life because it can’t release the banana in the box-trap, we perversely find it easier to hold onto toxic resentments than we do to release and forgive.

For us women, forgiveness is especially problematic.

Not only do we believe that we should forgive immediately, like those playground children; we also bear the burden of social conditioning to be sweet, be pretty, be helpful to others. We are told to never look bad, smell bad, raise our voices, be a problem to others, get in the way, or upset anyone else.

A vital stage of the forgiveness process is feeling fully the depth of our pain, meeting those un-sweet and un-pretty parts of ourselves that hold the keys to our transformation. If we can’t release our embarrassment about our anger, true forgiveness will elude us.

Another challenge to forgiveness is that, in the words of medical intuitive Carolyn Myss, “We are addicted to the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ mentality.” If someone harms us, we believe resolution will come when the perpetrators have paid the penalty for their actions.

I believed my peace of mind lay in settling the phone bill rather than understanding the wound that drove my brother’s behavior.

While there certainly is a place for setting the books straight, our confusion of justice with mercy leaves us still smoldering even after the price has been paid.

A Different Take on Forgiveness

Webster’s Dictionary has two simple definitions of forgiveness:

1. to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone)
2. to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)

If you merge these two definitions, you can see that our life force is a form of currency.

When we hold on to an old grievance, we’re taking present-time life force and sending it into our past to keep an old wound alive.

In doing so, we create energetic debt. Over time, the debt creates degenerative disease, addictions (food among them), and spiritual bankruptcy: shame, bitterness, resentment, and so forth.

Forgiveness, then, is canceling the debt.

It’s bringing our emotional currency into present time and exchanging the you-owe-me attitude of justice for a much braver vision of mercy.

It means releasing those who have harmed us, or who we have harmed, from responsibility for our life. It means calling our spirit home from the people, places, and circumstances it has unwittingly wandered into.

Most importantly, forgiveness is not a one-time event. It’s a way of life.