In my young life I have had many opportunities to forgive. I say opportunities because that is how I view the chance to release someone from the guilt I'm holding over them. I forgive in-part because it is my nature. I forgive because I believe that is what we are supposed to do. I forgive because it helps me to feel more balanced and less weighed down.
Since before I can remember, I have been relatively quick to forgive. It hasn't always been a perfect forgiveness (we'll discuss this later) but often has been about me having to let go of the feelings. I am not one to hold onto a grudge, anger, sadness or even guilt. I definitely beat myself up over things, but I don't do it for long before I let it go. I do the same for the people who impact my life with their mistakes.
Unlike some who do this, I don't release the emotion before I have passed through it fully. I feel it all, get through it and move on. In many ways this is beneficial to me. It allows me to live with no regrets. It allows me to work through problems and then move forward. It could possibly be why I have no gray hairs. Funny, but seriously, it could.
There are many things I have been through in my life that I have had to examine and eventually forgive someone for. I'm not talking about petty things, small indiscretions, I'm talking about life-changing moments that had a huge impact on my life. Most of those times I have literally told them I forgave them, others it was more of an inner forgiveness. I am not about to drudge up all that history of mine and reveal their stories on the Internet for the world to see. While it may be illustrative in my point, part of forgiveness is letting go- which means not continually bringing it up. (Though, as I have done before, I will discuss my divorce a bit.)
Instead, I would like to go through my personal formula for forgiving someone, and the reasons why I do it, and why I think everyone should forgive. Just to clarify: these are all my opinions and how my mind works.
The first step to forgiveness is recognizing that there was a wrong done. There are two ways this happens. In the best of circumstances this is done by both parties. Otherwise, it's just you knowing something wrong was done to you or impacted you and the other person either has no idea, doesn't care, or refuses to take responsibility.
In the best case scenario, this person knows what they did, they have apologized, and they are not going to do it again. In this scenario, we are going to take this person at their word. I call this the best case scenario because it is measurably easier to forgive someone who recognizes that what they did was wrong and is willing to own their mistake, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. Sincerity obviously plays a large role in this scenario. Especially in a case where trust was broken. I firmly believe that you can gauge sincerity no matter where trust stands between you.
In other scenarios, it's all on you. You recognize the wrong and then move on to step two.
It is usually best if the person recognizes on their own that they did something wrong and talks to you about it. It shows they are sincere and are genuinely sorry. In some cases they may simply not have known they did something to impact you and once they find out, they too are sorry. If they have apologized they might allow you to ask questions, get some answers, some closure, some truth, and allow you to process things before you forgive them. This is the most beneficial type of forgiveness for both parties. It allows for communication, a bit of self-induced therapy, and a sort of air-clearing. All of those things allow for a much more positive experience in forgiveness and often the best repair to a relationship if that is the case.
You certainly have a choice of whether or not to bring it up with the person. In many cases this is beneficial if only to let them know that it impacted you and sometimes will lead to the best case scenario. Sometimes they won't be willing to take responsibility for their actions, they might get angry, they might try to blame you or get defensive. It is generally fruitless to attempt to convince them that they were wrong. In this case, letting them know you were upset is enough to get the process of forgiveness going. It just means they won't be much of a part of it.
In the event that the other party is unwilling to communicate with you civilly, it is helpful to find someone you trust to discuss the issue if it is bigger than you can deal with. Counselling is there for a reason. Otherwise, a religious leader, a mentor or even a very trusted friend can help you through this situation and give you a different perspective. Just be careful who you air your feelings to.
Anger can be a hard thing to keep from spreading around. Trust me when I tell you that talking about someone behind their back- even if it's well deserved in your mind- will always come back to bite you somehow. It is better to get your real feelings out directly to someone than it is to get them out to a third party and have that person find out second or third-hand. Bottom line, if you need someone to vent to, make sure you can trust them. Otherwise, vent in prayer, on paper, or aloud to no one in particular. Just make sure that you communicate your feelings somehow. Get them out so you can move on.
I was watching an episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive last night and the therapist said something that struck me as a major truth. It was something like, "It takes far more courage to feel feelings then it does to shut them off." For some reason, society has decided that emotion is taboo. We are a "get over it", "move on", "you've been crying or sad for too long" society. Yes, there are limits to how deeply or how long someone should feel or deal with something before it should be called depression. Especially if it was extreme or traumatic. But often people think or feel that they are weak for crying or being upset. I don't believe this to be true.
To hide feelings may seem beneficial in the moment. The problem with hidden feelings is they eventually have to come out somewhere. Take the example of the show I was watching. Hoarders are a great example of what can become of feelings not felt. You can't escape feelings. If you don't deal with them, they can take over and express themselves in extreme ways from overreacting to an entirely different issue, to hoarding, to literally losing your mind.
The point is: feel it. Deal with it NOW. Putting it off will only make it more difficult. Holding it in, especially if it's a bunch of small things say with your spouse, or being mistreated at work, or a friend who takes advantage of you, will never help it to be better. Hidden feelings compound on themselves until they combine and create an explosion. Dealing with them one at a time is always better.
I remember when I went through my divorce. The feelings I felt then were the most extreme feelings I had ever experienced. It was impossible to contain them. I cried until there were no more tears. I was more angry than I had ever been. I was irrational and sometimes crazy. I was this way for a long time. I remember the day when I finally felt like I had a handle on things again. I was in no way normal, my life still felt like it was in shambles, but I knew everything would be OK...no matter what happened. It was then that I knew I had felt everything I needed to feel and could move forward. The feelings came back in spurts here and there, but they weren't nearly as extreme, and I dealt with them too. It was hard. Ugly and horrible. But imagine what would have happened had I tried to contain them.
If the other party doesn't want to take responsibility, is trying to deny guilt, or is angry, they might try to tell you that you're being irrational. Don't let anyone tell you to feel differently than you do. Ever. You feel the way you do for a reason. You are not crazy. You are not emotional. You are who you are and you feel what you feel. Find out why you feel that way, do something about it, go through it. Only then will you truly be able to move on.
I could go on about this forever. Instead I will reiterate one more time. FEEL IT. Don't be afraid of your feelings. Embrace them so you can move forward.
To be continued...