I have a rule when it comes to politics and religion – I don’t talk about them. I have learned from personal experience and observation that addressing them – particularly when we have differing perspectives – usually erects a wall faster than a framer.
With politics and religion I have found that nobody’s mind is changing. We typically no longer listen to each other and are just waiting for our turn to talk. Or we will simply interrupt whoever is talking and put forth our own opinion in order to illustrate where they are wrong.
I have found that to be similar when it comes to talking about forgiveness. The automatic version typically has a “should” in it. “You should forgive others” is the mantra.
Well, I have made peace with the fact that I question things that don’t feel quite right to me. Not only do I question them, I sift and sort and massage them until I feel that the ideas resemble truth to me.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t try to forgive others first. I tried and tried to make sense out of being sexually abused. If you would have talked to me at 19, I would have smiled and said, “Yes, I have long since forgiven them… I’m good,” while sneaking food from the refrigerator. Or if you would have talked to me at 27, I would have said, “Sure, I’m okay, all’s forgiven,” while shoplifting from a department store when I had money in my pocket.
Then it came to the point where I couldn’t even focus on forgiving others; I was in such bad shape emotionally and psychologically that I needed to focus on just staying alive. I fought hard to regain balance, to feel good about myself and get a renewed sense of well-being. And I did it! I successfully pulled myself out of the pit of despair and climbed back into the world of the living (and loving) with reintroduced vigor.
It was an inside job. I began to celebrate myself as a sweet and strong eight-year-old. I honored my non-preferred actions as a teen and young adult, understanding that they were tools to survive the pain I couldn’t yet face. I finally had the courage to face my abusers (in my inner world) and let them know that what they did to me wasn’t okay. I learned to be my own best advocate and my staunchest supporter.
As I consistently watered the newly planted seeds of self-understanding and self-compassion, I began to heal. Really. Truly. Authentically. Self-worth and self-value were but a couple of fruit that were a direct result of watering those seeds.
Another fruit I bore was forgiveness. It was a pleasant surprise. Forgiveness. Really. Truly. Authentically. Easily and effortlessly, I forgave my abusers and made peace with everything non-preferred that I had experienced. What remained was love and understanding. I gained a deep understanding about wounded people wounding others. I gained a deep desire to help stop that cycle. Through love.
“Heal Yourself First; Forgiveness is a Natural By-Product”
I shared that sentiment in social media and received corrections in return: “No, you should forgive others first then you will feel better.” I didn’t mind the rebuttal at all; I expected it. I already understood that my opinion — based upon my personal experience with forgiveness – would not be understood or embraced.
I believe that the reason we continue to try to forgive is that we know, on a deeper level, that we do not forgive. This is the very reason why I needed to examine it more thoroughly. I came to understand that the reason my forgiveness wasn’t authentic was because I tried to forgive others despite the fact that there was still a part of me that was hurting and in pain. Once I licked and healed my own wounds, in my joy, forgiveness organically followed.
I also came to understand that I was mixing a lot of things with the idea of forgiveness. In my clarity, I embraced the idea that people are forgivable; certain acts are not. We must heal so that we can eradicate abuse, in all of its forms, from our society.
If you, in your heart of hearts, find that you are not forgiving another, understand that there is an aspect of yourself that is still in pain. When you allow yourself to let that be okay, and give to yourself whatever understanding you need, you will heal. It is up to you to take care of yourself in that way. Use your imagination and become your own most loyal supporter. When you do, with forgiveness, you won’t need the word “should.”