I was talking to an acquaintance recently, and she recanted a story to me. Her father had died in a retirement home a while back, and she felt very strongly that the caretakers were to blame. As I heard the story, I understood that yes, there was the possibility the caretakers held some responsibility, though I had some reservations about a truth hidden somewhere between the cracks.
I listened, and when she finished her story, I thought for a moment and asked, “Can you forgive them?”
She gave me a frigid, stern look and emphatically replied, “I will never forgive them for what they’ve done.”
I was saddened to hear her reply. Unbeknowst to her, she had actually told me this story before. And her father had passed away over 10 years ago.
Non-forgiveness is your choice to remain in pain. As Marianne Williamson wrote, when you don’t forgive someone, you’re hanging a knife over someone else’s head, yet the knife falls on you.
So why are we afraid to forgive?
1. We are afraid to be wrong. Many of us equate forgiveness with being wrong. In turn, this also means admitting the person(s) we haven’t forgiven is right, and so we hold on dearly because of “the principle of it all”.
Sure, it feels good to be right, to have people agree with us, to be vindicated, but this doesn’t always happen. And often times, being “right” is a grey area, where we may only be right in the eyes of a minority or just ourselves. We think forgiving is giving in and letting the other person win, but in fact, it’s the exact opposite.
The other person might be living his/her life out normally, while we waste precious time stewing over what happened, self-sabotaging, and digging ourselves in deeper. Thus, non-forgiveness can be seen as not only letting our antagonist(s) “win” but dominate.
2. We are afraid we’ve failed. What if another person is not involved? What if you had a transgression or a past failure you can’t get over? This is non-forgiveness of self. Not only have we been hurt before, but now we’re continuously inflicting damage on ourselves with non-forgiveness. In doing so, we’ve narrowed our vision, causing us to miss new opportunities, relationships, and circumstances that could strengthen us.
3. We are afraid to be weak. This is a tough, tough world we live in, and as such, we’ve got to be hardened Spartans to survive the onslaught. Admitting we’re wrong means we’re weak, right?
Associating being wrong with weakness is our minds creates an overblown perspective that we’re supposed to be invulnerable. Our wandering minds makes us think that everyone else is superhuman, happy, and faultless, when the truth is that we’re all part of the same collective. We’re all human, make mistakes, cry, suffer triumphs and losses, and have weaknesses.
When you can see your similarities in others, then letting go becomes infinitely easier.
Don’t let your non-forgiveness become your identity. My acquaintance seethes in resentment, and relives the horror, the emotions, and the pain every time she thinks about or retells her story. Her pain has become her identity.
She doesn’t want to let it go. Even if she take her case to the courts, and a judge said “you are right” today, I doubt that would stop her from continuing to relive her story.
When pain become your identity, the crutches of non-forgiveness will spread like cancer. It will harm everything that you do and eat you up inside. Your creative work energy will dissipate. All new situations will unfairly be dealt with the animosity and distrust from past pain, and you can’t move forward in a fulfilling manner. In acute cases, the mind constantly rambles about the past without an off switch.
We unknowingly have a love affair with pain. We use it to create the drama of Our Story, Our Tragedy, Our Broken Lives. Happy hour, ironically, is a period of keeping those identities alive by lamenting them along with life’s problems with others who also want to share their pain. We love complaining and holding on to past negative experiences.
Forgiveness is for yourself. Why would you choose pain? Think about it for a moment. Think about forgiving, for your own sake. Be a bit selfish here, and forgive as a gift to yourself.
Forgiveness is never about right and wrong. Forgiveness is about choosing to be happy over the need to be right. I believe the most successful relationships and people function with this mindset.
And sometimes, forgiveness might involve quite a bit of concessions. Take a big step back, see the situation from the eyes of someone else, either from a neutral perspective or from the eyes of your antagonist, and you might find yourself huffing and puffing less. Seeing it from the eyes of others is a great way to lessen your pain and open your heart to forgiveness.
In doing so, we unblock love and new opportunities – and life, in fact – can flow again
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
– Mahatma Gandhi