"Giving up the wish that things could be different." Valerie Harper
This is what forgiveness means to me. There is a lot to forgiving and I will get to that but before I can ever forgive another, I have to stop the subtle violence to myself and the other person by having the thought every time I see them, that this time, maybe they will be different, maybe I will be different, maybe we will be different. Because when I have really forgiven the other person, myself, the union and all of its attendant failings, I do not wish any longer that any of it is different. I’m on with the fucked up mess, the hard time, the difficult relationship...all of it. I am ok and no longer walking into the Groundhog Day of our existence, saying that I have forgiven but really walking in every time and hoping for something else.
I think forgiveness needs a who, what, when, how discussion...
Who to forgive?
Everyone, including myself. For me, I had to get over this idea that all of you could do better. You can’t...otherwise you would. This applies to all people all the time, including me. I had to get to the place in my life where I just decided to give people a pass, let them off the hook. I had to get to the place where I allowed myself to believe that even if I thought you could do better, that that did not make it so. I had to instead go to the place where I accepted that you were in fact doing the very best you could, even if that meant you were totally fucking it up. So in this regard, I am forgiving all of you, all the time.
Now me, that was a little harder. What I was able to give to others came with much harder terms for me. I still struggle with this. I do not make mistakes well, fail well or really fall short of my ideal of perfection with a lot of grace. The truth is I fall down all the time. I screw it up at least as often as I get it right...and so probably the person that I have to forgive the most is me. Yet, this is the one that I struggle with the most.
See the grace that I will give you, comes much harder to me. I can see that you are too busy, hurt, sad, angry, disadvantaged, fill in the blank...but me, I hold me to this standard that no one could ever meet! I know, you do it too! We all do. And where I have arrived is that it is ok to be hard on me. It is ok to expect more from myself. It is just going to have to be ok, because I can’t stop it. I can’t change it and I can’t do it differently. What I can do, is that I can relax a little...I can not get out the 2x4 when I fall down and bludgeon myself. That doesn’t really help...I can say something like this:
“Ah, honey, that was a shitty thing to do, or say, or think, and you can do better. You do not want to be the person you just were...let’s change that. You aren’t bad, you just fell a little short. Let’s try that again.”
Over and over and over again for all the days of my life.
There are going to be some people who hurt you in ways that are unimaginable...and forgiving lets you out of the prison they created for you when they hurt you like that. Forgiving them doesn’t mean that you absolve them of culpability - no they were still a completely fucked up motherfucker and nothing that they did was ok. But you, you get to get out of the shame loop. You get to speak your shame and drop the story line that keeps you stuck in an endless cycle of misery by reliving and rehashing something that happened in the past and can’t be changed. You get to forgive them and move on. Perhaps the best revenge one can ever really get is to grant the people who deserve grace the least, grant it to them anyway.
What I have ultimately found is that forgiveness is for me. I don’t do it for you. Forgiveness is the penultimate self care. If I hold onto the hurt you gave me, the things you did to me that were so unfair or horrible or painful, I just continue to feel the pain over and over again. You are just over there living your life, often without a clue that I am so dying over here because of your action and inaction.
For me, forgiveness got a lot easier when I realized that your conduct (all of it) is really all about where you are, not about me. I am just a passing character in your life. How you treat me, what you do to me, is really ALL ABOUT YOU. Now, how long I put up with it, allow it and participate in it with you, is ALL ABOUT ME! See the difference?
You don’t treat me like shit because I deserve it, you treat me like shit because you can’t do our relationship better, and I put up with it because on some level I believe that I don’t deserve better. Once you realize, down in your gut that you do in fact deserve better, leaving the dynamic, relationship or paradigm is so much easier. And one can do it with love, not hate. Forgiveness is the loving letting go of another who cannot or will not do better by you coupled with the realization that the other person’s failing isn’t about you at all. It is about them. For me, once I see this, the door swings wide open and I can skip my happy ass right out of there. This doesn’t mean that I no longer hurt, that takes a little longer, but it does mean that I can stop participating in something that is detrimental to me and blame you for my pain. The pain is mine, the cause is mine. And the best news ever is that I can change that...and I can not hate you forever in the process...
We can both be off the hook. No resentment, no anger...I can let you go with love and admiration and gratitude for what you taught me. We are both forgiven for the errors in our judgment, actions, thought and speech. It is ok. I formally give up the wish that it were different.
What to forgive?
Here is the bad news...we have to forgive all of it, everything that was done and said and everything that will be done and said. I am going to give you a minute to let that sink in.
I know that totally sucks.
But holding onto the sins of others with this idea that somehow you are going to make them sorry for what they did only makes us shriveled, shrinking versions of ourselves. We have to let it all go, giving blanket parlay to all the stuff that has been done or said to us that was wrong. And move on with our lives. Learning the lesson and assimilating that into the newer, better version of ourselves because of this horrible thing that just befell us.
Oh you can hold onto the hurts from the past, present and future, but you are the one that will suffer...and so will every other person you love and come into contact with...because whatever you are refusing to forgive will stand forever between you and the other person. Sucks, I know, but it is just how it is.
When to forgive?
Now. Right now. Not in five minutes and not five years from now...now is the time. Wherever you are in your life, no matter how old, your life will immediately be better if you begin to forgive. What I have learned is that like grief, forgiveness is a process, not usually a one and done kind of thing. I have to decide that I am going to allow this person, place or thing to be just as it is and find a way to be ok with that. And I am going to keep making that decision over and over again until I let it go, until I let you go, and whatever bad shit went down between us...I just am going to do that repeatedly and I am going to start right now.
Now is the only place where we make decisions. Now is where our lives really happen. Now is the the place. Now holds all the magic of the life, if we want to live in the future and find peace with ourselves in the past. Now is the time...we really have waited long enough and suffered enough...
How to forgive?
I have no idea. You just start thinking new thoughts about an old hurt. You allow that all you currently think, feel, don’t think and don’t feel to be ok. I think for me, forgiveness is really just allowing for something, anything to be different. For me, the most important step I make towards forgiveness is to give up. Stop trying to change it, to just allow the horrible, terrible, no good, very bad thing to be just as it is...open up some space around it and realize that likely no matter what I do or say, I can’t change it. And I can let myself off the hook for wishing it to be otherwise...it isn’t and may never be different. And that is really ok. I do not need anything else, most especially my wish for your or it to be different, to change. I can just give it up, right now, in this moment and in all the moments that will follow, I can just give up the wish that any of it will ever be different.
And for me, that somehow, eventually, makes it all different...I don’t know why. I just know that it does. When I release the subtle violence of knowing what you are going to say, how you are going to act, how non-contrite you are going to be about all the misery you caused me, something happens to me and for me, I get to have a new relationship with you. You can continue being exactly who you are...no changes are required...because I have given up the wish that you are different. And when I have done this, I know you are all good. I have forgiven you and you get to be who you are, and I get to allow that and then make decisions, healthy decisions, for myself about whether or not you get to stay and act that way in my life.
But I have to do the work first, because otherwise I cut you out but hold onto the pain and then there I am with the wish that things could be different which means that I haven’t forgiven and still have work to do. I am tethered to you, and all your shitty conduct, and that is a choice I am making.
Forgiveness isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. But it is worth all the hardship...because when I give up the wish that this thing between us be different, I allow for unlimited possibilities to rush in where there was only the vacuous void of my wish before. When I give up the wish for different, something magical happens, the energy I was expending holding open this space for you and I to work it out, to love and not fight, to have a different kind of relationship, I get to use that energy for something else that serves my own soul...and you get to to do the same.