Forgiveness: What It Isn't, What It Can Be...
Updated: Jan 16, 2019
Have you ever heard the expression, "Forgive and Forget"? I'm pretty certain that anyone reading this has--it's a popular expression in our culture. The story behind it is popular as well: if we are able to "let go" of our feelings, we can somehow "forget" what has happened and our experience of it, and consequently feel lighter, be healthier and have stronger, more trusting and honest relationships.
But this story is a myth, and it can cause significant harm. Many people who have experienced some kind of betrayal from a loved one--or simply another human being--often feel a sense of shame or anger at themselves for not being able to live up to this story. "Why can't I just forgive them and move on? Other people do, what is wrong with me?", kind of thinking.
But the truth is, "Forgive and Forget" is a lie. No one can "forget" a betrayal, nor should we. Trying to forgive and forget is nothing more than a denial, a suppression, and even an invitation for further trauma. If someone hurts us, and we intentionally "forgive and forget"--"they didn't mean it", "they said they wouldn't do it again", "they were drunk", etc., what we are really doing is turning off our feelings (another phrase for abandoning ourselves) and putting ourselves blindly at risk for allowing this person to harm us again.
What Forgiveness Can Be
I understand forgiveness as a refusal to live with or act in contempt. We acknowledge that someone has hurt us. We set boundaries to ensure our continued physical and emotional safety. We validate our right to anger, to fury. BUT we intentionally refuse to let the fury, the contempt to take over our well-being. In a way, it is a cancellation of the debt that a person "owes" us. Of course, we may seek out justice when possible and appropriate. We may fantasize about vengeance when it's not. That's because we are human! But the reality is, oftentimes, people who have betrayed us will not "pay us back". They will not, maybe can not, make it better. So we don't forget what happened, but instead we try to come to terms with the fact that they most likely will not pay us back, make it better. Instead, we pay ourselves back.
Paying ourselves back, ironically, means committing to acknowledging the full weight of the harm caused. We need to assess the aftermath of the betrayal within ourselves, naming the harm. When we own the pain, we validate our experience, our feelings, our humanity. We pay ourselves back by embracing our humanity and extending compassion to our parts that have been hurt. Owning the pain, forgiving the debt. Forgiveness isn't easy. Forgiveness is a daily struggle--an ongoing labor of love for ourselves. Forgiveness can be costly--but not forgiving is even more so.
Forgiving Sounds Painful...Will It Help Me Feel Better?
Remember, there is no "Forgive and Forget". You will probably always remember when you've been betrayed by another person, a loved one. The experience will inevitably become part of who you are--just as is each elementary school teacher and every romantic partner. Memories, as facts, pictures, sensations are stored in our bodies and storied in our minds. They become part of who we are.
But living in a way that it is true to yourself, that honors your feelings--that DOES feel better. Being able to trust yourself to be honest, responsive and compassionate to yourself--that DOES feel better. Striving to live without acting out contempt, living with integrity and self-control--that DOES feel better.
Creating Space Counseling and Wellness can help you to understand what "forgiveness" might look like for you. When we've been harmed in the context of relationships, the way we heal must also be in the context of a relationship. Creating Space Counseling and Wellness can offer you a safe, compassionate relationship from which you CAN feel better.
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