Why Skipping A Step Is Not The Same As Mastering It

Recently, I came upon a new word: “pseudo-forgiveness.”

Pseudo-forgiveness is the act of forgiving someone before you have experienced the long string of complicated and painful emotions one MUST feel before one is ready, and capable, of bestowing true forgiveness on someone else. Basically, pseudo-forgiveness is “pretend forgiveness” posing as real forgiveness.

I spoke of forgiveness before on this blog, in an article entitled 6 Ways to Regain A Sense of Power. In this article, I said that forgiveness was an important step in regaining a sense of power, and that’s true.

But now I realize that I had not truly forgiven the person I had said I had forgiven in that article. I had only “pseudo-forgiven” them.

You see, at the time, I had forgiven this person because I knew, intellectually, that forgiveness was a part of the process of letting go and moving on. But little did I know that I had skipped an important step. Little did I know that in rushing straight to forgiveness, without allowing myself to experience the full range of complicated, painful emotions I had to experience in order to truly forgive this person, I had not really learned my lesson.

Now I know that forgiveness is far more complicated than just saying: “I forgive you.” Now I know that you have to mean forgiveness–all the way down to the very core of your being–for forgiveness to be true.

Why Skipping A Step Is Not The Same As Mastering It

I suppose I was naïve to think I could forgive right away, and skip all pain I needed to feel to arrive at true forgiveness.

But now, I understand: I do this. In fact, we all do this. We skip steps, we over-intellectualize life’s big challenges just so we can avoid experiencing them. Through our over-analysis, we grind life’s big lessons down into a pulp—hoping the meaning behind a challenge we’re facing will reveal itself more easily this way.

It’s a clever, more roundabout, way to thwart our own progress.

While some don’t even start the race for fear of where the race will take them, others will try to bypass the race all together. Instead of experiencing what it’s like for their feet to hit the track, these people will go rent a golf cart, zoom to the end of the track, jump out of the cart, and cross the finish line before the clock runs out.

They become so obsessed with winning the race, that they avoid the race completely, and then they hold out their hand for a trophy they haven’t earned yet.

Pseudo-forgiveness, and other pseudo-acts like it, are simply clever ways to avoid the hardships of our life’s journey. 

But who can really blame us for attempting to pull this clever rick on ourselves? Who wouldn’t want to bypass all of life’s pain, confusion, and complications by zooming straight to the finish line, and just getting it over with already?

But that’s the mean trick of “pseudo-learning” a lesson. Pseudo-learning a lesson makes it seem to us as if we’ve crossed the finish line, when we really haven’t. Our celebratory dance is also premature: we’re fooling ourselves. We think we’ve outsmarted life by rushing to declare that we’re masters of our own story—when our story isn’t even finished yet.

But life isn’t easily outsmarted. It knows we’re only fooling ourselves. It knows we’re really just putting off what will catch up to us eventually.

Pseudo-Charmed Kind of Life

There is not only pseudo-forgiveness, but also pseudo-peace, pseudo-enlightenment, pseudo-compassion, and many others.

For instance:

I have often rushed to declare my compassion for someone who did me wrong, only to find out later that–despite my light-speed act of compassion–I was still very angry and bitter at the person who did me wrong. I would be shocked to discover that I wasn’t the perfect compassionate being I thought I was.

I now realize that feeling anger, bitterness, and hatred is actually necessary before I can finally arrive at true compassion for someone who has done me wrong.

You see, just learning a lesson isn’t enough. You must also experience it.

And this is our work. This is our work. To understand life not only with our heads, but with our hearts, with our bodies, and with our souls. We cannot rely solely on collecting “the data” of our lives, and then analyzing this data in order to arrive at a concrete solution to all our problems.


It may seem counterintuitive, but to arrive at a concrete “solution” to life, we have to stop analyzing it, and simply experience it.

To learn to forgive, for instance, we must hate someone first, and then feel that hate long enough to the point where forgiveness becomes the only thing that can soothe that hate. To be compassionate, we must feel the full extent of our distrust and disappointment with another, until compassion becomes the only way we can be saved from our misery. To arrive at true peace, we must experience chaos in its entirety, until peace is the only thing we’re left thirsting for. To arrive at true enlightenment, we must experience confusion, loneliness, and loss to its highest degree, until enlightenment is the only thing that can heal us.

