Q. I once heard you use the term “flippant forgiveness.” You said it is filled with hidden dangers and can be a counterfeit for genuine forgiveness. I’m confused. I thought forgiveness was forgiveness.

A. Unfortunately, the concept of forgiveness may be one of the most misunderstood on this planet. I’ve written a mini-monograph on the topic, “To Forgive or Not to Forgive.” It is available on my website under Articles / Monographs. You may want to read that.

As with almost everything in life, for every genuine article, some type of counterfeit exists. That’s true with forgiveness as well. Genuine forgiveness involves giving careful thought to identifying what happened to you, the consequences in your life, and what needs to be forgiven for your health and wellbeing. It means only taking responsibility for your contribution to the situation (if any) and then following through on both parts of forgiveness. Current studies have indicated that forgiveness is a gift yourself because your brain and body may not be able to afford the high cost of unforgiveness. 

Flippant or counterfeit forgiveness, on the other hand, tends to sweep whatever happened under the proverbial rug, sometimes even pretending that either it didn’t happen at all or wasn’t really that harmful or impactful on one’s life. That position was described in the old tale, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” Metaphorically, flippant forgiveness encourages you to pretend that the Emperor actually is wearing clothes, or to use another metaphor, there is no elephant in the room…

I describe flippant forgiveness as casually or quickly saying “I forgive” without carefully identifying the abuse you received, discovering the resulting (usually negative and often dire) consequences, assuming responsibility for everything, and failing to deliberately craft an abuse-free lifestyle. Flippant forgiveness can result in the development of serious physical symptoms. Even when an individual has repressed conscious memories of dysfunctional parenting and/or an abusive environment, the body knows. The very cells in your body remember what has happened to it and “your body never lies.” Those unfortunate and unhealthy memories will be acted out in some way or other in your body, which is part of your subconscious mind, and often are expressed in dysfunctional behaviors, as well. And if your body develops serious illness or disease, including autoimmune diseases, the result may be a shortened lifespan.

Remember, genuine forgiveness does not mean:

  • Repressing, denying, minimizing, or making excuses for what happened to you
  • Pretending it didn’t result in negative consequences in your life
  • Taking complete responsibility for everything whether or not you contributed
  • Reconciling with the abuser
  • Preventing the abuser from experiencing the consequences of his/her actions
  • Refusing to accept financial remuneration, if that is legal
  • Maintaining a victim stance and remaining in the abuse environment
  • Becoming an offender and trying to punish the abuser
  • Refusing to move into a survivor position