A Few Thoughts on Forgiveness, Anger, and The Dangers of Spiritual Bypassing Bypassing
I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the ways we might misuse spiritual, religious, or pop psychology ideas to essential bully ourselves during our healing journeys, to push and shove our emotions in an effort to “hurry up and heal.”
Take forgiveness, for example. (Here I’m particularly thinking of forgiveness of harm that has been done to us, boundaries that have been violated, or trauma that we have endured. )
Forgiveness is often held up as the high water mark of healing, as if you haven’t fully healed an emotional wound unless you’ve forgiven all involved.
I think many of us with a spiritual mindset can feel a kind of pressure to forgive before we’re really ready, or before the forgiveness has been genuinely earned, because that’s what Jesus or Buddha or (insert ideal spiritual figure here) would do.
We might listen to some meditation teacher, self-help author, or spiritual influencer on Instagram praise the virtues of forgiveness and we might judge ourselves for not forgiving deeply enough.
But what this can turn into is dropping our boundaries with someone when those boundaries are actually still appropriate. Or giving someone a second chance who really shouldn’t have been given a first chance. Or sweeping painful issues under the rug that really need to be talked about in the open air.
Forgiveness is a long journey, and in some cases, may not actually be warranted.
We are not obligated to forgive someone for the harm they’ve created in our lives, especially if they are making little or no effort to be accountable or responsible for their actions.
And if you choose to forgive because you wish to unburden yourself from the heavy weight of your pain, it never means that you have to give untrammeled access to your life to those who violated your boundaries in the first place.
You can hopefully find your path back to love again, but that doesn’t mean you have to give out free passes to your unconditional love to selfish assholes.
Sometimes, as Rage Against the Machine sang in my youth, “your anger is a gift”.
Sometimes your lack of forgiveness is a sign that you are refusing to expose your heart to be willingly stabbed again. And that’s a good thing.
Not everything has to be all fucking love & light on your road to healing.
In fact, I’m becoming deeply skeptical of any process that DOESN’T involve the acceptance of legitimate anger at mistreatment, righteous fury at injustice, and the setting of strong protective boundaries for our own well-being.
“Fuck you” can be just as valid & healthy of a response as “I forgive you.”
Let yourself feel the fullness of what you are feeling, without bullying yourself into some false positivity just because you think you “should” feel that way, or because your favorite spiritual teacher or self-help Instagram personality is selling a “master class” on forgiveness this week.
Listen to yourself. Honor yourself. Your healing will find its own pace, in its own time, in its own way. Trust that. Trust you. You'll find your way.
- Matthew Foley