Forgiveness is a tough topic, primarily because people have so many different definitions of it. You look in the dictionary and see words like "pardon" and "absolve" and say "hells to the no! I ain't doing THAT!" And I agree. That's tantamount to saying "I wipe your indiscretion clean" in my book. That's not going to happen.
Oprah's favorite definition of forgiveness is "giving up the hope that the past could ever be different." That makes a lot of sense. Because that's what we push up against...we want things a) to be made right or b) to have never happened in the first place. Neither of those things will ever happen. So when we let go of the desire for the past to be different, the bad feelings we hold go with it. I get that and it all sounds really reasonable and nice, but it's a little soft for what I'm really feeling in the moment of anger.
So I came up with a different definition befitting the drama I feel at the time, and that is: "I will no longer stew in toxins over what you did". I personally believe I was born uniquely qualified to stew in toxins, so forgiveness means setting aside my playtime with my "special gift". Some of the time forgiveness also means that I "get" it...I get why you did whatever you did and while I don't agree with it, I do get it. In short, I come to peace with what happened. But understanding and being at peace with what happened are NOT requirements of forgiveness. They just make it easier.
Whether I'm at peace with it it or not doesn't mean I'll ever talk to you again, though. It just means that I'll stop ramming pins into the poppet I made in your likeness and I'll move my anger down to a simmer. And then I'll let it cool and evaporate. Some people, like family, will remain in my life and our relationship will carry on (albeit changed). Others, depending upon the crime and the amount of personal responsibility acknowledged, may not.
For me, forgiveness also does not include forgetting. I will never forget. Come crawling back five or ten years later thinking I forgot, and you will find that I have not. I will likely be kind to you because I am a kind person. But I will not forget. I will not invite you in for tea. We will not laugh about "old times". I will not inquire about your pet rabbit. And I will not encourage our conversation to linger. Remembering is my prize in the Cracker Jack box of forgiveness. You can make me eat the sugary, stale brown popcorn of letting go, but the prize is mine to keep, dammit!
Ultimately, forgiveness isn't something you do for anyone other than yourself. In fact, they don't need to know you've forgiven them. It's not a gift for you to bestow on them. It's a gift you bestow upon yourself. You do it to release the toxic effects of anger, pain and hurt from your body, mind and soul. In some cases, you do it because you refuse to allow the other person to take anymore of your peace of mind than they have already taken. You may not like hearing this, but refusing to forgive is choosing to remain a victim.
Carrying stuff like pain, betrayal and violation changes the chemicals in your body. It keeps you chained to the past. It keeps you from creating better situations in your life.It can give you cancer. And it closes off your heart to others. Forgiveness reopens your heart to others—maybe not to the offender, but to yourself and others you care about. The energy of bitterness toward one person pervades every other relationship you have as long as you hold on to it. Don't fool yourself that it doesn't.
Every one of us will be in two positions in our lives—we will be the forgiver, as I've already discussed. And we will be the one who needs to be forgiven. The crime we committed may be one perpetrated against someone else or against ourselves. In each case, we will not find forgiveness anywhere outside of ourselves.
"What?" you say? Yeah, you heard me. No one can forgive you but yourself. You don't need anyone else's forgiveness to be forgiven. Their forgiveness is for them, remember? So all that time you spend thinking, "I really wish Tommy would forgive me" is really just you saying "I wish I could get to a place where I forgive myself for what I did to Tommy". Tommy's forgiveness means nothing if you can't forgive yourself. And if you forgive yourself, you don't really need Tommy's forgiveness to move forward. Do the math and you'll see Tommy's forgiveness is irrelevant. Sure, it would be nice to know he "gets it", but you don't need it.
On a final note, I have never, to my recollection, ever purposely done anything to anyone to get revenge. If that's your thing, you're just creating bad karma for yourself. The universe makes all scores even and, from my observation, is much better at it than I am. It's actually possible that whatever was done to you was something you had coming from some "crime" you committed years ago against someone else. So get off your high horse and stop thinking you get to be god because someone "done you wrong". It's not your job to judge, convict and sentence others. Do that and you'll just continue the cycle of nastiness in your life. Because all scores are made even, including the ones you commit against the natural order.
Listen, in the end, we all screw up. And sometimes the offending act is actually a gift waking us up to a relationship that's gone past its sell-by date. Sometimes its waking us up to something that needs to change in a treasured dynamic. Sometimes it's telling us something we didn't previously know or acknowledge about someone we care about, thereby giving us the opportunity to know them deeper, whether we continue with the relationship or not. And sometimes it's telling us something we didn't know about ourselves and our choices in life.
The gifts of these situations can be lost in the anger. So always remember to ask yourself, "what did this betrayal (or whatever) come here to show me?" While forgiveness truly is a gift you give yourself, many times that gift is just the cherry on top of a much bigger one. Don't let your anger blind you to that.
Adapted from a post originally made on 7/3/12.
Adapted from a post originally made on 7/3/12.