God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches you by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly – not one. ~ Rumi
Forgiveness doesn’t come naturally to a Sicilian like me. I can hold a grudge and guard it like my dog does a bone. Sure, he buries it, but he always remembers where it is.
Even if I find it in my heart to forgive, I never forget.
I’ve spent a lot of time these past few years contemplating my thoughts on forgiveness. Can we truly forgive? Is it possible to forget the wrongs someone has done to us? How do we turn feeling like a victim into a life lesson?
How do you move on?
According to the Mayo Clinic, “forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.”
In my opinion, that choice is easier if you have an understanding of the circumstances. But we aren’t always lucky enough to be able to get answers to our questions. Sometimes, we don’t have any control.
Maybe the first step is looking at our own behavior. Outside of rape, abduction or murder, people often play a role in their own misfortune. What drew you to that person? What need inside of you did they fulfill?
Something made you start the connection.
I’m not suggesting we become hermits hiding in caves to avoid being hurt, but I’m merely realizing some of my own pain came from forging relationships with people who knew how to tap into my wounds and use them to their advantage.
I let myself be an open book. That is a beautiful thing in some relationships, but can be extremely dangerous in others.
If you miss the red flags, or choose to ignore them, you need to ask yourself why. What are you protecting yourself from? What are you scared of?
Take off the rose-colored glasses.
You might have seen red flags but chose to turn the other way. Own that. Own your own choices in the betrayal.
Not for one minute am I suggesting you let the betrayer off the hook. They need to take their own responsibility in the hurt they caused you. But it’s not always black and white.
They are human too. They make mistakes. They may not have set out to manipulate you, but merely misguided, confused, immature, or stuck in a pattern of selfishness.
What I’d like to propose is a three-part process of forgiveness:
1. Speak up. As my priest says, “Use your flint.” Be a hard stone, the kind of stone that can strike a fire. Stand firm. Stand up for yourself. It’s a lot harder to take advantage of someone who is confident and strong.
2. Have empathy. It is impossible to forgive without being empathetic. We have to be able to put ourselves in the other’s shoes. Imagine life from their perspective. What was their childhood like that made them who they are today? What misfortune was brought upon them to turn their world bitter and grey and bring a cloud over your life?
3. Get therapy. Yes, I have always been open about the value of therapy. I truly can’t say enough about how it’s changed me. Most of all, it’s taught me to understand the human mind, as fucked up as that can be sometimes.
No one is perfect. There might come a day when you keep asking, “Why? Why did they do this to me?!” The question will spin in your head over and over, keeping you up and night, making your stomach turn and twist into knots, and forcing you to remain stuck in an endless spiral of confusion and sorrow.
Maybe the answer to “Why?” is simply the person was in an altered state of mind only they could understand.
That’s not your fault. That’s not even their fault. It’s just a sad, unfortunate fact… but a fact you have no control over. Your only option to move past is to accept their illness and let go of your anger.
Or perhaps the reason is they did all they knew how at the time and didn’t know any better. Once we know better, we do better… or at least we should. This is where speaking up is the only way to protect yourself. Tell them they hurt you. Tell them you can’t be a part of their lives under these conditions. Tell them how unhealthy it is for you.
But tell them. Sooner rather than later. There might be time to fix the bond.
Love and trust are fragile things. Once broken, they’re hard to put back together. But if you speak up early, it’ll be easier. And each time you speak up, hearing your own voice… your own flint… gets easier too.
One other thing to consider: There are always two sides to every story. As righteous as you may feel, you might be wrong. How well do you really know the person who hurt you? Well enough to play god and assume you are the only one who speaks and knows the truth? Perhaps there’s a side of them they never let you see… a side they never let themselves see.
Walk on the path of empathy… rinse and repeat until you can feel some connection with the other side. Then, release. Let go. Move on. Breathe.
Take your life back. You can never live a full life weighted down by anger and resentment.
Some people never intentionally mean to hurt you. They simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time and got caught up in a whirlwind of someone else’s shit storm.
So the next time you are furious with someone and think they don’t ever deserve your forgiveness, look within, think back at the red flags, have empathy, and speak up for yourself.
I have finally come to this place of forgiveness in my life. I only have one person left to forgive now – me.
That one will be the hardest of all, but I’ll get there. Thank God for therapy.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whomever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Jalal ad-Din Rumi