This is not a happy lesson for me to share. It’s a sobering lesson to say the least. But it’s a true lesson. And every time we try to skip the process of life, every time we try to skip all the ugly, smelly, dirty parts of life, every time we try to “cut ahead of the line” so to speak, we’ll find ourselves right back where we started.

Because skipping a step is not the same as mastering it.

John O’ Donohue and The Fish

I had a dream in which the Irish poet and philosopher John O’ Donohue appeared to me. He was standing in a river, fishing. He had a very warm and loving energy. He smiled at me and then started to tell me a story:

He told me how he used to buy boneless, skinless fish from the supermarket. He would then cook this fish for his family, for dinner, and they would all love it. The fish was not only delicious, but it was very easy to eat, and it slid down their throats very nicely.

Then, one day, John didn’t go to the supermarket to buy fish. Instead, he went directly to the river itself to catch the fish at its source.

Later that day, John cooked this freshly caught fish. After the fish was cooked, he served it to his family. His family ate. Although his family tought the fish was more delicious than anything John had cooked before, they complained about the bones in the fish (that scratched their throats) and the skin (that made it hard for their teeth to chew on the meat).

When John finished telling me his story, he explained to me that this simple story illustrated the true nature of the spiritual journey. When we begin the spiritual journey, he said, it is like we’re eating that store-bought fish. At first, the spiritual journey is boneless, skinless, and easy to digest. We believe that this is what the true spiritual journey is like.

But, after a while, we find that, in truth, the real spiritual journey is more like the fish John caught from the river–it is far more delicious than anything store-bought, but it’s tougher to chew, and it’s filled with sharp bones that often cut us, if we’re not careful.

I never knew John O’ Donahue, but I think that his appearance in my dream was meant to assuage me. It was meant to remind me that life is meant to be a hard journey; and that the “hardness” of life, far from making life unfair, is what makes it more (dare I say it) authentic and delicious.

Don’t Analyze It. Just Experience It.

Now, at the end of my first post of 2012, I leave you with this thought:

What if the challenges facing you right now don’t require your “analysis”?

What if the challenges facing you right now are just asking you to let go of your relentless need to over-analyze everything in life?

What if your bridge to “a better place” is made up of the very stones of pain and remorse you feel you must avoid at all costs? What if it’s your experience—and not the analysis of your experience—that’ll make all the sores heal? What if it’s the living of your life, and not the analysis of your life, that’ll finally lick all the wounds clean?

What if…?

much love,


How do you make sure not get too ahead of yourself when it comes to learning life’s big lessons? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below!

> > > Novel Update: As I mentioned before I went on break, I’m done with the second draft of my novel! So, right now, I’ll be taking a much-needed hiatus from writing the book. In the meantime, I’m having my sister read it and offer me feedback on basic structure, character, and story. This is the first time anyone has every read a draft of my novel in its entirety (other than me) so I’m very nervous, but also very excited! I’ll get back to you with the next goal for my novel in 2012, but, in the meantime, I’ll be enjoying this brief hiatus from my fiction work.

> > > Top Secret Project News: I’ll be launching a brand new project this Friday that will require your help and involvement. It is something that many of you have been asking me to provide, and soon, I hope, it will become a reality. So stay tuned!

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26 comments on “Why Skipping A Step Is Not The Same As Mastering It

  1. Catherine Johnson says:

    Wonderful advice and wonderful news. I’m excited to hear about your secret project. Thanks, Ollin. All the best.

  2. Lynne Spreen says:

    My life strategies:
    1. Get old. I’ll be 58 in April, so I’ve seen things happen more than once. What freaks out my young ‘uns (they’re in their early 30s) doesn’t bother me as much anymore.

    2. Get sick. Having the experience of facing death and then coming back to health a couple of times will clarify your thinking. Not that I recommend it. But if it happens, there’s a silver lining.

