I think everyone has had bad things happen to them. Sometimes it’s just life, and sometimes it’s because of other people. People suck, and there’s little we can do to stop that. And there are times where a simple apology isn’t enough, and where forgiveness is hard to find. The truth is, people don’t always deserve forgiveness.
I’ve been there. I’ve been wronged by people I loved. In some instances, I never even received an apology. I held onto my anger and resentment for years, but in the end, it only hurt me. The other person was unaffected. There is a Buddhist saying: “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” That saying didn’t immediately change my life or anything, but it stuck with me.
My Take on Forgiveness
The truth is, people don’t always deserve forgiveness. A lot of the time, people try to convince the person wronged that they should just forgive the person who wronged them. Take the high road, or whatever. I think that’s a load of shit. Forgiveness is a personal decision, and nobody should be forced or manipulated or coerced into making that decision.
Forgiveness is hard. And I had no idea where to start or how to heal. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to forgive certain people, and I’m still puzzling it all out. But writing has helped me understand it better.
I’ve been writing since I was six, but it wasn’t until I got older that I really started writing about more serious topics. Like most writers, I put my characters through the wringer, and a lot of bad things that happened to them were caused by other characters. If I wanted to, I could make them all forgive even the most heinous of crimes. (I don’t, but I could.)
I think that control helps me understand forgiveness better. That, and I’m separating myself from the events and the characters. What they experience is separate from what I have experienced, which gives me a more unbiased perspective. I’m not looking through the lens of someone who was wronged, but from a third-party point of view. And it has taught me much.
Forgiveness Takes Strength
It’s easy to tell someone you forgive them but not mean it. And it is so, so easy to hold onto hurt feelings and not do the work it takes to resolve those feelings. Finding true forgiveness is one of the most taxing experiences, and sometimes, it might not be worth it. I used to think forgiving a person for doing something terrible was a sign of weakness.
But as I wrote more and as I got older, I realized that way of thinking was wrong. There is a unique strength in accepting what happened and still forgiving the person. (When done for the correct reasons.) There is strength in embracing this terrible thing and not letting it hurt you anymore. It’s easier said than done, I know, but I think it can be worth it.
I like to think of forgiveness as a hero vanquishing a great and terrifying evil. It takes a lot of strength and courage for the hero to stand up and fight, but the hero is ultimately victorious (or, in this case, manages to forgive someone). It sounds rather silly, but it’s quite effective, and it helps me more than thinking of it as overcoming a great trauma.
Forgiveness is For You, Not the Other Person
When people try to force someone to forgive the one(s) who wronged them, it’s usually for the other’s benefit. “They said they were sorry,” or “They have family, so you have to forgive them,” etc. They messed up, but people are on their side. I think it’s because people, in general, don’t like changes or big fusses, but they want things to stay the same. (To maintain the status quo, if you will.) Peace is nice, but not when it’s underlined with tensions and a mountain of things that were swept under the rug and ignored.
Putting my characters through experiences, then writing how I think they would respond (and reading books) showed me that forgiveness can be empowering. I realized that the characters who didn’t forgive were more likely to stagnate. They weren’t as capable of growing as a person, nor of overcoming their struggles. They were the ones who would sit and curse at the world, at strangers, for their lot in life.
But those who forgave, or were working toward forgiveness, were stronger. They could understand someone else’s perspective, they learned and grew as a person, and they led happier, more fulfilling lives because they weren’t still stuck in the past. I didn’t, and still don’t, want to be stuck in my past, specifically my childhood (when I was 12 and younger). I’m 24 now, and I have my whole life ahead of me. I don’t think about the past as much anymore.
You Don’t Have to Forget to Forgive
I struggled with this a lot because people love to use the phrase “forgive and forget.” I hate it. I don’t want to forgive and forget what someone did to me because that sounds like excusing their behavior and pretending it never happened. It did happen, and I can’t forget about it.
Writing about my struggles is hard and exhausting. And sometimes, I don’t want to put words on paper or in a Word document. But it’s also therapeutic, and I can get it out rather than try and keep it locked inside. Pardon the cliché, but it’s a chance for me to tell my truth, to tell my perspective. It doesn’t matter if I’m the only one who sees it. Writing makes it real. It reminds me that these events did happen and that I’m not making them up. This has helped my healing process over the years.
I think I will always, in some way, include events from my life in my books. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t forgiven the person, nor does it mean that I can never forgive them. It just means I won’t forget about it. I can keep these events from happening again if I remember. I’ll know the signs and what to look for.
Books on Forgiveness
There are a lot of books on forgiveness. Many have spiritual and religious elements, but there are ones based on a psychological or personal standpoint. One is Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope by Dr. Robert Enright. It’s about how forgiveness can benefit the forgiver rather than the forgiven. Of course, someone shouldn’t work to forgive unless they want to and are ready—forcing forgiveness breeds further resentment, after all. But if you want more options, here’s a list to get started.
I encourage people to try and heal from past traumas and experiences. I’m not suggesting anyone force themselves to do anything they aren’t ready or willing to do. Healing is a long, non-linear process, and it looks different for everybody.
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