March 24, 2013
A friend posted a status update saying “Forgiveness really means letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different”. She’d heard it on an Australian TV programme about couples, but I’d heard it ages back when Oprah said it was her favourite quote about forgiveness.
I’m afraid it doesn’t work for me. But perhaps I am interpreting it wrongly. For me “letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different” implies a resignation that what will be will be. Nothing could have been done differently by anyone. The outcome was already sealed in stone. And that would mean that nobody need take responsibility for their mistakes and I can’t agree with that. I’m a huge believer in individual responsibility.
What I want to do is recover from the hurt and live life to the full today. But I can still look back every now and again and wish it had never happened. But to get to that recovery the first thing I need to do is accept that whatever has happened has happened. Denial is a reflex in times of crisis but when the evidence is overwhelming then you simply have to accept it. There is no point struggling to try to make the past appear different or you will never be able to live in the present as you will be pre-occupied trying to reconfigure the past. It happened. Horrible as it was. You can’t change it.
Then I have to decide is there someone to blame? It could be me, it could be someone else, it could be a combination or it could just be bad luck – in which case the question of forgiveness doesn’t arise. But if there is someone to blame then I have to decide whether I need to forgive them. Not to make them feel better, but to make me feel better.
If I’m never going to see them again I don’t need to forgive them. If I want them to be a fundamental part of my life, then I will need to forgive them in order to have the kind of relationship that I want – where there is trust and a belief that the other person does not want to hurt me again.
In between those two extremes of never seeing again and being very close to is the area where relationships can cool off as one person is hurt by another’s actions and may feel unwilling to forgive but is willing to maintain some kind of relationship albeit more distant and wary than before.
If you can’t forgive them, then you will never have the full and trusting relationship that you want with them. If your hurt and anger are always there, bubbling away like a pot of acid ready to rot the relationship, then it is going to be a pretty shit time for everyone. And of course they need to want the relationship to continue too and be prepared to work at making it better.
So how do you forgive someone?
Firstly how big an issue is it? Somethings may be nigh on unforgivable, some things really minor. So it will depend on what equity there is between you already. I’ve already blogged that Experience tells me that whatever happens tends to reinforce our pre-concevied ideas about that person, so you will give more leeway to someone you love and also be more likely to forgive them their mistakes, whatever size they are. Sometimes forgiving can be easy for me – it is literally instantaneous.
But other times it is harder work. And then it’s fake it till you make it time. This holds true for getting over any shit – whether or not I need to forgive the person – because this is about my recovery and not letting the shitstorm take over the way I want to live my life.
So I focus on the outcome I want – it could be the happy family, the future , the friendship. I focus on all the positives about the relationship (be it between partners, family members or friends) – that it is worth forgiving someone because over all they enrich my life (or my family’s life) more than they bring it down. That not having them in my life would be worse for me or my family than keeping them close. The future potential is greater with them than without them.
Everyone fucks up sometimes. Some of us more than others. It doesn’t have to mean the whole thing is ruined for ever. It just means things won’t be exactly the same as before. But it could even be better if everyone learns from it.