    3. Jane Friedman recommended a book on mindfulness http://www.amazon.com/Mindfulness-Eight-Week-Finding-Peace-Frantic/dp/1609611985/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326128189&sr=1-1 from which I learned that thoughts and emotions are often just brain propaganda, offered up by our subconscious up for consideration. To latch onto it and ride it may be a waste of cosmic energy. Better to let it go, breathe, and see what happens.

    4. And then, if the feeling (like grief or anger) doesn’t go away, give in and wallow in it until you’re sick of yourself. Then go shower off the mud and start anew.

    Happy New Year, Ollin, and best wishes for a seamless edit on your second draft.

  3. How true! Looking forward to the new project.

  4. Christina says:

    Congrats on your new project and your draft and your new web design!

    Happy 2012!

  5. I like this reflection on living through the experience rather than rushing toward the end. Sometimes that ‘pseudo-forgiveness’ step of saying “I forgive you” (even before it fells real) is what starts me into the process of genuine forgiveness. But it’s extremely important to not rush or leap over the valid emotions that spring up from the hurt. That’s a huge thing–realizing how important that process is. Thanks for this!

    And congrats on the completed second draft! That’s fabulous!

    • Ollin says:

      I think it’s good to want to forgive and to know, intellectually, that this step must be reached eventually. But we have to know that true forgiveness must come from going through all the emotions first.


  6. Kari Scare says:

    Forgivness is a choice, not a feeling. Sometimes, we have to forgive multiple times in order to start feeling that we have truly forgiven someone. Sometimes, that feeling may never come. But, as we choose to forgive regardless of how we feel, we realize that we make a choice based on what we know to be right rather than on what our feelings, which are often deceptive, dictate. And remember, that forgiving on our part gives us freedom; it’s more for our own benefit than that of the people who hurt us. To not forgive is to be weighed down and held back. And to receive forgiveness, we must also forgive.

    On another note, congratulations on finishing the first draft of your novel. That has to feel splendid!

    • Ollin says:

      Sounds good, as long as you’re not trying to skip feeling entirely.

      • Kari Scare says:

        Not at all. I think forgiveness moves more like choose to forgive, then feel the feelings. Choose to forgive again, then feel the feelings again. And so on until the issue is dealt with. Sometimes, that may be never, so you continue to forgive. If the feelings must be dealt with first, forgiveness may never happen. Plus, choosing to forgive first is choosing to not let feelings rule your life, which is a very dangerous place. Feelings may diminish, but they may not. Regardless, choose to keep forgiving.

  7. Nice post. Forgiveness is tricky, and like many things in life I often “get things” intellectually before my heart catches up. I want to choose forgiveness as Kari notes, but I cannot really forgive a person until I allow myself to feel the wide range of negative emotions ~ anger, betrayal, frustration, sadness ~ attached to that person and/or situation.

    The tough part with forgiveness I find is that I don’t know how long it will take for me to work through and process all of that stuff, but I know that if I paper over those negative emotions it doesn’t get better, and true forgiveness isn’t embraced. Instead I’m just pulling a really heavy wagon behind me as I remain emotionally (in a negative sense) attached to that person or event.

    So thanks for bringing this subject to light ~ especially as we embark on 2012 ~ maybe we can all find a little space to forgive ourselves too 🙂

    • Ollin says:

      I think we can choose forgiveness, that’s easy enough, but to truly forgive someone, and mean it from the very bottom of our soul, that may take years. And we must be patient. I am wary of trying to stamp out a negative emotion these days just because it makes me uncomfortable. Instead I’ll try to feel it and it usually passes through me more easily that way.

  8. Just yesterday, I had a dream about someone from my past whom I thought I had forgiven. The anger and resentment that I felt when I awoke proved me wrong. There is still work to do.
    That said, my intention to forgive had never prevented me from acknowledging my true feelings, what it did do was inform my actions and so I behaved better towards this person than I would have had I chosen to be angry for a while before I accepted my desire to forgive.
    What the dream told me was that I still have emotions that need processing. In truth, it is not really about this person (who has not been a part of my life for some years) at all, but about my own needs and my own healing journey.
    I tend to agree with Kari. Forgive, and forgive again until you get it right… whether you acknowledge your feelings before, after, or during might not matter that much, as long as you do it.
    Thanks for this Ollin! Congrats on your second draft. I’m looking forward to finding out what that might feel like some day. 🙂

