About three weeks ago, I forgave EVERYONE who EVER did ANYTHING that hurt me! Including the small things, the big things, the betrayals, the manipulations, the sexual assaults, the back-stabbing, the neglect. EVERYTHING! I’m excited about who I’m going to have to be, to make that stay true.
Already things feel really different. A few times a tiny twang of non-forgiveness has begun to creep in to my behaviour or feelings, and I immediately thought “nope, I forgave them” and the bitterness dissipated and got replaced with space. It’s not even necessarily a relief, it just kind of feels like emptiness (a good sort of emptiness), like being in the moment I’m in, or looking forward, rather than being dragged back into the past. It doesn’t mean I necessarily want to be friends with the people who I forgave. Just that I’m not bogged down in resentment, bitterness, anger, upset or frustration. It also doesn’t mean that I’m going to accept the same sort of behaviour from them as I did in the past. In fact, it means I am in a more powerful position to communicate and negotiate for things to be different, because I’m not spending all my energy just dealing with the hurt.
The forgiveness was inspired by watching someone, after a great internal battle, bring himself to a place of forgiving the people in an institution that hurt him horribly and repeatedly in the past. And I thought, if he can forgive them, hell, I can forgive so-and-so, and so-and-so and so-and-so… In the moment I watched him go through that transformation, the idea occurred to me “why not just forgive everyone then”? I neatly filed that idea away to digest later, then realised, if I left it to later, I’d probably never do it. I mean, what a mammoth thing to do! Is that even possible? So instead of letting these boring thoughts interfere, I took a deep breath and without thinking about it too much, I forgave everyone who ever did anything thing hurt me.
I never understood the power of forgiveness until recently. I know it’s a strong part of a lot of spiritual and religious traditions, but I never really “got it”. I’ve always struggled to be a forgiving person. I was someone who was actually pretty difficult to get on the wrong side of, but once someone ticked me off or did something that majorly or repeatedly hurt, I’d hang onto that for YEARS!
Through a personal development course that I did, I began to unpack some things behind my non-forgiveness. Firstly, there was a lot of things I was getting out of being non-forgiving. Power. Superiority. Holding things over people’s heads for a long time so they’d have to “make it up to me”. Of course, this was not what I told myself. My internal rationalisation was that I was protecting myself from getting further hurt. Ironically, the act of not forgiving WAS what was hurting me further. The effects of non-forgiveness in my life have been: physical unwellness (the stress, resentment and hard feelings that get stuck in my gut), not getting to have the relationships I want with people because I’ve been stuck in resenting them for the past and not having as much energy as I could because I’m spending it dwelling on the past.
My non-forgiveness has been shaped by the prison mentality of the society I’ve grown up in. My people punish each other. And not just once. We punish in ways that are never really done. Like when someone gets sent away to prison, even when they get out, they continue to be punished forever. For example, the fact that they have a criminal record limits them from getting work. Not to mention a lifetime of healing ahead from all the messed up things that prisons do to people and the broken relationships such large absences, sexual assualt, trauma and stigma causes. This punishment mentality has seeped it’s way into every area of my life. And forgiveness is one of the tangible ways I can start to undo those punishment oriented learnings.
One of the workshops I’ve offered to universities, youth centres and other groups is a Personal Accountability in Relationships workshop. In the workshop I integrate things inspired by many amazing groups like CUAV (Communities Unite Against Violence) as well as a theatre excerpt which we use as a tangible example to unpack the concepts. One of the things I love about doing this sort of work, is that it calls me to walk the walk, rather than just talk the talk.
So, about six months ago, I forgave someone important in my life for a whole list of things that had been lingering unresolved between us. In doing this, I committed to her that I was also giving up the right to ever bring those things up again in a way that held non-forgiveness. I can bring them up if it’s about recognising patterns and negotiating for things to be different, but not in a way that just seeks to perpetually punish by constantly parading past “wrongs” (for which she’s already apologised) and the accompanying bitterness and resentment. This has been transformational in our relationship, creating a massive amount of space in our relationship for new things to grow.
I can’t wait to see what grows in the space I’ve just cleared by letting go of ALL that resentment and upset about the past!
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