Rich O'Keeffe MDI Contributor
Certainly a huge topic these days. And a ton of side aspects and whatnot. I hear a lot of folks utter phrases like “I need to forgive someone” or “I forgive him for…” or the like. I believe that this misses the mark. Not that forgiving is a bad thing, but the real focus of forgiving is misplaced. The real place that forgiveness happens is missed with that wording.
This is because forgiveness is not an active action. It is not something that one does. One of the dictionary definitions of “forgiveness” is: stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake. In the case of a debt, forgiving a debt is removing the obligation that you be paid back.“
For both definitions, forgiveness is more a state where the obligation ceases, where the apparent “need” to have someone outside of you do something simply goes away. Disappears. In the case of personal interactions, it means that whatever oversight you have been upset about the other person just dissipates, and they are no longer encumbered by an obligation.
If the obligation is that they did something wrong, and didn’t really apologize, and OWE you an apology, then forgiveness on your part is actually removing the expectation inside of yourself that they do anything. And no, that is not giving up and casting them forever into some jail cell in your head about what a shit they are. In fact, there is nothing needed of them ever again to be in your good graces.
Before I go further, I want to make it clear that as far as I am concerned, you are not required to forgive anyone for anything. It is not an inherently better way of being. There are certainly people who have committed transgressions against me that I am highly unlikely to ever forget or forgive. But be clear about one aspect to that. The resentment lies within you, not the other person. Carrying a resentment around inside you is akin to drinking a glass of poison and hoping the other person dies. There are definitely things that people do that cannot be forgiven. Or at the very least things that cause us all to cast a person aside as someone we never wish to interact with again. Regardless, be clear that you are concocting a poison potion from which you get to drink.
Here’s the beautiful part though.
Forgiveness doesn’t depend on anyone other than you either. Here is one example from my life. Both of my parents were chain smoking alcoholics. Right up until they passed away. As a young man, I had a ton of resentment about my parent’s drinking and some of the things they did and did not do as a result. My upset was such that I couldn’t even be around them if they were drinking. I’d have physical reactions whenever I heard the pop of a beer can in their house. I went to a bunch of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) meetings in an attempt to “forgive them” and move on. I really suffered for several years about it all. And one day, in an ACoA meeting, I had a blinding insight. I literally had the thought, “God is gonna forgive them. Who are you to be such a righteous cunt about it?”
And in that moment, forgiveness really happened.
In that moment, I saw that my resentments and anger and upset was about me, not them. And by blaming them that way, I was pissing away my power to be completely responsible about me. It is interesting to note, that at no time did they have any part in me forgiving. They did absolutely nothing different. But the change within me was profound. Literally, in that second or so, all the everything inside me about their drinking just vanished. It reached the point where if I was over and they wanted a beer, I had no problem getting them one. Hell a few times, I even went to the liquor store and bought them some if they were low.
I wish I had some sort of formula I could write out that would give you the steps to forgive. But there just ain’t any because forgiveness is a way to be, not an act to take. But realize this – your desire to forgive someone and all the things you are holding onto about the why they need forgiving has nothing to do with them – it is all about you. It’s all about some expectation you had that wasn’t met. It’s all about pain you are carrying around because something happened that you didn’t like, or some experience in which you were hurt.
That is not to say that I think it OK for people to hurt other people – it is just that what we carry around has everything to do with us, and our wants, needs and desires, and little to do with those that didn’t meet them.
There are two other areas of forgiveness to which I wish to speak: forgiving ourselves and asking forgiveness from another.
Firstly, about the most difficult form of forgiveness for most of us: forgiving ourselves. Look, we are human. We make mistakes. Sometimes, we hurt people. And even sometimes, we do things that we know are wrong. I don’t know about you, but I am a master at beating myself up around my mistakes. I even told a boss of mine once that there is no value at yelling at me about something because when it comes to beating me up, y’all are rank amateurs.
I have found that the process of forgiving myself for past transgressions is super difficult. Especially when I have caused hurt in another person. Throw on top, the human fetish for being right, as well as the ego’s response to gloss over things that are awkward like this, and it’s easy to see how hard forgiving oneself can be. Often, in order to access that real forgiveness within myself for myself has involved waves of emotion, sometimes huge waves, crashing over me. Again, there is no easy step-by-step process to get there other than a desire on our part to be otherwise than we are being at that time.
The other aspect of forgiveness is around what to do when you are the one who has committed the transgression. And you are sorry … and want to be forgiven.
First, realize that your desire to be forgiven again has nothing to do with the other person – it is all about your internal emotions of regret, and wanting someone to accept that you are sorry and acknowledge you for it. I couldn’t even begin to count all the perfectly good relationships I have known that got destroyed because someone did something that they shouldn’t have and then “confessed” their transgression to the other person. Because their feeling of regret was soooo heavy, they just had to dump it on the other person, rather than deal with their own failings. This gives the other person an additional problem that they didn’t have before.
What there is for you to do when you have committed a transgression is:
- First – Stop it.
- Second – Deal with your own regrets and emotions.
- Third – Keep not doing it and deal with your own regrets and emotions as they arise.
- Fourth – Keep not doing it and deal with your own regrets and emotions as they arise.
- Fifth and as many iterations as it takes – keep not doing it and deal with your own regrets and emotions as they arise.
And … if and when the other person is ready to forgive, be there welcoming when they finally reach out if they ever do.