    • Ollin says:

      Ah, but you see that is not real forgiveness. I think that is pseudo-forgiveness. I think real forgiveness never has to be revisited. I am thinking of someone else in particular who it took me a long time to forgive, but who I can say at this moment, produces no feeling whatsoever in me. He is as neutral as pavement to me. I think when we feel this toward the person who has done us wrong, then that is when we have truly forgiven. Of course how easily one can forgive and how long it takes, depends on the infraction doesn’t it. If it’s a terrible injustice, this may take a lifetime to forgive. If it’s just a unfortunate mistake, forgiveness doesn’t take that long.

      Maybe it’s best to wipe away the psychological terminology, that seems to be distracting people. What I am trying to say, in so many words, is that we must experience a lesson before we can say we learn it. Intellectualizing it isn’t enough.

  9. Anil says:

    copyblogger introduced to me ur awesome blog. For the past three days i’ve been reading through all your post. I must admit u’ve unlocked most of the fears. I’ve been struggling with my passion to become a screenwriter and after reading ur posts i just feel it was written exclusively for me. Now i know what i’ve to do. Thanks a ton buddy.

  10. I’ve been thinking about your topic of pseudo-forgiveness – I guess at times we need to go back and realize the depth of the hurt, but not all the time. I was raped and molested by my father – I don’t need to go into every single detail of that abuse in order to forgive him (granted he’s dead and I still needed to forgive him). I had to pray for the will-power to begin forgiving him. Forgiveness is a process, perhaps it isn’t pseudo-forgiveness, but rather the first step of forgiving. I have, for the most part, forgiven my parents (both abused me), but there are times when a stray memory emerges and I stop immediately and forgive. But I don’t go deep sea fishing for memories to dredge up. Even incomplete forgiveness is better than waiting until one knows the full extent of the hurt.

    Forgiveness is selfish. You mention the fishing story so I want to give you another fishing story. You are on a boat, you hook the BIG ONE. But the big one begins to pull your boat down. You need to cut the line – you loose a hook and some line but save the boat and yourself. You don’t need to see the entire big one before cutting the line, the important thing is the safety of you and the boat.

    When I first began forgiving my parents I still had anger, and had to deal with that. Over time forgiveness became real. Did what they did to me get absolved by my forgiveness? Absolutely not. They will still have to answer to God. I’m just not dragged down by my past anymore. Forgiveness is for you.

    I’m sorry for such a long reply, but forgiveness was y first step on my journey of healing from that abuse, so I’m passionate about it.

    Have a blessed day.

    • Ollin says:

      Thank you for your honesty, and for sharing such a vulnerable part of you. I am so sorry about what happened to you. But I hope that the courage you have shown to share your story will inspire others to know that they are not alone.

      To reply to your comment: Yes, I now am certain that the psychological terminology got in the way of the whole point of the post.

      My point is basically to say that sometimes we over-intellectualize things and that the over-intellectualizing of things is what gets in the way of our healing. We don’t feel the emotions. We numb them. We avoid them. We skip over them. We just think about our feelings, and in our feelings we think that forgiveness is what will get us through it. What I am saying is that we need to FEEL that forgiveness will get us through it, not just THINK that forgiveness will get us through it.

      To me it sounds that this is not the case for you.

      It is clear to me that you felt your emotions, and that’s how you arrived at true forgiveness. Like I said, you felt the true extent of the hurt to know that forgiveness was the only way you can move away from this hurt.

      I am not saying that we must get stuck in the hurt. I am not saying to grasp the hurt, cling to it, stay in it. I am saying you must feel it to the full extent in order to realize that, in the end, the hurt has a limit. When you realize that the hurt has a limit, you no longer fear it, and you can move on more easily.

      Hard to explain something that cannot be explained in words but I try.

      • Kari Scare says:

        Just had to say that I love what you said here: “When you realize that the hurt has a limit, you no longer fear it, and you can move on more easily.” This is very profound and could be a tremendous stepping stone to healing for anyone who gets it.

  11. I think you do a great job of explaining 🙂

  12. I agree with this. We need to give ourselves time to heal – not to nurse our wounds, but to heal.

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