While catching up over coffee one day, my long time friend shared how her first love had betrayed her and how that experience had completely shattered her young self. Today, she told me, she is happily married to a wonderful man and lives in a beautiful home full of love and laughter. We joked about how her ex having left her was the best thing that ever happened to her. She said she had never been happier in her life yet she will carry the pain and hurt of her lost love to her grave. She will not be able to forgive him ever.
It made me think, what keeps us stuck in pain, shackled to past hurts? Why is it so hard to forgive?
From a young age, we are taught to forgive people because it’s “the right and noble thing to do.” We have heard things like forgive and forget, take the high road, to err is human and to forgive divine. While there is merit in each of these statements and we do want to forgive, I think the biggest reason we find it so difficult to forgive is that most of us don’t understand what forgiveness really means. We wonder, does it mean –
I agree with your actions or words?
I condone your action or words?
I have forgotten what happened?
Our relationship would go back to normal or the same as before?
I am the victim and I have to put up with this, I have no choice?
I will open myself up to more hurt?
I am better, more mature than you and hence I forgive you?
I am letting the offender off the hook?
The offender will feel emboldened to repeat their actions?
Forgiveness doesn’t mean any of these. Forgiveness is not for or about someone else. Its neither about condoning the actions that hurt us nor denying that they hurt us, neither is it about loving nor hating the people who wronged us.
Forgiveness is a choice we make, a choice to love, accept and honor ourselves.
How do we exercise this choice? By accepting the situation and moving on, by not giving our power away to other people and allowing them to make us angry, sad, resentful, guilty or ashamed. Does that mean we don’t do anything? Acceptance isn’t non-action. Choice is active not passive. We keep the past alive by resisting or fighting the situation, hoping, wishing, praying that things were different. When we choose to accept, we free up the energy of resistance, we become present in the current moment and are able to take empowered action. We realize the power of choice. No one can insult or hurt us without our permission.
Forgiveness is, therefore, an act of self-love.
In every conflict, all parties involved make a contribution, however big or small. Forgiveness is about taking responsibility for what we contributed. Sometimes, in fact often times, not speaking up and standing up for ourselves is our contribution to a situation. It’s easier to pin blame on another person saying they wronged us or mistreated us. The important question is what in us allowed that to happen? That doesn’t mean we blame ourselves, simply reflect on the situation and take responsibility for what we did or failed to do. When we take this approach, every conflict becomes an opportunity for learning and growth.
Choosing not to forgive keeps us stuck in negative emotions and in victim-hood.
Even when we understand this and feel ready to forgive, we are still unable to do so because often a part of us wants revenge or restitution not reconciliation or resolution. We want to hurt the offender like they hurt us. We want to teach them a lesson. This keeps us stuck in the pain and caged in our private hell.
Like Rumi says “Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?”
Forgiveness is that wide open door that leads to our freedom.
Forgive others, not because they deserve it, but because you deserve peace.
On a lighter note — Living well is the best revenge. Choose to live well and free!