Why it is so hard to forgive

Andrew Sullivan blogged the other day about the difficulty of forgiveness by posting this comment:

When Greg Bottoms’ older brother was 25, he tried to burn down his family’s house when his family was inside. After fifteen years in a prison psychiatric treatment facility, the brother tried to contact the family:

I told the social worker I could not speak to him, nor could my mother, who is in her 60s now, living a peaceful life after many years of a damn difficult one. Call me cold, but our problem—his problem, but ours by extension—is intractable. I wish I could offer some kind of easy prescription here—something to do with politics and policy, with therapeutic philosophies or biochemical treatment protocols. But the mystery of mental anguish, of the mind on the outs with itself, of a version of hell made manifest in a suburban living room, is the one thing in my life that has brought me to the point where my only option seemed to be to pray. To reengage my brother would be suicidal. What choice do I have? The past comes flooding back. I cut him loose to survive.

It has taken me a couple of days to think about this but the very idea of forgiveness in a number of areas os very difficult for me.

I have been aware for a number of months that a former business partner, one who went bankrupt rather than face the creditors, has been operating a business up the road from me. It has taken me nearly seven years to get to the point where this prick doesn’t enter my thoughts…and then I see him near my local takeaway, near the local dairy…I don’t think I can adequate explain the turmoil in my life this has caused. For the first time in a long time I had panic attacks. I was crossing the road on my walks rather than darken the door of his business with my shadow. I stopped going to the shops. This prick was back in my life.

He has always been lurking there, I am constantly contacted by former business partners who have likewise been ripped off by him. Dealing with even remembering him has been a struggle. The wreckage he leaves behind him is phenomenal. He is like a succubus for good credit. He finds a victim, uses their credit record, then moves on to another victim.

I’m not sure it is him I can’t forgive or me for falling for his bullshit for so long. Falling for the lies and the crap and the mental manipulations that caused in a large part my collapse and ensuing health issues. For some reason I simply can’t forgive…either him or me and it burns that this is the case.

Well the other day I saw locksmiths at the store…I was nosy…I waited until the store appeared closed…I looked in the window, my heart was pounding…this was difficult…I could feel a panic attack coming.

Then I heard a man speak to me…he was explaining through the fog and mist of my tunnel vision that he had taken back his business, he had kicked out the arsehole and was now doing a stock-take and should be open again soon. I crawled out of the darkness and asked him about his experience, I related my experience and the tactics and bullshit and it was all the same. Luckily for this guy he had been keeping an eye on things from across the road. He hasn’t lost anything. He was relieved though to know that he wasn’t the only one taken for a ride by this prick…you could see it in his face as he realised he wasn’t alone. And it was during my talks with him that I started to see that I could forgive myself, that it wasn’t all my fault, that others too had been taken in by this fraudster…for the first time I felt I could at least forgive myself.

I have worked out that forgiveness isn’t for them it is for me.

I don’t think I will ever forgive Paul Staples though. Ever.


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  • Anonymous

    I think you touched on it very well…sometimes it not that we can’t forgive the perpetrators of our pain, but that we can’t let go of the anger and the shame of falling for it in the first place. It’s difficult to make yourself vulnerable (whether financially in business, or emotionally in a relationship) and to have that stomped all over, kicked around and thrown away like it means nothing is devastating. And then we get angrier at ourselves because we feel like we should be able to let things go and move on, like a ‘normal’ person, and soon enough, if you let it, you spiral. Even years down the track, something can trigger a memory and the shame and anger comes flooding back. 

    Even in the case of Greg Bottoms, whose brother was obviously ill and not thinking right, the betrayal on that level by a family member is just too shocking to get over. Different people are impacted different ways, some carry things with them forever while others can simply let them go.  

  • Hakimofphut

    Its true, Forgiveness is a gift. But  the person who the gift is really for is yourself as you have said.

  • NotLen

    There should be an “Arseholes in Business” register that keeps track of these bastards.  There are many of them all over the country and you are right, they keep popping up time after time.  All of us that are in business have come across at least one or two of these types over the years.  If only we could warn the everyone else.

  • Symgardiner

    Long term anger is only ever destructive to your self. Always best to move on to something more useful.
    Short term anger (like if someone threatened your family) can be very profitable… If it doesn’t overload the emotions.

  • Guest

    Forgiveness for personal things is good.

    Forgiveness of business cheats – well they can be “forgiven” in that you don’t try to kill them or even to sue to recover the monies that they stole — but that kind of forgiveness cannot be extended to granting them the rights to run another business.  

    And then there is the third kind of forgiveness: forgiveness of leftists, of leftism, of socialists, of unionists, for all the damage they have done to the West and to NZ.  This kind of forgiveness is evil in itself. There can be no forgiveness for leftism. ever.

