“Forgive yourself,” he said. I thought I did, but I had just barely scratched the surface.
Forgiveness. According to most self-help books, it is one of the words that can make or break the strength of our emotional development, and in some situations our emotional recovery. There are times in life when people, whether intentional or unintentional, disappoint, hurt, scar, or maim us leaving us oddly re-inspired, refocused, scarred, or even emotionally handicapped. Most times we are told to forgive those people. We are told that forgiveness is “more for you than it is for them,” It is supposed to grant you peace within and the liberty to move forward weightless and healed. Unfortunately, in reality the one dimensional word “forgiveness” is both multidimensional and intangible. In essence forgiveness is an intangible word meant to cure real, tangible problems.
Most times, in others, we look for the signs of forgiveness in apologetic words and changes in behavior and we hope that an intangible word can produce healing that we can truly feel. An apology from a remorseful person is the easiest wrong to overcome. However, more difficult times to forgive are those in which (1) the other person(s) apologizes but we perceive no change in their behavior towards us, and (2) the times in which the other person is not remorseful and there is no apology anywhere in sight. The even more difficult times are those in which we have no answers for the other person(s) behavior toward us and no possible way of getting those answers (i.e. death, estranged, etc.) The truth is, sometimes you can say you forgive someone but the hurt doesn’t quite disappear as easily, especially when something reminds you of what that person did.
I remember experiencing disappointments by a person that I considered a role model and in many ways a mentor. In this case it was nothing like being physically violated, though there are more people than care to admit that are struggling to find peace after a person has left them emotionally scarred in that manner. This was more a case of being a young person looking up to someone for approval, wisdom, and guidance in life and instead receiving confusion, contradiction, and disregard. Over the next ten years, I ultimately lost a mentor and slowly became an enemy in that person’s mind. Long story shorter than short, those initial small disappointments turned into more hurts and confusion, and eventually turned into emotional scars.
Notably, my emotional response was likely more intense than their actions. Sometimes, our “hurt” is more intensified by experience and personal expectations and can often be interpreted by others as an exaggerated response. Everyone’s feelings are valid whether we agree with them or not, so at the time, my feelings felt extremely valid. But eventually, I forgave, or so I thought I did. Surely, at many moments over the last couples of years my forgiveness was very genuine. I felt free, happy, silently praying and wishing the best for them. However, every now and then (mostly when I was frustrated in those areas of my life that I believed suffered the most as a result of the hurt from the broken relationship) I would find myself bitter, yet in denial of the fact that maybe I was still angry with the other person, wanting something more like an apology, remorse, or to see a change in their behavior. Maybe I did not even know what I really wanted. Sometimes the only thing that will really quiet your emotional pain is to rewind time and rewrite history, which is impossible.
One day during one of my “animated” discussions about this person, a close friend said “You really hate ____.” Flabbergasted and appalled at the idea that he thought I could have hatred toward someone, but personally more scared that I might feel that way, I denied it quickly responding with “maybe a long time ago but I have forgive them. We are good now, really.” Hate was too strong a word, but it did make me question if I truly had forgiven them. Then he said, “You need to forgive yourself…”
There was much more that followed his statement, but this part matter the most to me. I realized that I was still affected. Since I never received what I thought was a sufficient apology, I still had some need for closure. My second realization was that I was upset with myself for even allowing this hurt to still affect me after so many years. Supposedly, I had moved on. I was stronger and more confident than anything that someone could do to me. I was unaffected. Or at least that’s what I wanted to believe.
Whether you have forgiven, are still waiting for your emotions to allow you to get to that point, or are somewhere in between, don’t forget to forgive yourself for any of the following:
…for being in the situation in the first place
…for maybe expecting more from a human than their personal experiences even allow them to give
…for forgiving, but still being affected by the memory
…for replaying the wish that it never happened
…for using a grudge as an excuse to not move on
…for putting maximum effort into your healing but finding that it still hurts
If I left anything off the list, forgive yourself for that too. It is easier to hang on to pain than it is to forgive, but hanging on to pain only brings more or the same. Set yourself free, and move on.