Forgiveness is important and essential. It is the mark of an evolved person, a self-actualized person, it is the mark of strength and maturity. But why? And how? And but, WHY?!
It took me a lot of years to get my head around forgiveness, and to understand that it is necessary. But for many years before I reached that point, for all my life before that point actually, forgiveness was a word that filled me with resentment.
As I was growing up, forgiveness was something misused. I grew up around some people who were highly volatile. But pretty frequently really these people would also apologise for being so aggressive or abusive, because even they realised at times they’re behaviour was bad (probably they had also clicked onto the fact that the word “sorry” was a get out of jail free card for them too). And at this point I immediately became the one in the wrong, because I couldn’t forgive.
This idea of forgiveness that I grew up with, that when a person says sorry you have to forgive them, and if you don’t you are the lesser person now, only made me bitter, towards the other person, towards myself for not being this elusive “bigger person” who just magically lets everything go, towards the idea of forgiveness, which seemed to me then to serve no other purpose than to allow a person to behave badly and then to side step any social consequences for that behaviour.
What I later came to realise, as later in life I was fortunate enough to come full circle around to the idea of forgiveness again, was that the understanding of forgiveness that I had grown up with was a misunderstanding. As a child I hadn’t been able at all to articulate it, but I had intuitively known that this forgiveness in my family was not healthy and not helping. Forgiveness in my family was something misused by the people who treated others badly, and by those who supported them, towards the people they treated badly. It is an all-too-common misconception.
Forgiveness is not an obligation. You do not owe any of the people who have hurt you forgiveness. It is not something that you have to give anyone. Forgiveness isn’t even about the other person at all, forgiveness is just about you. When you try to forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for you.
Holding on to anger, resentment, hate and bitterness comes at a price, a very high price, and the person paying that price is you. The person who has wronged you is paying little if any price for your anger towards them. If you don’t have a relationship with that person anymore, then they are really literally not paying any price. They are walking around right now, oblivious to all this anger and hate that’s festering away inside you. No, the cost of you holding on to your hurt and your anger falls predominantly if not entirely on you. You cannot hold onto energies that are destructive, like anger, like hate, like malice, like righteousness, without in the process having that energy consume you. It is (unfortunately) how it goes. So when you are trying to forgive somebody, know that it’s not them you’re doing it for.
You are not in any way dependent on that other person to experience forgiveness either. You don’t need to hear a sorry in order to start the process of forgiveness. If that were the case, then that person who has hurt you would have the power to prevent you from reaching forgiveness, would have the power to keep you crippled with anger, would have the power to stop you from growing – and they don’t.
Forgiving someone doesn’t involve knocking on their door and announcing that they can relax now, order has been restored to the universe and all is forgiven. You don’t even need to involve them at all in your process of forgiveness. Forgiveness is about you letting go of something that is over, that has passed, and that you don’t need anymore. Forgiveness is about letting go of something that is not good for you.
Well, I don’t think there’s a simple answer. And I don’t think that a person ever really arrives with finality at that point where order is restored in the universe and all is forgiven. For me forgiveness is an intent, a desire, a destination, the lighthouse that you steer your ship towards. And probably one that is never arrived at completely. But, that doesn’t matter, because it’s not all or nothing. The journey towards this destination is enough. Knowing what the destination must be, and why it must be, and that there is no other way, that is, I believe, enough.