Why Forgiveness Doesn’t Work and How to Change That

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~Paul Boese

Have you ever wondered why it’s so difficult to forgive others?

We all know it feels better emotionally to let go of resentment and anger. We know that our minds are clearer and we function better when we’re not constantly yammering about that story of pain, betrayal, hurt, and humiliation. We even know that releasing all that junk is good for our physical health.

But it’s still hard, isn’t it?

As a doctor of psychology, I’ve learned that the amygdala, that part of our brains always on alert for threats to our survival, plays a large part in our resistance to letting go of negative feelings toward someone who has harmed us. But I think it’s more than that.

I think that the traditional method of “forgiveness” we’ve been using just doesn’t work. It’s flawed.

When I was younger and in my first marriage, my wife and I ran the typical “I’m sorry” process. We’d bicker and fight until one or the other of us would say, “I’m sorry.” Then the other of us would say, “I’m sorry, too”—and we really, really meant it!

But within 10 days or 10 hours (or sometimes 10 minutes), we’d be back at it.

What’s up with that? Our apologies were heartfelt. Neither of us enjoyed fighting. Yet…

It wasn’t until I was more fully immersed in Huna, the indigenous spiritual path of the Hawaiian Islands, that I understood what true forgiveness is—and what was missing from those mutual, though very sincere, apologies.

I learned the forgiveness process the ancient Hawaiians used, which is called ho`oponopono.

The word pono has no good translation in English but it’s that feeling of congruency and calmness that we’ve all experienced at some point—that sense that everything feels right, like feeling so at peace with a person or situation that nothing needs to be said. That’s pono.

Ho`oponopono means to become right with yourself and others, to become pono inside as well as outside. It implies a deeper level of connectedness.

In other words, when you forgive others using ho`oponopono, you feel calm and clear about them. You are free to re-establish a relationship with them, or not, as your own discernment dictates. And you are totally cleansed of the junk—the resentment, anger, hurt—that previously clogged your system.

Not the tight-lipped, “Okay, I can stand to be in the same room with you” type of forgiveness. Totally cleansed. Calm and clear. Free.

Fortunately, I’ve been given a another chance at learning about forgiveness in relationships—a second marriage to a wonderful soul, Soomi, who shares my commitment to personal growth and spiritual expansion. Here’s how ho`oponopono shows up in our lives:

Give and receive.

Through ho`oponopono, we’ve learned that it’s not about, “I’m sorry.”  Instead we say, “I forgive you. Please forgive me.” Can you sense the difference? Asking for and offering forgiveness is a much more active, committed, vulnerable process.

Say it all.

Calmly and consciously, we give each other the space to express what needs to be expressed without hiding or holding back. It’s scary sometimes. Take lots of deep breaths! But when we’ve both shared our thoughts and feelings, we experience a sense of, “I’ve said it all, and I’m done.”

Transmit love. 

You’re kidding me, right? I’m supposed to stream love energy to the person who has just wronged me?!? Yep. Part of the ho`oponopono process is to open your heart, acknowledge that the other is doing the best that he or she can at the moment, and offer love and compassion.

Daily practice.

It’s about the big things and the little things. All have to be released. Forgiveness is like taking a shower: Soomi and I know we need to do it every day to keep our relationship clear and present.

Retain the learning.

We stumble around and bump into each other for a purpose—to learn and to grow. Within the ho`oponopono process, there is much emphasis on grasping the learning from each difficult situation.

We forgive each other and ourselves, and we release the negative emotions, yet we still absorb whatever lessons are available to us.

Is this process always easy? No. But my wife and I have made it a priority in our marriage because it gives us a fresh start every day. We don’t bring baggage from yesterday into today’s interactions.

When we begin from a place of pono, we’re able to let each new day unfold.

Photo by LaserGuided

About Matthew James

Dr. Matthew B. James is President of The Empowerment Partnership. His book, The Foundation of Huna: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times, details forgiveness and meditation techniques used in Hawaii for hundreds of years. Contact Dr. James: Info@Huna.com or www.DrMatt.com.

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