Saturday, July 27, 2013

Even when they don't "get it"

When I was a few decades younger, my parents would never allow my brothers and me to fight. Not once.

When we disagreed or got angry at each other (which invariably happened) we were told that we didn't hate each other, that we loved each other, and what would we feel like if something horrible happened to that other person and we never got a chance to make things right? Guilt and shame were the weapons used to coerce us into "making up" ... we were never allowed to work it out between ourselves.  We weren't allowed to feel what we felt.

All that really succeeded in doing was to make us doubt ourselves, to doubt our own feelings, and to not know how to resolve issues we had whenever they arose. We were forced into forgiveness before we'd even gotten a chance to fully define the problem. We learned to be insincere and to get away with it. This had far-reaching repercussions on our own emotions. Depending on our personalities, we either withdrew into ourselves, exploded in angry outbursts, or poured on the guilt and manipulation to make the other person capitulate. 

 Nobody said that he or she was sorry. We instead tried to make it up to the other person by doing something nice for him or her. We also never learned what true forgiveness was. 

Thanks to Tina Phillips at 
for this photo, "Young Love"
Notice how what appears to be love ... isn't.

It wasn't until much later (many years after I left the family homestead) that I learned that an apology is actually being sorry and saying so, not for being caught but for hurting the other person. And in the same way, I learned that forgiveness isn't saying that nothing is wrong, that I was wrong to feel what I felt, or that what the other person did wasn't really all that bad. 

That kind of mentality kept me in a type of emotional slavery to my own sense of self-justification. I held onto things that people did to me out of a sense of not only being wronged, but of wanting someone else - anyone else (but especially the ones that wronged me) - to admit that I was the victim.

I learned, through therapy and some intensive working on my inner self, that forgiveness is recognizing that there is a moral debt that someone owes you, but choosing to write that debt off and not expect repayment. 


And that it is a process. It takes time. Sometimes a LOT of time.

And over time, I also learned that forgiving someone doesn't require the other person to apologize or to change in any way. In fact, very often the other person doesn't know that he or she has committed an offense and - if confronted - would never admit to any wrongdoing. Or, if they admitted it, they'd go right back to doing whatever it was all over again.

Instead, I learned that forgiveness is not really about the other person at all. It's about the person who forgives. It's about letting go of the need for justice. And what happens when you forgive is that it frees you. There is a lot of energy expended in maintaining a grudge. Forgiveness makes that burden disappear. 

And it does more. It actually liberates the other person to experience the consequences of his or her own actions without my help or influence. Don't ask me HOW this works; I just know that I've seen it over and over again. And every time I struggle with forgiving someone and finally come to that place of letting go, I learn it all over again. 

Even when they don't get it, even when they continue on in the same behavior, forgiving them allows me to acknowledge the wrongness of their behavior, and then to choose to release myself from the obligation to extract my pound of flesh from them. 

That's energy I get back. That's strength I need to live my life every day, unencumbered by the torture of "what they did" or "what they said." 

Forgiveness, even when the other person doesn't know or does not care one bit, does what very few things can do in the inner life of the one who forgives. It does what Abraham Lincoln did for the slaves after the American Civil War.

It emancipates. 

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