Pardon my French, but one etymological root of the word “forgive” comes from the old French, meaning, to pass over an offense without retribution or punishment. I have been suggesting the last few weeks that there is a parallel process in asking for and granting forgiveness. Both processes require us to be vulnerable and, paradoxically, access our power through being deeply vulnerable.
Eighty year old Eva Korr, a survivor of Dr. Mengele’s twin experiments of Auschwitz speaking of her journey of forgiving her Nazi tormentors explains:
“I do believe that healing is possible through the act of FORGIVENESS, and I believe in FORGIVENESS as the ultimate act of self-healing and self-empowerment. Once a person decides to forgive, there is a tremendous feeling of wholeness in thought, spirit and action all moving in the same direction, creating a powerful force for healing and freedom.
This concept of forgiveness has little or nothing to do with the perpetrators. It has everything to do with the need of victims to be free from the pain inflicted upon them. Something was done to us that put us in a position of feeling powerless. The conscious choice to forgive provides healing, liberation, and reclamation of this power.”
Eva and her twin sister Miriam were not yet 11 years old when Auschwitz was liberated in January, 1945. Her journey to forgiveness came after establishing CANDLES, a non-profit to connect and support survivors of the twin experiments at Auschwitz. Eva acknowledges that the path she has chosen is hers and hers alone. She is not judging others who choose to not forgive. Forgiveness is a personal act; an act that for her “reclaims power.”
This past year I have had the challenge and honor to work in my therapy practice with people whose relatives have committed suicide. I bear witness that the healing process from such a devastating and often incomprehensible loss centers on forgiveness—of self and the loved one who ended their life. Powerlessness is the common thread that connects the survivor and the one who ends their life.
In my experience a common human emotional dynamic, especially when emotions are overwhelming, is the sharing or better put, passing on those own feelings to others. In psychology we have a fancy term for this: projective identification which means that people attempt to “get” you to feel the way they feel. When it comes to forgiveness, understanding this dynamic can be a wonderful tool for developing empathy; the parallel of entering both the others’ vulnerability and our vulnerability. Pardonner et oublier.