In a previous article, I mentioned that forgiveness benefits the forgiver—you have made a conscious effort to let go of bad feelings, and to not invest any more emotional energies that colour your point of view and drag you down. In doing so, you enable the wound to heal. Some acts, and some people, are easier to forgive than others, so this is entirely a subjective thing, and not subject to criticism from others. Others may have greater, or less, difficulty in forgiving than you do. It is very individual.
We respond with anger. It’s part of the ‘fight or flight’ response that is embedded in our brains (the amygdala is responsible). This is a very primal response—when threatened, we respond with a show of strength and menace. Although our hair no longer stands on end, and we do not bellow and beat our chests, the feeling of anger gives us a (false) sense of power and control. No one is less in control of him/herself than an enraged person.
We also respond with sadness. Duplicity hurts. Kahlil Gibran wrote that our pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses our understanding. This too is natural—we mourn what is missing in our lives.
A certain amount of anger and resentment are natural, even necessary. Our response to an injury validates us. We tell ourselves we do not deserve to be slighted or injured, that we are worthy of better than we have been given. Others may try to explain, justify, or offer alternative points of view. Although they aren’t siding with the person who hurt you, it might feel that way. What they need to do for now is listen.
A component of forgiveness is understanding. First, understand that although you are affected, the problem isn’t necessarily yours. While we realize everyone has problems, it often takes us by surprise when we see the problems of other people played out in front of us. It’s like dealing with someone with chronic bad breath—although your nose is offended, the problem is his. In Poland, they say, Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy (‘Not my circus, not my monkey’). Things that happen are not always your fault or responsibility, and this is important to remember. We have too many real responsibilities to take on undeserved blame.
Some people are constitutionally incapable of fair play, honesty, or respect of personal boundaries. Forgiving someone doesn’t ‘let them off the hook’, but if you don’t forgive them, the act can continue to affect you long after it’s over. Whether or not you pursue the matter, the person who stole from you is still a thief; the one who struck you is still a thug. Such vile behaviour seems to them to be the most advantageous solution. It’s in their nature to be the way they are. I am thinking of a man who did a great deal of harm to others by lying and distorting facts. It took a while to recognize, and even longer to accept. I never understood why he did the things he did, or how he benefitted from his behaviour, but I do understand this is his way—he’ll never change, and should be regarded with caution.
I am also thinking of people during my social service career who acted in ways that were upsetting and disruptive to others. I knew their histories, and it was apparent that their actions were meant to preserve their physical and mental well-being as they understood ‘well-being’ to be. After recognizing they weren’t able to act differently, it was easier to forgive their actions. Yes, everyone has a choice, but when you know nothing else, your options obviously are limited.
Another aspect of forgiveness really doesn’t involve the person who hurt you; here, the focus is you! You can’t move on until you’ve accepted that something bad really has happened. In 2011, my home burnt down. It took a very long time to accept that my world had been turned upside down—nothing I knew of normalcy applied anymore. It’s no different when someone is an identifiable cause. When you allow the pain of the event to recede, when you can allow that something awful really happened, then you are ready to forgive and move on.
As was mentioned in the last article, forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to keep allowing yourself to be hurt. I came across a quote, the source of which I can’t trace, that said in effect, when you bear an injury and allow nothing in the relationship to be changed, that is true forgiveness. This is a very idealistic definition. As people, we hurt and we remember. Injury will change us, even if only to make us a bit more cautious, until we are certain we can trust again.
Our part in forgiveness is to direct that change.
Paul TN Chapman
If you enjoyed reading this, please take a look at my eBooks on Amazon.com:
Behind These Red Doors: Stories a Cathedral Could Tell : http://amzn.to/1iGMFUp
Lives of the Ain’ts: Comedic Biographies of Directors Errant: http://amzn.to/1nPvqoc
The Inn of Souls: http://amzn.to/1lD7xjJ
You can also see a reading of excerpts of each book by clicking on the links below:
Behind These Red Doors: Stories a Cathedral Could Tell: http://bit.ly/1CwIqIN
Lives of the Ain’ts: Comedic Biographies of Directors Errant: http://bit.ly/1t8cF5X
The Inn of Souls: http://bit.ly/1x7ZzE4