Truly forgiving someone who has wronged you can feel like one of the most difficult things to do.
Without an understanding of forgiveness, it can seem like forgiving is accepting unacceptable behavior. We’ve all heard it said that “forgiveness is not something we do for other people. It’s something we do for ourselves to move on.” And still, forgiveness is a real toughie, especially when you don’t feel that the one in the wrong deserves it.
It took decades for me to learn how and when to forgive, and it still doesn’t come naturally. The idea that holding a grudge would protect me from future hurt kept me stuck. In order for me to lean into forgiveness, and experience the relief that it offered, a reframe was necessary.
I chose to look at it as letting go of resentment, rather than forgiving the jerk.
Forgiving someone is not saying that the hurtful action is okay—rather, it’s recognizing that the other person is human and so are you.
While his/her behaviors hurt your feelings, the behaviors of another have nothing to do with you. How people relate to others has everything to do with themselves. No one ever does anything TO you. A person operates in his/her environment. You just happen to be there. Even more, only hurt people hurt people. When someone says or does something shitty, 99% of the time the intent is not to hurt you but to make themselves feel better. Still not okay, but it’s helpful to have the backstory, right?
We have to recognize that no human being is perfect. And still, connection is always worthwhile. Other people act for us as mirrors to ourselves. Relationships allow us to see ourselves and work through all that’s necessary for us to reach our truest expression.
There’s no destination in a relationship. Relationships are a process—intimate ones, friendships, familial, all of them. Sharing and connecting with another human being always gets messed up when we have expectations. Like, “He should have done this,” “She could’ve done that.” Instead, it’s about each day, each experience, each insight, each lesson. Even when a relationship ends, we take it along with us, the lessons we’ve learned, and we’re ultimately better for it.
When I’m trying to make sense of another person’s actions, I often think of pigeons. Yep. Pigeons, the dirty birds. Hear me out.
Pigeons do very few things (as far as I know). I mean, from my experience they really only fly and shit on windshields. They also may have a sixth sense for when you’ve recently washed your car. Nonetheless, when a pigeon shits on your windshield, I highly doubt you think, “Why did he do this to me? WHY am I not worthy? Why can’t I just be more of this, more of that, less of this. He never would have shit on my windshield, if I was blahblahblah…”
You say, “UGH. Pigeons!” Then you shake your head for a second, toss on the wipers and move on.
The goal is to take the shitty actions of humans much in the same way as we take the literally shitty behaviors of pigeons. Pigeons shit, cause that’s what pigeons do. Humans act like jerks, cause we’re human—imperfect, trying to manage our own pain.
In both cases, you and I just happen to be there, in that environment—beneath the flying pigeon, in a relationship with the cheating dude. You see? In both situations, the healthy ones get in the car, toss on the wipers and drive away.
Pain is pain is pain. Even though someone is likely not doing something hurtful TO us and we just happen to be in their environment as they’re minimizing their own pain, it hurts like a bitch. And, pain sucks. It sucks today much worse, though, when it’s triggering old, untreated pain. I’ve realized that most of the things that hurt me deeply are tapping into an old wounds, ones not tended to properly from the past.
For example, abandonment fears have been a thing for me. When someone in my present triggers those old fears without my recognition, it feels like their behaviors are devastating. I’ve learned that the current problems are never the real issue for me. Instead, the things that hurt the most today are reminiscent of the big problems of the past, when I felt powerless.
The best way to get beyond present pain is often to increase your own insight, forgive, set boundaries and tend to those old wounds, usually by forgiving people from our past and ourselves, too.
Here’s where to start.
- Write a letter to the person who hurt you
Put all of your thoughts and feelings on paper. Detail out every hurt. Read it aloud to yourself. Breathe. Rip that shit up and flush it—yep, down the toilet. Don’t you dare give the letter to the person who harmed you. Forgiveness is about you working through something, not you staying in the mess and raking him/her over the coals.
- Complete this week’s #DoThisThing
This worksheet is adapted from the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Whether you’re an alcoholic, a family member or neither, there are aspects of the 12 Steps that can help all of us get through the tough times and onto a better way of living.
- Move forward with ease, balance and grace
It won’t necessarily happen overnight (though, sometimes it does), but just like any wound—once it’s been dealt with properly, it will heal over time.
Art by Tory Rust.