These past few days, I have been actively thinking about, talking to people and trying to understand forgiveness and it hasn’t been pretty or a smooth ride. Whatever I am about to write is just the initial understanding of the concept of forgiveness and more importantly the anatomy of forgiveness.
After posting my last post, I was searching for a topic to write about and then it just fell into my lap. Series of events happened during the weekend that destabilized me and I felt things that I do not like to feel. Feelings like being wronged, loneliness, feeling unappreciated and worse of all, not able to do anything about it. So I decided to research and write about forgiveness, hoping that it would help me to understand forgiveness.
I googled forgiveness like a good citizen of 21st century and the first article was from Positive Psychology website. The definition of forgiveness is “an individual, voluntary internal process of letting go of feelings and thoughts of resentment, bitterness, anger, and the need for vengeance and retribution toward someone who we believe has wronged us, including ourselves.”
The definition of forgiveness is like a picture of lasagna, yes I can see that its delicious and how it is suppose to look but the picture does not tell me what are the ingredients, what are the step to turn those ingredients into that delicious lasagna, the instruments I need, temperature, time to cook it and the little secret tips to get that perfectly cheesy treat.
From the definition, it looks like a one person process, which does not include the so called offender and is an internal process by the person who has perceived him/herself being wronged. Ideally, We are suppose to let go of the feeling of injustice and forgive the person without an apology, without any change in behavior from them or even any realization about the damage that they have caused.
By the definition, it sounds like a selfless act and the talks about being the bigger person and forgiving is the best argument I found online where they are like Just do it! And I am like But How?
I read articles which were research based and opinion based, I want this one to be experience based. I will be honest with my struggles along the journey towards forgiveness which (spoiler alert) is still going on.
Ughhhh, It hurts…
The process of forgiveness starts with an incentive and that is the experience of suffering that has occurred due to the event and the person. The pain and suffering makes you not want to be in that state and the only choice to overcome that pain is forgiveness. Everyone knows that it’s never a good place to feel victimized, it may feel like a familiar place and in a twisted way a negative comfort zone but it’s never a life flourishing place to be at.
What’s your story?
There is a universal view that forgiveness starts with the decision to forgive and has been called cognitive or decision based forgiveness. This is where you decide that you want to forgive the person and the event that has made you feel wronged. To do that, you change the narrative. As they say, “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Recently, I experienced that a certain individual was consistently treating me in a way that was unacceptable for me and I felt unappreciated by them. One day, I took the decision to stop the cycle and go to a distance. On that day, I felt it in my bones that I was unappreciated and my presence in that person’s life was not important. It made me feel hurt, lonely, angry, rejected and a little worthless. When I actually saw it in different light, I could see it as a moment of hurt but a moment of freedom as well. That person helped me to free myself from that viscous cycle of non mutual interactions.
The next step is little difficult, which is usually named emotional forgiveness. This is where the bigger person argument comes into play. This step is achieved by compassion and empathy. They say hate the sin but don’t hate the sinner. It is to separate that event from the person, understanding why someone would have done something hurtful, empathizing by being in their shoes.
This can be a little tough and before going into it, I need to first specify what forgiveness is not. For me personally, resistance towards forgiveness came from seeming too weak and not standing for the injustice that happened. There is no apology, no change in behavior, if I forgive then it would seem that I lack self respect and they would hurt me again. If I forgive then, they won’t value my forgiveness and I would look too easy.
If you have to deal with that person again and they behave in hurtful way again, it can make the forgiveness process much more difficult.
Let’s be clear then, that forgiveness is NOT
- Pardoning, excusing an offence and complete reconciliation like nothing has happened.
- Tolerating, denial and suppression of emotions that emerged due to the hurt.
- Justifying the hurt
- Reconciliation with the person ( varies case to case)
Empathizing is a way of understanding why someone would have behaved in a particular way, we all behave in our own unique ways because of our nature, nurture and how we perceive that nature and nurture. If you ever have privilege to know anything about anyone then you can actually track it in the way they act, talk, think and conduct themselves.
It is really difficult to accept but the way people behave is less about you and more about them. It is not far-fetched that hurt people hurt people. I personally have done and said so many things that do not represent who I am and who I want to be as a human being but I still did them. Similarly people can also do things that they may regret or do them unconsciously due to some hurt or perception they have. In this journey of forgiveness, I do ask myself whenever I feel hurt by someone that if I were in their place and had similar upbringing, same values, morals, similar perceptions and similar growth; would I have done the same thing and the honest answer is Yes.
Restoration of relationship?
In many articles, it is mentioned that forgiveness in not complete without restoration of original relationship between the offender and the forgiver and is ONLY achieved when the forgiver has no resentment towards the injury. To be honest I do not see the restoration part as that black or white.
In real life, relationships mutate upward or downward after each injury, breaking of trust, hurting someone has consequences even though the forgiver forgives. The forgiving is done by the forgiver but the fate of relationship will vary depending on the actions of both people involved.
When someone does not realize that they have hurt someone and do not take any action to make the relationship work, then even after the forgiveness the forgiver may not continue the relationship as a relationship is a two way street. Every person deserves forgiveness but it’s up to the forgiver if they want to give someone another chance and how many chances were given before. No one wants to get burn again and again, so depending on the events that play out after the injury the restoration of relationship will occur.
Opps, the relapse!
No matter how hard I try to simplify this pursuit of forgiveness, relapses happen and it’s absolutely alright. Forgiveness is not a burden and not a forceful choice that we have to make because we want to do the right thing. It is actually the opposite of burden; it is unburdening ourselves from the hurt and resentment that occupies our mind and body. There are so many health benefits of forgiveness, which are linked to letting go of the toxic emotions of anger, helplessness, unworthiness, resentment, vengefulness. By letting go, you give yourself what you deserve, Freedom.
You deserve to feel happy, relaxed, worthy and not occupied by something that has made it difficult to feel your best. Many people say and I have experienced too that by letting go and forgiving, you feel so much lighter. If you got hurt, then it’s not your responsibility to keep that burden and hurt with you; you deserve to feel better and it’s your right to let go of anything and anyone that doesn’t make you feel precious, which you are!
The thing about forgiveness is that when you have affection for someone who hurts you, forgiveness comes easy. But the bitter truth is that sometimes, just sometimes, giving those chances is not enough and for the sake of your sanity and well being, you have to stop and go to distance.
I have found that forgiving the person you still have affection for, means letting them go as well and then the restoration of relationship is sadly going back to the time where your relationship with that person was of stranger-stranger.
But because you are the awesome you!
You wish them well as you would to any fellow person in this universe.
And just like perfect lasagna may not be made in first trial, forgiveness is the same but do not give up because you deserve happiness , calmness and contentedness and Not anger, hurt and resentment.
Unburden yourself one kg or even milligram at a time.