A few weeks ago we talked about apologizing for the mistakes we’ve made, so this week I want to talk about the other side of the coin – forgiveness. I think that forgiveness is seen in two different ways. First, we see forgiveness as something generous and giving when someone has wronged us inadvertently or approaches us genuinely. There is usually hurt in relation to the “making up,” but it is doable and you can usually move forward. The second scenario is a little different. When someone has really hurt you – and I mean on those serious, life changing days – it can feel different. If you or a member of your family has suffered abuse (physical, sexual, verbal, emotional), a violent encounter, a terminal medical diagnosis or a loss of life, forgiveness is the last thing that you may be able to imagine. Your life has been turned upside down in a way that you could never have predicted, wanted or welcomed and there is nothing you can do to change what has happened. But how does one deal with that? How do you process it and keep moving forward? I know that it may be a tough place to acknowledge, but forgiving is not about forgetting or absolving someone else of what they may have done. It’s about taking your power back.
We have all been hurt in this life. Some in more serious ways than others, but it’s not fair to compare “hurt.” Real pain is pain, regardless of what has happened. We have a tendency to cling to pain – and there it sits in wait while we try to live the rest of our lives. But that hurt hangs on. It is with you through your fantastic times and your magical memories. It is with you through your relationships, marriages and the raising of children. It is with you until there is nothing left for it to cling to any longer – because you have told it to leave. The only way to do that is to process and forgive. Again, this forgiveness isn’t one that you are doing for someone else – in fact, it really has nothing to do with the other person. It has to do with you and your future existence. You can either use hurt to build you up or tear you down. And finding a way to forgive and move on will make you stronger than you ever thought you could be.
I have mentioned before that I was in a bad relationship in college. This was someone that, at 19, I loved and was sure that I would marry. In private and in my 19 year old brain, he couldn’t have been more wonderful. He was smart, personable, and fun. In public I was told that we had to appear as friends or flirty, but certainly not committed in any way. The first time he broke up with me, it was because he had to get a specific girl out of his system – and I waited. I dated another guy, but made it clear to this poor (and kind) man that when my boyfriend came back, I would go back to him. I didn’t want to lead anyone on, so I tried to be honest. A few months later, the boyfriend and I got back together. We broke up and got back together seven or eight times total (I lost count), but I knew that this was going to happen. The things he told me, the life he imagined for us, so many things let me know.
Then he began berating me in front of his friends, our friends. I was dumb, I couldn’t do anything right, get out of here. So I did. And a day or two later, everything was back to normal. He’d met my parents and I’d met his. I spent a few days with his family on a school break. Everyone knew that this was heading somewhere. So we went back to school. A few days later, he left me alone in his room (awake, all night, waiting for him) while he went off with some “friends.” When I asked about it the next day (and was hurting more than I could imagine at the time), I got in “trouble” and had to drop the subject. Without going into too many more details, this was not a good relationship. And to make things worse, I’d told no one.
Then my boyfriend graduated. He moved away and we decided to give ourselves some time apart. I flourished in those months. I had fun with my friends, did a lot of acting, went to parties, and enjoyed being me again. When he got the news that I was dating someone else, he was upset. But for the first time in a very long time, that was okay with me. Maybe it was time for him to be upset. Maybe I wasn’t his to be upset over.
I tell you this story because it is a situation that I have processed for many years. I started therapy shortly afterward and have tried to figure out why I would choose such a relationship. I was very lucky to have had amazing parents and a fantastic relationship with my brother. I’d always thought of myself as confident and self assured, and yet, here I was. So, have I forgiven him you ask? I actually have and – unlike many, many situations like mine – he apologized and asked for forgiveness. But that is not why I’m telling you this and also not why I forgave him. I’m telling you this story because I had to learn to forgive myself. Because THAT is who is the most important in this story and because I am the reason that I forgave him.
I once heard someone say that hating another person is like drinking poison yourself and then waiting for the other person to die. You hold onto all of that hurt and pain and toxicity, and they go on living their life. If you were abused or left or diagnosed with a terminal illness or find yourself in any situation where you feel that maybe you could have done more, it is not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t do anything to deserve it, it is NOT YOUR FAULT. And you owe it to your younger self, your current self and your future self to let yourself off the hook. You didn’t do anything wrong and you don’t need to punish yourself any longer. Forgiveness is not about absolving anyone else of what they may have done. It is about not letting it control you anymore.
You are in control of your destiny and it is time to take your power back. Whether it’s through therapy, a religious affiliation, meditation or long walks in a quiet space, you need to find a way to release the poison. Because until you do, you are only hurting yourself.