Are you good at forgiveness?
The answer probably depends a lot on the next question: What’s the worst thing someone has done to you?
- Was it a friend who smiled to your face and stabbed you in the back?
- Was it a family member who made promises then didn’t follow through, leaving your life plans in limbo?
- Was it the boyfriend who stole your heart then ghosted?
- Was it the boss who wouldn’t honor your contract and cheated you out of tens of thousands of dollars?
- Was it a stranger who caused a car accident that left you with years of pain?
For me, it was all of the above and more. However, composing this list was really difficult–not because these events were so painful I didn’t want to bring them back up, rather that they were hard to remember. They’re in the archived section of my brain where I rarely venture. They’ve been decluttered and are settled accounts, old news, no longer on my daily radar.
When each of these events was fresh, oh yes, I was angry. And hurt, sad, frustrated, incredulous, worried, and scared. But mostly angry.
How could people treat me so badly? What gave them the right to act like that? Who even does that? Were they raised by jackals?
These were supposed to be grown-ups, people I looked up to and respected. The fact that they too were flawed human beings rocked my world.
Each of these events consumed my days and kept me up at night. They were all I wanted to talk about. I wanted people to be on my side so my anger and pain were validated, and a supportive audience made me feel so good! I thought that if I could convince enough others that I was right, then maybe the people involved would apologize and the inciting events would miraculously be reversed.
You can guess how successful that plan was.
A Look In The Mirror
Over time and with more life experience, though, I realized that if I stayed angry with these people forever, I’d also have to stay angry with myself forever because I, too, have been the bad friend and the flip-flopping family member.
But it was different! I had good reasons and I was stressed out and insecure. Life happened and plans changed. It wasn’t all my fault!
But I was still the bad friend and flip-flopping family member. I guess no one’s perfect.
I had a choice: to stay angry at everyone, including myself, or to consciously try to move forward.
When I apologized to those I’d hurt (though sometimes many years too late), they were amazingly gracious. In fact, most of them acted like it was no big deal.
Maybe they really had forgotten, or maybe they were too nice to tell me if they hadn’t, but what was the point in continuing to beat myself up over things no one else hated me for anymore?
Since they moved on, shouldn’t I move on too?
And A Look Back Out To The World
These gracious friends and family taught me how to find peace.
I let things go. Large and small, I decided to stop keeping score. To stop (for the most part) trying to drag everyone into my drama. I sometimes fail, but I keep trying.
I try to remember that just as I had good reasons (or so they seemed at the time) for the harm I caused, others probably felt the same way. Now I try to give others the benefit of the doubt even when I don’t know the whole story.
Maybe my friend who no-showed for the fourteenth time is depressed or hurting and doesn’t want to drag me into her drama. Maybe she’s too busy with her kids. So what if I see photos of her on Facebook smiling with other people, even sans kids? Maybe she’s a flake or doesn’t care about me, and maybe I won’t keep making plans with her, but continuing to choose anger won’t help.
As for the friend who dropped off the face of the earth on the day of the half-marathon she convinced me to run with her, well, maybe she pulled a muscle or overslept (again, Facebook posts indicate otherwise). I trust and respect her a little less now, but I don’t regret training for and running my first (and last) race.
Maybe the boyfriend who disappeared without a phone call or even a text was scared or thought it would be kinder to not actually have the conversation (wrong!). Or maybe he was a narcissistic jerk who liked breaking hearts, but choosing to remain angry just made me feel unhappy, not him.
As for the bad driver, he probably didn’t have such a great day either, and it was his insurance company rather than the driver himself who took a year and a half to pay my medical bills. Channeling anger toward a faceless behemoth isn’t very effective, and my accident certainly pales in comparison to this man’s story. I dare you to read that article and still complain about anything in your own life.
I Don’t Want To Know
You might have noticed that I didn’t mention a time when I intentionally cheated someone and tried to intimidate him into silence by making vague threats. That’s because I haven’t done those things, I don’t plan to, and I can’t think of any circumstances in which I ever would.
It’s hard for me to empathize with people like this because I simply don’t understand them, and that’s a good thing.
I fear that if I could understand what leads them to behave in such an abhorrent manner, then maybe I could justify doing the same thing. Thus, me being completely flummoxed protects my potential victims and the world remains a better place.
That said, holding on to my anger does no good.
I learned to be a little more vigilant and a little less trusting, and these are valuable life lessons. I learned that in any large group, there’s likely to be a bad apple, and it’s good to stay somewhat independent and have plenty of options.
You might have also noticed that nowhere on my list was an action by an unidentifiable perpetrator.
Could I be angry that someone dinged the door of my new car? Sure. Could I be angry that it rained during our vacation? Of course.
Somehow, though, it’s much tougher to build up a good head of steam without a specific face toward which to direct my wrath. It just isn’t satisfying, and I’m grateful for that. It’s freeing to let the anger/frustration/sadness pass and just deal with the situation.
First and foremost, the world doesn’t stop because something bad or sad happens to me. The longer I stay mired in my own drama, the more I suffer and the more of life’s wonder and adventures I’ll miss out on. Giving forgiveness lifts a huge weight and people don’t have to apologize or even believe they did anything wrong for me to move on.
Second, I’m just as guilty as
almost everyone else. I probably hurt a lot of people without realizing it, and I’m sorry for that. When I become aware of these situations, I do my best to make them right.
Third, just because I’ve forgiven people doesn’t mean that we start over from scratch. They don’t necessarily deserve my trust anymore, but letting go of the anger and hurt and trying to see things from their point of view offers a welcome sense of peace. Boundaries, Henry Cloud’s book on this process, is priceless.
Fourth, trying to depersonalize an affront helps make it easier to just deal with the problem and move on.
Fifth, painful experiences are never fun but can lead to better life choices and outcomes. I’m so grateful that all my previous relationships ended in breakups so I could meet my husband. I’m grateful my boss showed his true colors and I escaped from the company before becoming legally tied to the whole mess. I’m even grateful that I’ve had some bad friends so I can truly appreciate the ones who stand by me.
Life is full of ups and downs, but without the low points we can’t recognize and savor the highs.
How do you achieve forgiveness? Please share your tips in the comments below.
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