Don’t you just hate the clichés about forgiving? And that “forgetting” part? Ridiculous! Sorry, I was given a brain, and it’s really quite good at recalling stuff. Maybe less impressive with names and certain dates, but really good at remembering how others’ have betrayed my trust.
I’ve read just about everything one can about letting go of anger. I have been told, “you have to forgive, in order for you to find peace”. And, whilst this is easy to want, deciding to forgive and feeling peace can seem entirely impossible. It doesn’t matter that just about every religion/philosophy in the world come together in this. I desire peace, I really do. I simply am stuck with my conception of justice sometimes.
I know what it feels like to be lied to, abused, controlled, forgotten, rejected or in some other way wounded by someone you loved and trusted. I know that you do too. Every one of us has been wounded by others in some form or other and I count myself extremely blessed and fortunate when I hear another’s story. It is often enough to bring me back to gratitude. But yet, it is easy to get caught up in the moment with that sense of injustice hanging over my head.
When it does I can feel sick in my core to think that people that have betrayed my trust will just walk away scott-free. I want revenge. I want retribution. The fantasies that follow in my head are outrageously ridiculous sometimes. Perhaps this is why I used to enjoy violent movies, because I could find the similarities in the reactions to betrayal in the movie. Back-stabbers beware.
Clinging on to this fantasy of revenge is because we’re simply not ready to give up on the fight for justice. So, we hold onto anger. We justify our anger and we stew and poison our soul. And we transmit that poison to every person we interact with. Anger glosses over the hurt and damage that has been done, and instead it tells us that vengeance will somehow make everything alright.
Forgiveness seems impossible. We want to forgive, because we know it’s the healthiest choice to make. We want to find that peace that comes from forgiveness. We want the madness in our brains to quiet down, and yet we cannot find a way to get there. It is only when the suffering of not forgiving outweighs the desire to set things right, that the willingness to forgive enters our lives. At that moment, the decision that restoring your own peace is finally a bigger priority than disrupting someone else’s.
Much of this comes through awareness and understanding. Two things that elude us whilst caped in anger and resentment. The realization that making another suffer for their betrayal is not going to fix anything.
Your vengeance simply means you are going to cause suffering in another’s life. It will do nothing that brings back anything positive into your life. I used to rationalize this kind of thinking. That this will cause others to think twice to do anything like this to me again, but instilling fear in another person is really no way to move your spirit forward. It has no positive consequences. None.
We also lack understanding of what the other person was thinking or more importantly feeling, when they did what they did. The deception of who we thought they were has blind-sided us so badly that we never get to contemplate of why they did this. We go through the process of trying to understand, but because of the hurt to self, it is a shallow process. An incomplete investigation of what was going on at the time, let alone knowing what has happened in a person’s past in order for them to act or react that way.
When you have come to that point of realization of your suffering, and become willing to forgive. Then further steps can be taken. I normally begin with reminding myself what forgiveness isn’t. These are important for me to understand:
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you are pardoning or excusing the other person’s actions.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you need to tell the person that he or she is forgiven.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any more feelings about the situation.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean there is nothing further to work out in the relationship or that everything is okay now.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you should forget the incident ever happened.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to continue to include the person in your life.
- … and forgiveness isn’t something you do for the other person.
By forgiving, you finally give up hope for a different past. It means knowing that the past is over, the dust has settled and the destruction left in its wake can never be reconstructed to resemble what it was. It’s accepting that there’s no magic solution to the damage that’s been caused. It’s the realization that as unfair as the hurricane was, you still have to live in its city of ruins. And no amount of anger is going to reconstruct that city. You have to do it yourself, and it doesn’t necessarily have to include the person you are forgiving. In fact, for me it rarely does.
So, the process that works best for me is a process of acceptance:
- Accept that it happened. Accept how you felt about it and how it made you react. Accept that you are uncomfortable with change.
- Acknowledge the growth you experienced as a result of what happened. What did it make you learn about yourself, or about your needs and boundaries? Not only did you survive the incident, perhaps you grew from it.
- Accepting the flaws in everyone. Now think about the other person. He or she is flawed because all human beings are flawed. He or she acted from limited beliefs and a skewed frame of reference. When you were hurt, the other person was trying to have a need met. What do you think this need was and why did the person go about it in such a hurtful way? Accept your own flawed response to that suffering.
- To accept this present moment for what it is. To accept that everything is exactly how it is meant to be, and that dis-agreeance with that, is what brings suffering.
- To accept that everything happens for a reason, and to be open-minded that this was necessary for your own personal growth.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to make amends with who hurt you or that your safety is reliant on their amends. It doesn’t mean that you have to accept them into your life again with the same trust that you held before.
If you desire to have a relationship with them, it is to accept their flawed nature and love them for the sum of who they are, not its parts. To understand that they too accept your flaws and accept all of you. The relationship is not dependent on them healing you and putting you back together. After all, you’re not broken.
Forgiveness isn’t about letting injustice continue. It’s about creating justice for yourself, your own karma and your own destiny. It’s about getting back onto your feet and deciding that the rest of your life isn’t going to be miserable because of what happened to you. It means walking bravely into the future, with every scar and callous you’ve incurred along the way. Forgiveness means saying that you’re not going to let what happened to you define you any longer.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are giving up all of your power. Forgiveness means you’re finally ready to take it back.