Forgiveness is very personal.
Often a life-long journey. But not an absolute requirement for a whole and happy existence.
Everyone applies their own personal meaning to it.
What might be forgiveness for one person wouldn’t seem so for another. And that’s okay. There’s no right way to do forgiveness.
I think there’s an in-between spot too.
Between complete forgiveness and the anger and hurt that come from wounding. A liminal space that we’re carried through by our own unique rhythms. Maybe we choose to dwell there for a time if that’s what we most need.
We might even find peace in the paradox there.
The both/and. The experience of both feeling the hurt and moving towards healing. Both. And.
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I wrote these words a few years ago to someone who was struggling with forgiveness. Not so much the how part of forgiving, but the why. She was feeling pressured to forgive, and experiencing a kind of societal should about it.
Sometimes I look around and think forgiveness is all the rage these days.
So I wanted to share this because I have a feeling there are a lot of people that find the whole notion of forgiveness confusing.
What I most want to say is that there’s no mandate to forgive. And really, to feel forgiveness is to feel another emotion. And in and of themselves, emotions are neither good or bad.
Of course, when we’ve been wounded or betrayed or wronged, the feelings that come after are usually very difficult.
And I notice forgiveness is often promoted as way to get some relief from these emotions. But the thing that’s most likely to begin to alleviate the pain is acceptance rather than forgiveness.
By acceptance I mean the act of stepping back and saying something like: It happened. It was tough. I was hurt. And there’s nothing I can do to change the fact that it happened.
Now, I’m not saying it’s easy to practice acceptance, but it does pave the way for healing. So acceptance is crucial.
Forgiveness, however, is optional.
I’ve had my own dance with forgiveness a few times in my life. One of the wisest things I’ve read about it is that if we choose to feel forgiveness we’ll need to work at it and consciously bring it into our lives every day. It’s not a one shot deal, by any means.
That’s definitely been my own experience, especially in the process of forgiving my father, who died two years ago. After a long relationship cut-off and a lot of personal work we managed to rekindle our relationship 12 years ago. Mostly that work involved me accepting and feeling empathy for myself.
In a way, it was about forgiving me first.
Eventually my empathy swirled out to my dad. He helped it along by meeting me more than halfway. If he hadn’t, I’m not sure I could have chosen to forgive.
So if you don’t feel ready to forgive or aren’t sure you ever want to, know that you’re okay.
Instead, work on acceptance and bringing empathy to your own experiences and woundings. And forgive yourself first.
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