Redefining forgiveness Part 1
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.” –Maya Angelou
Forgiveness is a funny thing. We are told from the time we are little to say we are sorry as soon as we do something wrong. Those words ‘I’m sorry’ are supposed to be the magic wand to repair the damage that was done. As a parent I have often told my kids that the sarcastic ‘sorry’ that they gave me wasn’t good enough. I have caught myself yelling at them, “Say sorry like you mean it!” What does it mean to apologize like we mean it? We are taught that there are certain words that we are supposed to say when we have done something wrong. When we carefully speak these words we expect that the person hearing the words will accept our apology and we move on. Many times though we struggle to be able to truly forgive, even when someone says all the right words.
I have come to believe that apologies and forgiveness have nothing to do with the words that are spoken. It has everything to do with the emotion and connection that we have when we are acknowledging our own pain. The process of forgiveness is an act of courage. It is risking vulnerability when we admit that we have fallen short and hurt someone. Being on the receiving end is just as difficult. We are often hurt and angry, so instead of listening to the person making the apology, we are stuck in the anger and that part of us can never forgive. I was working with a client this week and he began talking about some of the abuse he endured as child. When I asked him how much he has been able to heal and forgive over the years he became agitated and stated that he would never be able to forgive his mother’s former boyfriend for what he did over the years. He said, “I will never forget it, so I will never forgive him.” We seem to have a mistaken notion that forgiving and forgetting are somehow synonymous. I discussed with him how the common use of the term forgiveness does imply that once those magical words are spoken the issue is over and everyone moves on like it never happened. This is not what I believe forgiveness is at all. Through our sessions I talked to him about how all of the abuse he endured is like a raw open wound and although he no longer has any contact with his former abuser, the wound is still raw. Now in his life anytime anyone, even his current wife or children, get close to anything that reminds him of the past trauma he reacts in extreme anger. It is at the point where it is causing issues in all of his current relationships. An act of forgiveness, to me, is the process of healing the wound in us. It has nothing to do with the other person. When we have an open wound it is like there is a block in us that we are unable to move beyond. My client was not able to fully connect with his family because he was getting triggered by his past pain whenever something touched upon his wound. I feel it is important to recognize that pain is a block which prevents connection with others and forgiveness is the only way to remove the block. This is a big topic and I will continue this discussion next week.
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