Is forgiving giving in?

Some time ago I was talking to a very distraught client, whom I shall call Laura. 

Laura had received irrefutable proof that her husband had been having an affair and that the woman he was having an affair with was pregnant with his baby. 

After the initial shock, Laura started putting two and two together and realised that there had been some clues in her husband’s behaviour that had suggested that something was not quite right. She could recollect having challenged him over his being at work longer than he needed or that he was not so present when it came to looking after their twin boys. However, he was always very quick in providing good enough reasons for his absence and shortcomings. 

When we met for our session, I was struck by Laura’s view of the situation. Yes, she was perturbed by the whole state of affairs, but was already pondering how to ‘channel’ her anger and disappointment towards something that would be more aligned with her values. Laura explained that she realised that her ‘little story’ was embedded in a bigger picture with a much larger story and that perhaps she could turn this experience around and make the world a better place for her sons. Her mind jumped into different scenarios, including volunteering in an association that dealt with unwanted pregnancies (as it seemed that the husband’s other woman was not interested in keeping the child).

This was the moment when Laura mentioned the word forgiveness and burst into tears. These were not warm or moved tears, but tears of disbelief as she could not fathom how she could consider forgiveness when her parents’ teachings were completely different. Laura told me that her critical mother would blame her for being a fool and her late loving father would advise her to cut ties with her husband. In fact, even some of her closest friends were suggesting that she leave and build a new life with her children. Laura explained that her tears were tinted with shame at the idea of being judged as a ‘loser’ or a ‘weak woman’ for forgiving her unfaithful husband. She was concerned about becoming a cliche.

That reaction took me by surprise as until a minute earlier I had been internally celebrating her flexible way of thinking when she was considering getting something positive or constructive out of this traumatic experience. I relayed that to Laura and invited her to hold these two positions in mind and appreciate their contrast with each other. We concluded that she was the host of two parts within her: an inflexible part who was born out of her rigid upbringing and a part that she had built over the years, which was much more malleable and adaptable to different circumstances. 

We discussed this conundrum a little longer and agreed that forgiving doesn’t mean giving in. Forgiveness is an act of courage, a step out of an intransigent way of living life and into a liberating sea of opportunities. 

I admire Laura a great deal and I am thankful for her letting me bear witness to her difficult situation. I hope that she will always live by her values and realise how much she has got to offer to her children and the world.

DISCLAIMER: Although lessons learned from the treatment of actual patients are included in the patient stories on this website and blog, the historical events and facts represented have been changed to protect the identities of any real patients and to protect their confidentiality

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