  • Anonymous

    God this hit a nerve. We have a family friend who we lent
    money to (>$10K) when he was made redundant. For us – this was a lot of
    money! It was to be a loan for one year to help the family….and here we are 2.5
    years later with no effort to repay and with more excuses than Ned Kelly. We also
    tried to give additional support in the form of food from the farm, took his
    daughter with us on holiday and even hosted his parents when they came to NZ to
    visit – knowing money was tight. I am not so much angry at him and his wife –
    more we feel foolish as finding we were not alone. Others in their generosity
    had lent him money. He used the money to maintain lifestyle rather than keep
    the wolves (aka bank) from the door. Since the loan – no contact unless
    initiated by us – no family get together… and not one brass farthing repaid.
    It is not the money – it is the deceit and lack of good faith. We have not only
    lost money but a friend. If his name is mentioned we get that horrible sinking
    feeling in the pit of the stomach and feel like total gullible dorks. The thing
    is…it puts you off helping others in the future. Once used – twice shy.

  • Mickrodge

    I wonder if “forgiveness” is a bit of an airy fairy nouveau notion?

    There’s a huge difference between “letting go” & forgiving. If some scumbag rolled me in a similar manner then I wouldn’t forgive them. To me it’s like letting them off the hook.

    Now i’m not overly vindictive but this bastard doesn’t deserve forgiveness IMHO. I’d let it go because letting that shit eat away at you just erodes your sanity & I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

    But forgiveness, nah fuck him.

  • Guest

    “Forgiveness is not forgetting- it’s letting go of the hurt” (and I got that quote from a family member who was a 12 year old victim of rape)


  • I have had to forgive my ex for cancelling my engagement. 

    Took a while but it was worth it as it helped me move on. It meant that I could pass her at church and not get cut up about it. 

    But Whale Oil, better forgive Paul Staples because the good book does say forgive otherwise god does not forgive you. 

    • Alex Taylor-Innes

      That’s not correct. The forgiveness referred to there is affecting
      fellowship, not God’s forgiveness, otherwise we would be earning it, not by
      faith alone, by grace alone.

      There are some important perspectives on forgiveness given
      in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant

      I have often found it useful in my life.

  • George

    If someone has dropped a number on you and screwed your life and confidence up, well thats a done deal and history can’t be re-written.
    They’ve buggered your past and your present.
    Why let them bugger your future as well?
    Forgive, wish them nothing but good and perhaps a change of habits.  Do it as often as the mess comes up in your mind. Say it out loud.

    The future then becomes yours, not theirs.

  • Steve Taylor
    • Anonymous

      I recall reading your story Steve, and being immensely pissed off by what I read. I hope karma catches upon that scumbag, chin up mate….

    • Northernexpress

      It looks like the pot calling the kettle black isnt it Steve? http://stevetaylorcounsellornz.wordpress.com/

  • Thorn

    My sympathy is reserved for the victims. Evil people mistake forgiveness for weakness, and then progress to the normalisation of abuse. To my mind, it is a personal choice either to forgive or to take revenge. Both options are acceptable. Whatever the decision, do what you have to do and  move on with the one life we all have. 

    26:5 PsalmI have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked. 

  • Vikingonmars

    Don’t get mad, get even.
    Best result. and remember patience is a vitue in these instances.

  • Steve Taylor

    Thanks Travdog – appreciated. Yes, W/O, having a blog helps immensely – the penetration of the medium of social media I don’t think will ever cease to amaze me – it was ceratinly very helpful in my case, and was very useful in assisting me to collate information for the MED, MSD, ACC, Commerce Commission, and IRD and briefs of evidence. The builder is now out of business, and has been kicked off Trade Me and Sella – hopefully going to jail via MED for running a business whilst an undischarged bankrupt, which attracts a 1 year jail term – not sure what the penalties are for benefit fraud, acc fraud, tax fraud, and breach of the fair trading act – need to do some homework on these.

  • jay cee

    my personal motto is, forgive the sin not the sinner,and never forget them so as not to be caught out again. 

  • Pingback: Forgiveness « Homepaddock()

  • dragonfly

    Whale, just as the sight of your ex business partner shook you to the core, your story has shaken me with the memories it has evoked. In 2002/03 we had a similar experience with a business partner of my husband’s. I won’t go into the details, but she was a psychopath who also enjoyed, more than anything, inflicting suffering on others (a lot like Ted Bundy, except serial killing was not her chosen method of torment). I am sure that we were neither her first nor her last victims. We paid a huge price for what she did, financially and psychologically. I know about the darkness, the depression and the despair. I know how when you think of those people you feel like pus and vomit are exploding in your head. My husband and I coped with it in different ways. He, to his credit, put his entire focus on our financial survival. I, however, could no longer function as before, and I sought revenge, and to this day I have no regrets about that. I believe that I would be in a much worse state today if I had not smashed that woman and her husband back. They mistook us for people with no resources, just because we had no money. But words are a powerful resource, if you have a way with them.

    People are different. A resilient, well-balanced person from a nice background may be able to put it all behind them (though such a person is less likely to be a target in the first place), but, if, as I did, you come from a very awful background, you may have such a hatred for predatory, power-abusing bullies that you cannot let it be. There is nothing wrong with that. I also had a very strong sense that I could not allow someone who caused so much harm to me, my husband and my children, to walk away unscathed.