Forgiveness. We are inundated with messages about the importance of forgiveness not just for the person who hurt us but even more importantly for ourselves. We’re told how freeing it is and how beneficial it is not just for your mental health but your physical health as well. Forgiveness is all well and good, holding a grudge, however, is better. Here’s why I think we should resist the pressure to forgive and instead hold on firmly to our chosen grudges.
Regardless of what different religious traditions would have us believe there are big sins and small sins, all sins are not equal. You get to decide what actions qualify as unforgivable to you in every arena from the political to the personal. Classifying certain actions as unforgivable lets you clarify your values and boundaries and what is absolutely unacceptable to you. The idea that all sins are somehow equal is dangerous and minimizes gross inhumane acts. All sins are not equal, and some require you to hold on to that grudge. People are often guilted into forgiving everything because God forgives us all our sins, big and small, but hey, that’s why he’s God and I’m not. If we can do the same thing, then what makes him special?
Grudges as self-protection
Forgiving often carries with it an implicit forgetting, as in even if you remember what the person did, you will not bring it up anymore because you have let it go, you have forgiven. This can be especially dangerous if someone is in an abusive relationship where every time they forgive their abuser they are required to let it go and not bring it up anymore. This can make it take a lot longer for them to see the patterns and get out of a bad situation.
Abusers also use forgiveness against you with statements like, “I said I was sorry” every time you bring up their repeated actions. Holding on to a grudge can be a means of self-protection. It’s a way for you to remember the harm people have done to you so that you can identify any recurring patterns and leave if you need to. Holding a grudge can also give you a sense of control in a situation that feels out of your control.
Holding a grudge can also be a way to demand accountability from someone. If someone has been doing something hurtful to you, holding on to the grudge until they demonstrate a change in behaviour can be a way to seek accountability from them.
Forgiveness sometimes comes off as condoning the behaviour, such as when religious leaders are outed as sexual predators and people immediately rush to their defence saying all people sin and we must forgive each other. This rush to forgive often absolves them from being held accountable and covers them in a way that appears to excuse and condone their behaviour. These people are often not even remorseful for what they have done, yet we are pressured to extend forgiveness.
The only person you need to be forgiving with any regularity is you. When you realize you’re engaging in actions that are hurting you and others, change your behaviour, be quick to apologize to others, forgive yourself and commit to making better choices. Everywhere you are you’re there so holding a grudge against yourself is unlikely to be beneficial.
For everyone else though, forgiveness is overrated. Hold on to that grudge especially when it’s part of an established pattern of behaviour and you want to protect yourself from falling for their act again in the future. They say to err is human and to forgive is divine.
Trust your instinct when determining who to forgive, as for the rest leave them to whatever higher power you believe in, that’s why they say to forgive is divine. If the divinity wants to forgive them, so be it, as for you, hold on to that grudge.
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